DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tanzanian politicians were warned to steer clear of witchcraft ahead of elections later this year after the nation’s parliament heard lawmakers could be involved in a wave of attacks on albinos whose body parts are prized in black magic.
In the first admission of its kind in parliament, Pereira Silima, Tanzania’s deputy home affairs minister, said reports linking politicians to albino killings could be true since attacks rose during elections.
The East African country imposed a ban on witchcraft earlier this year to try to stop a trade in albino body parts used in spells and charms claiming to bring luck and wealth as the United Nations warned of a marked increase in attacks.
Silima urged politicians to be wary of promises from witch doctors to help them secure victory in the October general election.
“I want to assure my fellow politicians that there won’t be any parliamentary seat that will be won as a result of using albino body parts,” Silima told the national parliament late last week.
Albinos face attack in many parts of Africa, but kidnappings, attacks and killings are more common in Tanzania.
At least 75 albinos, who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, including children, have been killed in Tanzania since 2000, according to U.N. figures, many hacked to death.
Witch doctors will pay as much as $75,000 for a full set of albino body parts, according to a Red Cross report.
The United Nations warned in March that 2015 could be a dangerous year for albinos in Tanzania as politicians turn to witch doctors to widen their chances of winning the polls.
Vicky Ntetema, executive director of Under The Same Sun, a Canadian non-profit working to defend albinos, said an investigative report eight years ago exposed politicians who sought magic potions from witch doctors to win elections but this was the first time that the link was made in parliament.
“As sad and as disgusting as it is to hear a government minister admitting that politicians are involved in albino killings, I am glad that finally this is an official acknowledgment,” She told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
Ntetema said the parliament had not seriously discussed the plight of albinos after the atrocities were first reported in 2006 and had failed to take strong enough action.
It was not until this year that President Jakaya Kikwete vowed to stamp out the practice he said brought shame to his nation, imposing a ban on witchcraft and with police arresting over 30 witch doctors in recent months to stop the attacks.
Albinism is a congenital disorder which affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide, according to medical authorities. It is, however, more common in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting an estimated one Tanzanian in 1,400.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org