Lilongwe – The number of people living with albinism, who have been abducted and killed in Malawi has now reached 17 in the last two years, according to officials.
The officials admitted that the southern Africa nation, which once had a reputation for being as calm had now turned into “hade” for albinos.
The situation had now reached crisis proportions, President Peter Mutharika admitting that it was a challenge facing the nation.
“It is disheartening to learn of the rising incidences of abductions, killings and exhumations of the remains of people with albinism,” bemoaned Mutharika, during an audience he had with people living with albinism in Lilongwe on Thursday.
He further lamented: “Two months ago, we were talking of about 50 cases. Today, we have 66 cases recorded, for abductions, trespassing of graveyards, being found with human bones, suicide, assault of bodily harm, conduct likely to cause breach of peace, and killings of people with albinism.”
Repeated threats from Mutharika, tough talk from his Malawi’s police chief Lexen Kachama, earnest prayers by clerics and campaign by some civil society had failed to halt the killings in the Southern Africa nation of 17 million people.
Just this year alone, six albinos namely, David Fletcher Machinjiri, Jenifer Namusyo, Enelesi Nkhata, Whitney Chilumpha, Eunice Phiri and Harry Mokoshini had been murdered in various parts of Malawi.
In all the cases, there was one hallmark –brutality- in butchering the victims.
David Fletcher Machinjiri, a 17-year-old teenager with albinism, went to watch a football match in central Malawi’s border district of Kasungu on 24 April this year. He never returned home as he went missing. On May 2, police confirmed that David’s body had been found in neighbouring Mozambique, with his hands and feet chopped off.
Another victim, Jenifer Namusyo, a 30-year-old woman from Southern Malawi’s district of Phalombe, left her home on her bike on 30 April to seek traditional medicine in nearby village. She was abducted on her way. Her dead body and bicycle were found on the path to the village. Her breasts had been cut out and her eyes gouged out.
Two-year-old Whitney Chilumpha disappeared on the night of April 3 from her home in in Kasungu District. On April 15, her skull, teeth and clothes were found in the neighbouring village.
Similar incidents of brutality claimed lives of 9-year-old Harry Mokoshini eastern Malawi’s district of Machinga and Eunice Phiri from Kasungu whose bodies were found also found mutilated.
The killing of the six albinos this year pushed the number of those butchered to 17 as 11 others were murdered in the past two years.
Besides those killed, 14 albinos were kidnapped, three were still missing and two suffered physical assaults.
With the albino hunters, taking the battle to the cemeteries, so far 28 graves had been tampered with and bones of deceased albinos had been stolen.
While government put the number of all the cases at 66, the figure could be an underestimate as some incidents in rural areas may not have been reported to police.
Besides the use of violence, all sorts of tricks were used by criminals involved in a syndicate, with some of them using of parents and relatives to hit their targets.
Malawi president Peter Mutharika listens to the Executive director of Association of People Living with Albinism in Malawi Boniface Massa
As over 10 000 albinos were hunted like animals, a United Nations human rights expert on albimisn last week described people living with albinism in Malawi as “an endangered group facing a risk of systemic extinction over time if nothing is done”.
“Persons with albinism, and parents of children with albinism, constantly live in fear of attack,” said Ikponwosa Ero, the UN Independent Expert at the end of her visit to Malawi last week.
Ero said that many people living with albinism did not sleep peacefully and had deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum to avoid falling prey to the abductors and killers.
She described the situation in Malawi as “an emergency and a crisis disturbing in its proportions”.
Amnesty International, on the other hand, urged authorities to take immediate action to stop the ritual killings of people with albinism.
“Authorities must act now to end this killing spree and take immediate measures to protect these vulnerable people,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) executive director Boniface Massa recently expressed concern over the vice, saying besides living in constant fear of being abducted or killed, albinos also endure painful ridicule as some citizens pour scorn on them.
Presenting the various challenges they faced, during an audience with President Peter Mutharika this week, Massa, said they were currently “living in hell and not in a nation nicknamed as the warm heart of Africa”.
“When we are moving in the streets, some Malawians are calling us ‘moving cash’ or ‘mobile money’, insinuating that if they could abduct us they could sell us very quickly,” Massa said.
Police have vowed to “fight against this criminality aggressively and professionally”.
With intensified surveillance and investigations, Mutharika believed “the fruits are visible”, as the state had so far secured 12 successful convictions and two acquittals
Mutharika daid he wanted the police “to treat the suspects accordingly”, while the Judiciary should mete out “the stiffest sentences to the culprits.”