The Spell of the Albino in Africa

What do you know about albinism? This skin problem affects about 1 in 20,000 men and women in the world. Albinism is a genetically inherited disorder that is non-contagious. Albinism is not particular to a specific geographical location or ethnicity as it can affect anyone. People who suffer from this genetic disorder are known as albinos and they are usually afflicted by a congenital absence of melanin in their body, causing a pigmentation defect in the hair, skin, and eyes. Due to their lack of melanin, sun exposure and bright light affect their skin and body. In tropical countries, they can be prone to skin cancers if they are not protected from the sun.

More so, albinism can cause poor vision as a consequence.  In parts of sub-Saharan Africa especially, albinos have faced discrimination and prejudice traditionally as some ignorant persons believe the disorder is an indication that the afflicted person possesses magical powers.

Another group of people believes that a white-skinned African person is a kind of phantom or ghost, who will dissolve or disappear with the wind and rain rather than die. With these different beliefs and superstitions on albinos, albinos have been feared, socially marginalized, and shunned in some communities.

In Tanzania, the social marginalization of albinos over the last five years has worsened. Albinos are murdered and mutilated at alarming rates due to the completely spurious myth that body parts from an albino are effective in carrying out witchcraft rituals.

Albinos have been hunted down and killed for their limbs or organs, regardless of the outrage internationally and continuous efforts by the Tanzanian government to put an end to this truly dehumanizing and petrifying act.

Officially, there are around 5,000 albinos registered in the country, but the country’s Albino Association says the real number is in excess of 150,000. It is not surprising that estimates of the numbers of albinos in Tanzania vary significantly. According to some rumors, many albinos are kept hidden by their families because of fear that they might be attacked or killed and the stigma some associate with the condition.

The good news is that the sensitization of albinism has helped to reduce the fear and stigmatization associated with the condition. It is not rare to find people suffering from this skin challenge, especially in Africa. We believe the government has more to do in ensuring that those suffering from albinism are safe from discrimination, especially in the place of work.

The constant attacks on these people, and believing that using them for rituals brings untold riches should be curbed. In some parts of Africa, the fear of being killed because of albinism is on the rise despite the laws put in place to stop this wickedness.