Let me get this straight. President Peter Mutharika invited the Association of People with Albinism (Apam) to a meeting at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe to hear their concerns and respond to them.
Apam refused to meet Mutharika, the only person with the power to use the full State power, influence and resources to help them as taxpayers. Apam preferred a vigil at the presidential palace as the most effective way of forcing government to act.
As Apam dug in, the administration courted a splinter group—Poor and Concerned People with Albinism that emerged out of nowhere. The new group promptly agreed to meet the President to discuss how stakeholders can work together to stop abductions, maiming and killings of people with albinism.
As it turned out, even some prominent members of Apam attended this Kamuzu Palace meeting during which Mutharika outlined what he believed were measures for protecting our brothers and sisters with albinism.
Meanwhile, Apam and its allies such as the Forum for the Defence of Democracy soldiered on with its plans for the vigil, which later civic authorities and security forces decided should be held at least 100 metres away from State House.
Days before the start of the protests, the President travelled to the Northern Region for official duties (well, at least that is what his office would have us believe). Either way, he is not around to pass by vigil tents or hear their desperate messages.
He is at least 400km away. Now that sucks. Frustrated, Apam and other groups as well as individuals in solidarity now want to wait around for the President to return so that they can handover their petition—or their list of demands—to Mutharika personally.
Apam is literally coming full circle here. They refused to meet the man who had publicly said he was ready to listen to their demands. And that is the same man they want to wait for and meet!
Now, now, why did Apam waste so much of its time and everybody’s when they could have met the President much earlier? My heart constricted when I saw toddlers living with albinism pierced by the biting cold and the drizzles.
These children have been plucked from the comfort of their homes to wait for days in strange places for their parents to deliver a message they could have conveyed last week to the same person they are waiting for.
Here, Apam looks like an organisation that has lost control of its agenda—and its narrative.
Don’t get me wrong, these folks have every right to use whatever means necessary to push their government to do more to protect them, not just paying lip service.
This minority group of brothers and sisters has endured what no one should; hunted and butchered like animals. The number of attacks is staggering. Since November 2014, a record wave of killings, maiming and other human rights abuses—including abductions and robberies against people with albinism—has turned these Malawians into refugees in their own country.
Between November 2014 and now, the number of reported crimes against people with albinism in Malawi has risen to more than 150 cases, including at least 23 murders and seven attempted murders. Despite lofty rhetoric, government has not shown enough action to eradicate this barbarism among our midst. Last year, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International called on Malawian authorities to do more.
“The authorities must end impunity for these crimes immediately. As a first step, they must ensure all pending cases are dealt with without undue delay, and in line with international standards of fairness,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa last June. Even the local clergy has condemned what appears to be government’s weak response to the crisis.
Even after launching the new national action plan to protect and promote rights of persons with albinism on June 25 2018 in Karonga, there is little evidence that shows it is being implemented. So, believe me, I get it that activists needed to show their anger, disappointment and disgust through some form of protests.
I believe they have done so. In fact, they have achieved more than any further vigils would because government is paying attention now.
If President Mutharika and his administration have any decency, they should act on the promises made at Kamuzu Palace last week. And if Apam leadership really cares about the people they claim to represent, they should call off the vigils and go home. What all of us should now do is to watch the administration closely and remind them every day that they owe a debt to the people with albinism and the whole nation because we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
That means if there is no sign that the Mutharika led government is not paying this long overdue debt within the next two months, all Malawians reserve the right to call the debt in on May 21 without notice.
Otherwise, message is simple: Apam, you have delivered the message: Let your members go home. We stand with you and are watching your backs. n