Tanzania: Albinos are hunted and mutilated to trade their “magical” organs

17 year old Vumilia Makoye was having dinner with her family, when two men with long knives forced their entry into the house, overpowering her mother Jeme, who tried to stop them. Then everything happened very fast. Jeme and the rest of the family watched helplessly, how the intruders grabbed Vumila, sawed off her legs above the knee and vanished with them. The legless girl, lying in a pool of blood, died soon.

Vumila was an albino. Albinism is an inherited hypopigmentary disorder, characterized by lack of the pigment melanin in eyes, skin and hair. As a result, the eyes are red and the skin is pinkish white and extremely sensitive to sun. In Africa, only one out of 3000 newborn is an albino. They suffer a lot of medical problems, and most of them die of skin cancer before reaching the age of 30.

It is a common belief in sub-Saharan Africa that albinos carry magical powers. They are shunned and socially stigmatized. But recently in Tanzania, superstition has taken a horrible turn. Witch doctors started claiming that magical potions, using skin, hair, bones, genitals, tongues or limbs of albinos as ingredients, bring wealth to their customers. Since then, albinos are hunted. According to official reports, 19 albino people, including children, have bee killed and mutilated for trade of body parts. Other sources speak of more than fifty victims. Police officials believe that the albino killings have been inspired by Nigerian movies about witchcraft.

The authorities are developing lists of albinos and try to protect them systematically by watching their houses and escorting albino children to school. President Jakaya Kikwete ordered a crack down on witch doctors and organ traders. In an effort to eliminate discrimination, he recently appointed the first albino member of parliament.

The superstition does not stop at the borders. In Kenya, an albino woman was found in late May with her eyes, tongue and breasts torn out. Albino skin is reportedly sold in Congo, too.