The Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) has turned down two invitations to meet President Peter Mutharika at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe before their protest vigils slated for March 6 to 8 at State House.
Instead, Apam insists that its entire membership will only meet the President during the planned vigils to demand a commitment to the safety of people with albinism.
In an interview yesterday, Apam president Overstone Kondowe said that Apam executive and trustees were asked to meet Mutharika twice last week, but decided not to do so.
He said the invitations came through presidential adviser on non-governmental organisations Mavuto Bamusi and chairperson of the Presidential Taskforce on People With Albinism, Hetherwick Ntaba, who is also a presidential aide.
Said Kondowe: “We met the President in 2016 and we have previously submitted our petitions about the challenges people with albinism [PWAs] face, but there is nothing that has happened.
“What I told them [Bamusi and Ntaba] is that we are already going to have vigils at State House from 6 to 8 March 2019. So, if he [the President] wants to meet us, he has to meet us that time.
“We don’t want the President just to meet myself and few other people. We want him to meet over 200 people with albinism that will be holding these vigils.”
He said the vigils would provide Mutharika with an opportunity to learn first-hand from PWAs on their plight.
Bamusi yesterday confirmed extending an invitation to Apam leadership to meet Mutharika before the vigils on March 6, but refused to take any further questions.
He said: “The President [Mutharika] is highly willing to meet persons with albinism before March 6 and all arrangements are in place for this meeting.”
Apam’s refusal to meet the President before the planned vigils comes days after the association withdrew from the Ntaba-chaired task force following Minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi’s remarks that atrocities against PWAs had not reached levels where they should hold vigils at State House or seek asylum abroad.
Apam’s planned vigils are scheduled to be preceded by a solidarity march from Lilongwe Community Centre ground through Parliament Building to Kamuzu Palace to petition the President.
Ntaba decried Apam’s withdrawal and said he was trying his best to bring the association back to the table to iron out the differences and concerns.
Stakeholders suggest solutions In recent weeks, various stakeholders have suggested how the country should address the problem of attacks, abductions and killings of PWAs.
European Union Ambassador Sandra Paesen told journalists in Mzuzu last week that the blame-game on who is wrong or who should take action would not help the situation which, she said, has left a dent on Malawi’s image.
Amnesty International deputy director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwananyanda also urged Capital Hill to “promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigate” the recent attacks against PWA, further ensuring that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice.
On her part, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma wrote Capital Hill that the moral test of government would be measured by how it treats its vulnerable, weak and those who are in the shadows of life, in this case PWA.
Apam has also met several stakeholders, including the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima who also leads UTM Party and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera.
In a statement through party publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali, MCP demanded that government should declare the abduction and killings of people with albinism as a national crisis.
On his part, Chilima urged government to provide victim support to families affected, both materially and by counselling.
While there has been too much talk and condemnation of these acts of terror, the Vice-President noted that the same has not been matched with the resolute action commensurate with the scale and urgency of the plight faced by PWA.
But a visibly charged Mutharika, speaking during the commissioning of the $50 million (about K36 billion) World Bank-funded Kamuzu Barrage and bridge last Monday in Liwonde, said by not providing the solution now, his critics had no solution.
Since November 2014, the number of reported crimes against people with albinism in Malawi has risen to 152 cases, including 25 murders and more than 10 people missing, according to Apam.