People with albinism in Malawi face a daily dicey life. Stories of abductions and killings—and add in for good measure, exhumations of graves of people with albinism—appear frequently in the local media almost a year since the unfortunate events started manifesting themselves in the country.
This is despite statements from the government—notably President Peter Mutharika—appealing for extra security measures and mindset change to ensure the lives of people with albinism are well secured.
Mutharika has warned perpetrators of serious action once apprehended and found guilty by the competent courts of law.
However, in the first two weeks of April alone, a few incidents have already come to light. Police in Machinga arrested two people for allegedly abducting and decapitating a nine-year-old albino boy. As if that was not enough, a two-year-old girl with albinism was confirmed dead with body parts mutilated in Kasungu only last week.
With graveyard exhumations of albino bodies reported in Kasungu, Nsanje and other places, the question whether albinos—alive or dead—are safe remains relevant as the present circumstances seem to point.
Deputy National Police spokesperson Thomeck Nyaude on Tuesday assured Malawians that the Malawi Police Service has rolled out a four-point strategy that aims at not only ensuring the safety to people with albinism, but also making those with criminal mindsets to feel out of place.
“Civic education remains an integral part of our efforts which are being complemented by a new setup in which every police station has started recording names and locations for all albinos. Besides, there are now special desks with a responsible officer at every police station. As police, we are also working with other partners including anti-crime units in schools,” he said.
Nyaude said these measures have formed a backbone of a national police response to the albino abductions and killings which have not missed the eyes of the international community.
The United Nations this week sent its special envoy, Ikponwosa Ero, for a two-week monitoring visit to make an assessment of the overall human rights situation for people with albinism in the country.
But despite the police stressing measures that they are taking to secure the lives of Malawian albinos, some citizens still feel not enough is being done.
A Lilongwe resident, Rodgers Siula, said words alone could not be trusted without a demonstration of intent by authorities.
“A lot has been said already on safety guarantees to albinos but this must be practical; their safety remains compromised. It is unfortunate that as a country we seem to be treating this barbaric behaviour of killing albinos with kid gloves.
“A comprehensive action is what is needed. It is not only about government, we need collective action to ensure people with albinism are safe in our communities,” he said.
According to Siula, the police should not only rest their hopes on citizen participation but should equally beef up security across the country.
“There’s a lot more the police can do in law enforcement. We should commend members of the general public for having done their part in alerting the police on assailants. As part of their work commitment to ensure safety to Malawians, the police need to step up their game in order to contain the problem. Perhaps there is need to enhance community policing. The law enforcers also need to intensify investigations and patrols. This also calls for a need to resurrect their toll-free numbers and step up their social media access,” he said.
Principal Secretary for Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Mary Shawa acknowledged the continuous threat that people with albinism continue to face.
“We have learnt with regret the sad developments in Machinga and Kasungu. The trends are the same in both cases where the children were abducted right in their homes. We will continue to galvanise the partnership between our ministry and the police at every level to ensure that we close the gaps. Suffice to say, ensuring the safety of albinos is the responsibility of all citizens,” she said.
Meanwhile, Shawa said the ministry is conducting comprehensive research into what drives people to abduct or kill people with albinism.