Friday, November 6, 2009

Albino kids running and hiding out of fear for their lives

It was the news all Tanzania had dreaded – especially the country’s albinos and their families, supporters, neighbours and friends who live near the Great Lakes of Victoria and Tanganyika.

After a three-month hiatus in the occult-based killings in the north-west, hunters seized a ten-year-old albino boy, Gasper Elikana, in the Geita district of Mwanza region last month and hacked him to death in front of his black father and neighbours, who had risked their lives to try to save him. 

The men fled with Gasper’s severed leg having first beheaded him to stop him screaming. The boy’s father, who received at least one machete blow to the head, was left fighting for his life in hospital but is now said to be out of danger. 

Mwanza is in shock.

“People are feeling very terrible about this new killing,” said Pauline Kilele, Mwanza regional coordinator for the Tanzania Red Cross Society (TRCS).

“We sent some of our volunteers to Mitindo [school for the blind, near Mwanza town, where more than 100 albino children have taken refuge since the albino killings began] to give moral support, but we don’t have the resources to do much else.

“We have to intervene on the humanitarian level now.”

$Sunburn injuries

The last reported killing of an albino in Tanzania had been on 18 July, police in Dar es Salaam say, and earlier this week a court in the northern town of Shinyanga
sentenced four more men to death for killing an albino man last year.

In September three hunters were sentenced to hang for murdering a young boy – the first death sentences in Tanzania related to albino killings.
But it was evident the albino hunters never really put away their machetes.
The most recent arrival of a fugitive albino child at the Kabanga school for the disabled in Kasulu, in north-western Kigoma region, was on 13 September.

Seven-year-old Enus Abel was brought to the school by his mother, who is black: they spent two weeks alone in the bush after fleeing their village, Kigaga, just ahead of albino hunters.

Enus’s head and neck are covered in raw sunburn-injuries, but he is safe.
He was the forty-ninth albino child to take refuge at Kabanga since the killings began in 2007.

The official total number of albinos killed by hunters in Tanzania, who sell their body parts to witchdoctors whose clients buy them for large sums to use as talismans, now stands at 44; some groups have put it higher at more than 50.
Senior police commanders in Dar es Salaam have said a complete set of albino body parts – including all four limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose – fetches the equivalent of 75,000 US dollars.

“Hiding in their backyards”

While hunters are known to bribe people to help them find albinos hiding in villages, stories still abound of black relatives and neighbours risking their lives to try to protect them.

Geita on 21 October 2009 was one more such story.
In remote villages, as opposed to the haunts of the mysterious wealthy buyers of body parts, the lure of money more than witchcraft alone is what proves fatal to Great Lakes albinos.

For the foreseeable future, the latest killing in Geita will also have destroyed any hopes of a return home for hundreds of albinos now clustering in schools and, in neighbouring Burundi, improvised shelters guarded by the police round the clock.

Much of the entire albino population – some 8,000 people by the official counts in both countries – will remain trapped in their homes, unable to move around freely to work, trade or study for fear of the hunters.

In the words of one Red Cross worker, “they are hiding in their backyards”.
Neither Kabanga nor the larger Mitindo school at Misungwi, whose total roll numbers 1,245, is now able to close during the holidays because it’s not safe for the albino children to return to their villages.

This places a major strain on the schools’ human and financial resources.

Neighbours unite

Despite the overstretched teachers’ best efforts to keep them covered up and in the shade, albino children there often suffer from acute sunburn.
Fear of the hunters has also spread to the two remaining refugee camps near Kasulu in north-west Tanzania – for Burundians, Congolese and Rwandans – which have been managed by the TRCS for a decade as part of an international programme now involving the American, Japanese and Spanish Red Cross.

Hawa Mwemtabu, 30, who is black, breast-feeds Mayange, her sick albino toddler, in the shade of an umbrella provided by a Tanzanian special-education officer in Nyarugusu camp, which hosts refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

When news of the killings first reached the camp its albino residents asked to relocate to be near the police station, but the Red Cross and other agencies advised them to stay put because clustering would make it easier for the hunters to find them.

The advice seems to have been vindicated: no albinos in the camp have been lost, and Hawa’s neighbours, she explains, are “united in protecting us”.
“I just thank God we can carry on.”

Local appeal

The Red Cross in both Burundi and Tanzania is now urgently seeking ways to expand local efforts to address the humanitarian plight of Great Lakes albinos.
Those efforts, which included a small local appeal in Kigoma that raised just over US$ 4,000, have so far been entirely unsupported externally.

Many Red Cross staff and volunteers, moved literally to tears by the condition of albino children after they first emerged from the bush, contributed out of their own pockets.

The TRCS is shortly appealing for international assistance to provide health education, wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved tops, and vocational teaching-equipment for both albinos and non-albino children in the schools aimed at increasing the chances of albinos obtaining work indoors.

The overwhelming majority of albinos who are in paid employment (a very small proportion of the total) can only find work out of doors in the sun – the last place they should be – involving activities like roadside trading, market stalls and agricultural day-labour. Those who aren’t survive by tending small plots – again out in the sun.

This massively increases their susceptibility to the aggressive skin cancers that claim so many young albino lives. But as one young albino told the International Federation, “If you don’t go out in the sun you don’t eat.”

An already-mortal dilemma has been multiplied many times over by the killings.

By Alex Wynter in Dar es Salaam and Stella Marealla Masonu in Kasulu, Tanzania (from - again blogger won't let me post more than one photo -- for more go to the mother ship at ifrc.)



  1. Hi I am collecting donations to send a box of sunscreen to a school for albino children in Tanzania. I have already been in contact with the director of the school I just want to spread the word throughout the community as I would like to be able to purchase at least a 3 month supply for the students there. Sunscreen is the single most important product those kids can have to protect their skin from the sun and as you may know it is very difficult to come by in Tanzania and very expensive. Please let me know if you can help at:

  2. Dear Annabella,

    You are right when mentioning that import procedures in Tanzania can be cumbersome. Unfortunately we are not in a position of facilitating customs operations. Meanwhile, there is a high risk that authorities will want to apply an import tax on your donation simply because the product is available on the local market and as such, your products would be easily judged as ‘unlawful competition’.

    The easiest alternative would be to make a cash donation to the school in question or to the Red Cross with the request that these items be purchased locally and donated to the school you want to support.

    We do argue that local purchase not only helps local economy but it is also - albeit minor contribution – a way of diminishing carbon emissions.

    Should you chose to make a donation via the Red Cross we will make sure that pupils at the school in question are aware of who helped them as well as providing proof of the items purchased and photographs of the distribution.

    If you find this approach acceptable we would be happy to receive more details about the school you are willing to support as well as provide the account number to which you can make your donation. Best to route any enquiries on this issue through my colleage Andrei ><

    Looking forward to hearing from you and thx again. Paul.

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