Ad­vo­cacy ef­forts have been suc­cess­ful in cre­at­ing aware­ness dis­abling mis­con­cep­tions that drive de­mand for al­bino body parts

The Star (Kenya) - - Voices - BY DIANA WAN­GARI @di­ana1wan­gari

“My mother aban­doned me when I was a baby.”

This is the be­gin­ning of Jane Waithera’s life story who like many Peo­ple With Al­binism, tells of a jour­ney that saw her liv­ing in a com­mu­nity that had lit­tle knowl­edge on al­binism re­sult­ing in her be­ing con­stantly bul­lied and oth­ers sim­ply keep­ing their dis­tance, fear­ing the un­known. Jane says that what hurt most was not the taunt­ing, but the stares and looks from com­plete strangers who would at times cross to the other side of the street al­most as if al­binism was con­ta­gious. It isn’t.

Jane’s only sup­port was her grand­mother who raised her and of­ten bat­tled with teach­ers to al­low her to join their classes. Look­ing back now, Jane feels more for­tu­nate than most as she was able to rise above her cir­cum­stances and now as a so­cial en­tre­pre­neur, has founded Pos­i­tive Ex­po­sure Kenya. But above all, Jane is grate­ful to be alive and for a per­son with al­binism in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, the threat of death is quite lit­eral.

Ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights (OHCHR) “a lu­cra­tive and ma­cabre mar­ket” has emerged in the body parts of peo­ple with al­binism be­ing traded for use in witch­craft rit­u­als, po­tions or amulets, with re­ported prices rang­ing from $2,000 (Sh200,000 ) for a limb to $75,000 (Sh7.5 mil­lion) for a ‘com­plete set’ or corpse.

“In Malawi, peo­ple with al­binism face ‘to­tal ex­tinc­tion’ ” read the head­lines, fol­low­ing the first of­fi­cial visit to Malawi in April 2016 by Ikpon­wosa Ero, the UN In­de­pen­dent Ex­pert on the rights of Per­sons with Al­binism. She warned that the atroc­i­ties faced by per­sons with al­binism in Malawi ren­der them “an en­dan­gered group of peo­ple fac­ing a risk of sys­temic ex­tinc­tion over time if noth­ing is done.”


Peo­ple with al­binism are sub­jected to stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion rang­ing from bul­ly­ing at school to more ex­treme man­i­fes­ta­tions such as kid­nap­pings, grave des­e­cra­tions and phys­i­cal at­tacks that are of­ten fatal with bod­ies be­ing dis­mem­bered. These acts have been pro­mul­gated by sev­eral myths and su­per­sti­tions pur­port­ing that their body parts hold mag­i­cal pow­ers.

Women and chil­dren are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble as some of the myths claim that hav­ing sex with a woman with al­binism can cure HIV/Aids mak­ing them tar­gets of sex­ual as­sault. Other claims are that chil­dren’s body parts yielded more po­tent po­tions. Moth­ers are os­tracised or dis­crim­i­nated against if they give birth to a child with al­binism be­cause it’s seen as the re­sult of a curse, a bad omen or of in­fi­delity.

“Many do not sleep peace­fully and have de­lib­er­ately re­stricted their move­ment to the nec­es­sary min­i­mum,” Ero said.

“The fre­quent in­volve­ment of close rel­a­tives in cases of at­tacks is highly dis­turb­ing, and per­sons with al­binism are un­able to trust even those who are sup­posed to care for and pro­tect them. Con­se­quently, per­sons with al­binism in the cur­rent con­text of at­tacks are locked in a spi­ral of fear and poverty.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, the per­pe­tra­tors are rarely caught let alone pros­e­cuted. And for the few who are con­victed, the sen­tences do not al­ways re­flect the grav­ity of the crime.

“As pointed out by var­i­ous stake­hold­ers dur­ing my visit, steal­ing a cow may at­tract a higher penalty,” Ero added.


Ac­cord­ing to the ‘Re­ported At­tacks of Per­sons with Al­binism’ re­port dated Septem­ber 27, 2016 by the Cana­dian char­ity ‘Un­der the Same Sun’, af­ter re­view­ing 180 coun­tries, it lists 187 re­cent killings and 314 at­tacks, all within 26 African coun­tries; not­ing that many at­tacks and killings in Africa are not doc­u­mented or re­ported.

It fur­ther notes that coun­tries known to be in­volved in the cross­bor­der trade of peo­ple with al­binism and their body parts in­clude Tan­za­nia, Bu­rundi, Kenya, DRC, Mozam­bique, Malawi, South Africa and Swazi­land.


The up­surge of per­se­cu­tion of peo­ple with al­binism in Malawi was seen af­ter Tan­za­nia en­acted tougher laws to com­bat the vi­o­la­tions wit­nessed in their own coun­try, with the United Na­tions re­port­ing that nearly eighty per­sons with al­binism in Tan­za­nia have been killed since 2000.

The at­tacks in Tan­za­nia led to warn­ings that gangs have car­ried at­tacks in Kenya for the trade in Tan­za­nia. Con­se­quently, in 2015, peo­ple with al­binism liv­ing near Kenya’s border with Tan­za­nia moved away amid fears that they were tar­gets by witch doc­tors who were keen to sell their body parts as good luck charms to politi­cian hope­fuls, more so as Tan­za­nia’s na­tion­wide elec­tions were ap­proach­ing.

This came fol­low­ing the case of Enock Jamenya who was re­ported to have been at­tacked in his home in Vi­higa district by a gang of thieves de­mand­ing money. When he told them that he didn’t have any money, they asked for an ear or hand to sell in Tan­za­nia. Though they were in­ter­rupted and man­aged to flee, the gang left Jamenya wounded and un­con­scious. He later on suc­cumbed to his in­juries.

On Septem­ber 2, an­other UN re­port was is­sued and this time round, Mozam­bique where un­like the widely re­ported cases in Malawi and Tan­za­nia, at­tacks were a new phe­nom­e­non. Fol­low­ing her 12day mis­sion to the coun­try, UN’s Ikpon­wosa Ero said per­sons with al­binism have suf­fered more than 100 at­tacks since 2014 and added that she was “deeply struck” by the sense of fear within the com­mu­nity.

It is ev­i­dent that the per­se­cu­tions are as a re­sult of lack of aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion, which en­abled for mis­con­cep­tions to thrive with in­creased ex­ploita­tion by witch doc­tors and crim­i­nals.


This prompted Kenya’s ad­vo­cacy ef­forts to be spear­headed by peo­ple with al­binism and if you ask many, it has been a suc­cess and at the very least is a mes­sage of hope for sub­Sa­ha­ran coun­tries.

Jane is a per­fect ex­am­ple hav­ing been a Wash­ing­ton Man­dela Fel­low for Young African Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive and now seek­ing to eco­nom­i­cally em­power and men­tor peo­ple with al­binism through her or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Honor­able Isaac Mwaura, the nom­i­nated mem­ber of par­lia­ment for spe­cial in­ter­est groups as a per­son with al­binism, man­aged to get the gov­ern­ment to al­lo­cate funds for pro­vi­sion of sun­screen in hos­pi­tals as well as free pro­tec­tive cloth­ing for per­sons with al­binism; an­other mile­stone.

Alex Mun­yere, the found­ing chair of the Al­binism So­ci­ety of Kenya and now the head of the Al­binism Pro­gramme at the Na­tional Coun­cil for Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties says they are cur­rently reg­is­ter­ing peo­ple with al­binism in Kenya, with ap­prox­i­mately 3000 per­sons reg­is­tered thus far.

“The reg­is­tra­tion is not only im­por­tant for map­ping pur­poses but it will aid in plan­ning and re­source al­lo­ca­tion for in­ter­ven­tions.”

The pro­gramme, which re­ceives Sh100mil­lion an­nu­ally for ed­u­ca­tion as­sess­ment and re­source al­lo­ca­tion, has been able to fund sev­eral en­tre­pre­neur­ial projects and is also sup­port­ing the pro­vi­sion of sun­screen in public hos­pi­tals across all coun­ties in Kenya.

Mun­yere at­tributes the grow­ing suc­cess of peo­ple with al­binism in Kenya in­clud­ing hav­ing Africa’s first al­binism so­ci­ety, to a col­lab­o­ra­tive strat­egy,

“From the be­gin­ning we were keen to work with the gov­ern­ment and form part­ner­ships with other agen­cies and or­gan­i­sa­tions. We are only able to achieve more in this way as op­posed to each man fight­ing in his cor­ner.”

High Court Judge, Hon Lady Jus­tice Mumbi Ngugi and now pre­sid­ing judge in Keri­cho, em­pha­sised on the need for sup­port sys­tems to fa­cil­i­tate the in­te­gra­tion of Per­sons With Al­binism in so­ci­ety.

“I would like to see chil­dren with al­binism ed­u­cated in in­te­grated schools so that they get used to other peo­ple and other peo­ple get used to them as at the end of the day, we are all hu­man be­ings liv­ing un­der the same sun.”


Isaac Mwaura, a mem­ber of Kenya’s Par­lia­ment and na­tional co­or­di­na­tor for the Al­binism So­ci­ety of Kenya, speaks to Bianca Chacha and Gabriel Kinyan­jui at their home in Au­gust 2015. Mwaura took in both chil­dren af­ter they sur­vived ab­duc­tion at­tempts.


Bun­goma nom­i­nated MCA Martin Wany­onyi talks to 56-year-old Enock Jamenya at the Vi­higa District Hospi­tal in Septem­ber 2015.

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