World News

Tanzania albinos decry politicians as police halt protest over killings

DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tanzanian police banned a demonstration on Monday to protest against attacks and murders of albinos, fuelling concerns that authorities are not committed to ending violence against albinos whose body parts are highly valued in witchcraft.

The protest, organized by the Tanzania Albinism Society, initially received police approval amid growing anger over the lack of protection for albinos in the wake of the recent abduction and suspected killing of two albino children.

A one-year-old boy, Yohana Bahati, was snatched from his home in Tanzania’s northwestern Geita region last month. His body was found days later with his limbs severed. A four-year-old girl kidnapped in December in Mwanza region is still missing.

United Nations officials estimate about 75 albinos have been killed in the east African nation since 2000 and have voiced fears of rising attacks ahead of an election this year as aspiring politicians seek good luck charms from witch doctors.

Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander Suleiman Kova was not immediately available to comment on the banning of the demonstration scheduled for March 3 that was designed to call on President Jakaya Kikwete to step up action to protect albinos.

But a police letter issued to the demonstrators said an investigation had uncovered the possibility of an outbreak of violence and a breach of peace during the protest.

Other government sources said the president was engaged with other duties and would not be able to receive the demonstrators.

Vicky Ntetema, head of Under The Same Sun - a Canadian non-profit dedicated to defending albinos - said blocking the demonstration sent the wrong message ahead of elections - a time when albinos have become more vulnerable to attacks.

A U.S. survey in 2010 found although most Tanzanians are Christian or Muslim, 60 percent believed certain people could cast spells and curses. The government recently banned witch doctors to stop the trade in albino body parts used in spells.

“When a person with albinism has been murdered or mutilated, the government is numb. You don’t hear leaders from the central government decrying the kidnapping, the mutilation or the killing,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Nobody at the top says anything. It’s something that the government has to be ashamed of.”

Albinism is a congenital disorder which affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, according to medical authorities. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400.