While people thought all was well, the country has over the past four months witnessed the resurgence of abductions and killings of people with albinism in the country. Seven attacks ranging from killing, grave tampering, attempted abduction and physical violence have been recorded. Our News Analyst LUCKY MKANDAWIRE engages social and governance commentator Boniface Chibwana who is also national coordinator for Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) on what this means.
As CCJP what do you make of this latest wave of attacks on people with albinism?
AWithout speculation, this resurgence points to a continued abuse and perhaps even a dangerous escalation of violence against persons with albinism. It points to a failure of our systems, including the court to provide for adequate legal remedies, lack of sufficient and uncompromising political will and lack of change of mindset to flash out superstitions and myths that result to such abuse.
It also points to a failure of our security mechanisms, community fortification and individual obligation. The death of one person with albinism, as it has been with Saidi Futon Dyton whose remains were mutilated, should bare the same weight as a death of a close relative. It is this reason that this resurgence should be considered as a failure of the nation to protect its vulnerable citizens.
If we are to succeed in this fight, each one of us should carry the exclusive obligation towards the protection of persons with albinism. We have to go full-throttle in terms of effort and resource because we cannot continue to alienate ourselves from this circumstance because both the abuser and the victims are persons within our reach.
Where exactly have we failed as a country to protect the rights of people with albinism?
AWhat we are calling ‘failure’ should be understood as a gap because there are a lot of initiatives aimed at rooting out the vice amidst us. However, there are gaps we can flag outright. These gaps stem from a failure to build from the shared values of people and the inability to address the root causes to the problem.
We need to have a shared vision of civic engagement on the rights of people with albinism in the country. Noting the nation is secured by an overburdened and under staffed police service the nation needs to cultivate more from its ubunthu or umunthu personality and speak to the benefit of us all being a guard of another to protect persons with albinism.
We need to intensify community policing because it is essential to ensure that everyone is on guard and thoroughly involved. A bulk of the violence against persons with albinism in Malawi is superstition-based and often fuelled by traditional doctors. The cases we have seen so far have not revealed disciplining and holding accountable traditional doctors but they have often apprehended the persons who act on the beliefs of traditional doctors. The unfortunate consequence is that we have failed to address the root of the problem.
What do you think might be the major cause of these unfortunate occurrences?
ATrends point to societal ignorance on albinism and toxic traditional speculation. What we can also clearly ascertain is that this abuse dates back to pre-colonial times. We have not found any local name of persons with albinism that is free from derogatory or demeaning connotation.
Local names for persons with albinism like ‘mzungudala’ meaning fake white person, ‘katchiluwe’ meaning yellow pumpkin, ‘napweri’ meaning unripe tomatoes and the list goes on. This signifies that persons with albinism have always been a subject of mockery and demeaning conduct. This also points to the fact that violence against persons with albinism is deep-rooted.
What should government and stakeholders do in promoting the rights of people with albinism?
AThey have already managed to do something from change of legal framework to community sensitisation. Beyond the existing legal framework the law has to endeavor to regulate the conduct of traditional doctors. The government also has to facilitate the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Bill.
The ongoing review of the Witchcraft Act should also be prioritised and be done in the understanding of violence against persons with albinism and the need to address other superstition driven crimes. The courts issued a Practice Direction in 2016 to ensure speedy trials, consistent ruling and stiff penalties. Indeed, several courts have issued landmark rulings and penalties but the speed at which cases are concluded is worrying. Cases to do with persons with albinism abuse are concluded at a slower rate than other criminal offenses. The government should thus go ahead to devise means to correct further this anomaly.
Government allocated funding in the budget to National Action Plan but monitoring utilisation of the funds should be enhanced. We also have a Social Protection Program of building subsidised houses for people with albinism which should be quickly implemented.