Need for regional authorities to further beef up security to people with albinism as tension rises

By Emmanuel Onyango , The Guardian
Published at 06:00 AM Jul 05 2024
Child with albinism Asimwe Nobath (2).
Photo: File
Child with albinism Asimwe Nobath (2).

MURDERS of people with albinism have re-emerged in the country after the spate of killings became notorious a decade ago and the movements were lawfully suppressed by security forces after a serious debate on human rights issues in Africa and the world at large.

Media reports published during the time under review between 2009 and 2014 on albino murders in Tanzania showed that the situation was alarming and pathetic. Diverse activities that unfolded in response to the attacks were numerous in those days despite cries by human rights activists.

During the particular period, the spate of killings that occurred at unprecedented time had grown into a high level to the extent that the country’s image was tarnished in the eyes of the international community.

Currently there is a mounting pressure on the government authorities who have ensued serious reactions to confront the situation which has become a threat as people with albinism are in the state of fear following the recent spate of abductions and subsequent killings of a two-year-old girl—Asimwe Novath which occurred in Kagera Region in May this year.

The deliberate action has caused endless debate throughout the country as the public had forgotten the situation amid tightened security but to their great dismay, are now surprised to see the situation taking a momentum with highly respected people taken to task for their involvement.   

Public debates about albino killings in Tanzania and other African countries had been dominated by media reports rather than academic writings that have caused further harm to victims and their families whereby their loved ones are kidnapped and hacked to death.

The tragedy shocked the President Samia Suluhu Hassan who for the first time since she clung to power over three year ago expressed her disappointment and sympathy on the situation which happened when the nation prepares for civic polls later this year and General Election next year.

The Head of State who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, pleaded to security forces including human rights activists to be alert as well as taking care of the people with albinism following the abduction of a two-year-old girl, describing the killings as ‘disgusting and a big embarrassment to the nation’.

The two-year-old innocent child was abducted from her mother's arms late in the evening at their home in Mbale hamlet, Bulamula village, Muleba District Kagera Region on May 30, 2024.

Members of security forces reacted quickly and managed to uncover the child's mutilated body which was dumped in a forest at Makongora village with several of her body organs missing on June 17, 2024. The discovery of her remains was made successful after an intensive search was mounted that lasted within two weeks’ time from the day of her disappearance.

Members of Parliament were shocked and ordered an immediate search for the suspects who detailed their involvement in the grisly incident. Among the nine arrested suspects, one is a Priest of Bugandika Parish of a Roman Catholic Church Reverend Elipidius Rwegoshora.

Others are Desideli Evarist, a traditional healer residing in Nyakahama who is alleged of orchestrating the crime by persuading Asimwe's father to engage in the sale of human organs.

Rwegoshora allegedly financed the services of a traditional healer and was found by the plain clothed police officers in possession of some body parts believed to be Asimwe's stored in plastic containers while seeking a buyer. Other suspects are Dastan Kaiza, Faswiru Athuman, Gozibert Alkadi, Rwenyagira Burkadi, Ramadhani Selestine, and Nurduni Hamada all of whom are under police arrest.

Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner of the Police (SACP) David Misime confirmed to the general public the arrests and the subsequent recovery of the body parts at a press briefing held in the country’s capital—Dodoma. However, he warned against superstitious beliefs and practices that led to such heinous crimes, emphasizing that these acts are both illegal and morally reprehensible.

The belief that one can gain wealth through such means is a dangerous superstition. If it were true, families with albino members would be extremely wealthy in this world which is not the case, he stated and described the crime as a barbaric act that dishonors the nation and the sanctity of human life.

According to the criminal laws governing the country, the Parish Priest who has been suspended from giving God’s services by a Catholic Church, alongside with other suspects will face legal action for their involvement in the crime before the court of law once the investigations are complete.

The police reiterated their commitment to bringing all perpetrators of such crimes to justice, regardless of their position or status bearing in mind the fact that this kind of crime is a disgrace to humanity and an affront to the country's values.

Past reports by the United Nations on human rights showed that attacks on people with albinism have claimed the lives of at least 75 people in Tanzania since the spate of killings were started to be reported in 2009 and it’s very astonishing to see that, the country has not passed a death sentence to any suspects up to now.

Members of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities arrived at the conclusion after authorities allegedly indicated unwillingness to follow up on three petitions filed to the committee concerning the mutilation of people with albinism that occurred in Tanzania between 2009 and 2014 and the lack of accountability for such abuses in Tanzania.

In March 2015, the BBC reported that more than 200 witchdoctors including traditional medicine men were arrested in Tanzania within the said period in a crackdown to find out the perpetrators or murderers.

Last month, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa ordered all District Commissioners (DCs) and regional authorities in the country to take care of people with albinism at all levels to suppress such movements coordinated by bad people in local communities.

He told Members of Parliament during the question and answer session in the National Assembly that the untimely and horrific murder of a two-year-old albino girl, Asimwe Novath will most likely confirm and strengthen fears that some actors might misinterpret that authorities in Tanzania have failed to ensure the safety of people with albinism.

This failure might constitute the violations of the country’s national and international obligations to protect people with disabilities, he added.

The Premier denounced the belief advanced by some witchdoctors, that albino body parts have properties that confer wealth and good luck, and has also pleaded to police force to take actions to remedy the situation that has driven these killings, as people are optimistic that justice will be served and prevail.

Godson Mollel, The National Chairperson of the Tanzania Albinism Society (TAS), a nonprofit that supports people with albinism in the country, has asked law enforcement authorities to prioritize the plight of people with albinism as the situation has shamed Tanzania in the eyes of international community.