Further Reading: Albinism in Tanzania

In GOLDEN BOY, the main character, Habo, is albino. Because he looks so different from everybody else, he is marginalized in his village and sees himself as worth less than normal boys. Unfortunately, when his family is forced to move to Mwanza, Habo finds that sometimes being considered priceless is much more dangerous than being seen as worthless.

In Africa, where normal skin-tones are dark, the difference between “normal” children and their albino siblings is, quite literally, as clear as black and white. Since these children look so vastly different from everyone around them, they are usually treated differently. Unfortunately, since albinism is not understood very well, people with albinism are often marginalized and discriminated against.

Discrimination occurs at basic levels, such as the restriction of people with albinism from the front rows of classrooms, where they would be able to see, and not being hired for jobs as easily as a person with normal skin tone. However, there is also a much more horrible discrimination found in many parts of Africa: the viewing of a person with albinism as an object that can bring good fortune rather than as a human being at all.

Murder & Mutilation:

The killing of albinos for their body parts to be used as good luck charms is the most extreme form of this marginalization. All over East Africa people with albinism have been attacked, mutilated, or killed for their body parts, predominantly in the lake district of northern of Tanzania. It certain regions it is believed that albino hair woven into nets will catch fish, in others it is believed that albino legs will cause a mine to produce gold. In still others, it is believed that sleeping with an albino will cure AIDS. It is widely believed that wagangas, or shamans, can use parts of albino bodies to give a person fortune, or can use the death of an albino to lift a curse. Some children have been sold by their parents to butchers. Others have been betrayed by brothers, sisters, or spouses.  This is not a long-held tradition (though children with albinism were always considered unlucky and frequently killed at birth, as were people with deformities and twins), rather this practice has only come into vogue in the past decade or so.

Tanzania currently has the highest rate of killing of anywhere in Eastern Africa. Though there have been over 70 deaths recorded (the total number of attacks is probably much higher) since 2000, there have been few murder convictions.

Reasons to Hope:

Some recent good news in Tanzania is that there are now two people with albinism who are working in Parliament. One of these albino Ministers of Parliament (Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer) was appointed and the other (Salum Khalfani Bar’wani), even more wonderfully, was elected to his post. This brave woman and man are bringing the albino crisis into the news and into the highest levels of political discussion. They are working with international organizations and, most importantly, are serving as role models. Their visibility and work is vital, not only to inspire people with albinism to become more active in lobbying for their equal rights as human beings, but also to show those in the mainstream that if you allow a person with albinism to benefit from education, they can succeed just as intelligently and highly as anyone.

There are also multiple organizations working to improve the lot of African people with albinism. Please visit their sites and see the work they are doing first-hand:

  • Under the Same Sun: A Canadian charity founded in 2008, focuses on the education and support of students. UTSS educates the general populace to value people with albinism, and works to ensure that people with albinism have access to education themselves. They provide student scholarships, school supplies, and lifesaving sunscreen and hats.
  • Asante-Mariamu is named after Mariamu Staford, the Tanzanian woman with albinism who survived an attack and the loss of her arms in 2008. Asante Mariamu runs “SunDrives,” raising funds for life-saving sun protection clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen. It also supports a dermatology clinic for people with albinism in Malawi and works to bring international attention to this crisis.
  • The Salif Keita Global Foundation: A non-profit organization founded by Malian musician and singer, Salif Keita, himself a person with albinism. SKFG brings media attention to the global plight of people with albinism, engages in advocacy for their rights and social integration, and raises funds to provide them with free healthcare, support groups, and educational services in the US, Africa, and around the world.

Full-Length Documentaries:

  • July 28, 2008: Al-Jazeera English documentary “Africa Uncovered: Murder & Myth,” is the documentary that set me down the path of writing “Golden Boy”. Please be warned, the footage is quite graphic. Part 1, Part 2

News Links:

  • January 19, 2015: BBC News: ARTICLE: “Tanzania offers reward for missing 4-year-old albino.”
  • January 17, 2015: Discovery News: ARTICLE: “East Africa tries to stem albino magic murders.”
  • January 16, 2015: NPR: ARTICLE: “Can a ban on witchcraft protect the albinos of Tanzania?”
  • January 14, 2015: Reuters: ARTICLE: “Tanzania bans witchdoctors to deter albino killings.”
  • January 13, 2015: BBC News: ARTICLE: “Tanzania bans witchdoctors over albino attacks.”
  • December 9, 2014: BBC News: ARTICLE: “Tanzania’s albino community: ‘Killed like animals’.”
  • May 14, 2014: BBC News: ARTICLE: “Tanzanian witch doctors arrested over albino killings.”
  • October 11, 2013: National Geographic News: ARTICLE: “As Tanzania’s Albino Killings Continue, Unanswered Questions Raise Fears.”
  • March 5, 2013: BBC News: ARTICLE: “UN’s Navi Pillay condemns Tanzania attacks on albinos.”
  • November 30, 2012: NPR: RADIO & ARTICLE: “Tanzania’s Albinos Face Constant Threat of Attack”
  • May 13, 2012: All Africa: ARTICLE: “Albinos want more realistic name”
  • May 5, 2011: Reuters: ARTICLE: “Albinos in Tanzania murdered or raped as AIDS ‘cure'”
  • November 15, 2010: Reuters: ARTICLE: “Tanzania’s first elected albino MP fears for life”
  • August 2010: Visura Magazine.com: PHOTO JOURNALISM: “Zeru, Zeru: Being Albino in Tanzania,” by Franck Vogel
  • August 17, 2010: BBC News: ARTICLE: “Kenyan arrested by Tanzanian police over ‘albino sale'”
  • August 30, 2010: ABC News: ARTICLE: “Africans with albinism hunted; Limbs sold on black market”
  • July 23, 2009: Al-Jazeera English: VIDEO: “African albinos killed for body organs”
  • March 20, 2009: CNN: VIDEO: “African albinos become prey”
  • March 8, 2009: MSNBC News: VIDEO: “African albinos fight for survival”
  • October 19, 2009: United Nations: VIDEO: “Deadly hunt: Albinos in Tanzania”
  • September 24, 2009: The Independent: ARTICLE: “Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer: Death penalty is fitting punishment for cruellest of killers”
  • July 24, 2008: BBC News: ARTICLE: “In hiding for exposing Tanzania witch doctors.”

If you would like to find out more about what you can do to help people with albinism in Africa, please visit my What you can do about it! page.