In 2015, the country witnessed distressing atrocities towards people with albinism, almost clinching the citizenry’s standing as “the warm heart of Africa”.
Throughout, the gripping headlines flashed past: Police Nab Albino Attackers, Ritual Murder in Machinga, Woman Exhumes Albino’s Body, Teacher Sells Albino Girl, Four Arrested Exhuming Albino Bones.
History will have recorded that in 2015 the abductions erupted, calmed down and resurfaced, leaving ‘Albino Hunted Like Animals’-as one headline screamed.
“Why are you killing our brothers and sisters like wild animals?” Amana Juma, 17, asks.
The teenager, whose brother Morton, 11, narrowly survived the killings that have left the courts with a marathon of almost 30 cases, questions why the country claims to be ‘a God-fearing nation’ at all.
To him, it’s a ruthless nation-a state of blood. The kidnappings largely involved children and offenders often went off the hook with lenient penalties as the courts had to rely on third-party accounts to ascertain the young victims testimonies.
The killings panned out in quick succession, but knowing his 11-year-old sibling was almost slain by a person they grew up calling ‘uncle’ has left Amana singing a song of no confidence in the country President Peter Mutharika wants all Malawians to love profoundly.
The R&B upstart in Mwambuli Village, on the outskirts of Karonga boma, may not be your typical hitmaker, but he has a story of national significance to share.
The bloody scenes keep haunting the nation as the nearly 10 000 Malawians with albinism still live in fear of further attacks-with Morton dropping out or school, failing to sleep and is trusting nobody.
“Who are they? What do they want?” he asked during the visit to Mwambuli, a greeting his people aptly interpret as a sign of deepening insecurity.
But the scars that cut across his throat and right arm show why trusting anybody would be as suicidal as it were.
On a sunny September afternoon-when the kidnappings resurfaced after two months-came ‘uncle’, asked for drinking water and lured the boy into a bush where a pair hacked him with murderous ferocity until an alarmed passerby came calling for help.
Until February 2015, this brutality against people with no skin pigment was the stuff of news from Tanzania, where witchdoctors stand banned for promoting good-luck rituals that have led to 100 deaths since 2000.
With the discriminatory killings quietened, Malawians woke up to a barrage of the same in Machinga and Zomba which later shifted to Mzimba and the northern border district of Karonga.
Karonga offers the gateway to Tanzania and the rest of East Africa where it all began.
When asked about the state of security in 2015, national police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa was taken aback by the startling attacks.
“This year started badly and ended on a high note. One of the most worrying concerns was the abductions of our friends with albinism. It’s shocking we had over 31 cases in court,” Gondwa says.
This compelled the president to appoint a special taskforce and order the defence force to strengthen the crackdown
Despite the clampdown by the combined forces, the Association of People with Albinism (Apam) reports that 19 people have disappeared since such killings resurfaced.
And Apam president Boniface Massa warns against a worse tide.
“The attacks are shifting northwards. Sadly, our borders are porous making it easy for the abductors to traffic the people with albinism by road or water,” the activist warns.
Ironically, human rights campaigners, the self-styled voices of the voiceless, have been almost quiet.
The activists may be vocal on numerous human freedoms, but they were strangely silent on the threat to the right to life and equal treatment espoused by the constitution.
The untold neglect puts into question the credibility of the civil society and their favourite campaigns.
In May, Massa sounded surprised that campaigners for rights of peoples had kept mum on the attacks.
He stated: “Our plea is that as they are talking about human rights, they should also take time to defend the rights of people with albinism. As they are campaigning for minority rights, they should also remember other minorities in danger.”
If the rights defenders wanted an awakening, this was it. Their muted response to topical rights abuses could be more the reason people misconstrue ‘minority rights’ as merely a masked push for same-sex marriages.
Unsurprisingly, this sparked a reaction from Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep) who reasserted their commitment towards safeguarding human dignity and freedoms.
The two bodies, which propagate the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI), had reported the attacks to the United Nations the previous month.
They petitioned the world body to ensure government institutes measures to guarantee full protection of rights of people with albinism.
However, the widespread inertia in the civil sector represents a missed opportunity to participate in raising awareness of the rights under attack to combat the misconceptions of body parts as ingredients of good-luck charms.
Equally mute were the donor countries which often come out with threats of aid cuts when suspected and confessed homosexuals get arrested.
The western powers recently declared their keen interest in the arrest of two gays in Lilongwe’s Area 25 and remind government of its obligations, but they were almost nonexistent when the Malawians with albinism were living at the risk of being killed.
Actually, Apam went flat out to impart safety measures to its at-risk members without any tangible funding and it remains among the least financed cause despite the gigantic job at hand.
By taking spectators’ seats, the donors and benefactors silently rendered credence to speculation that the heated debate on minority rights could be nothing much except a scramble for fat cheques from Western capitals.
Whatever it is, the opinion leaders behaved no better than the perverts who keep screaming prices every time they met people with albinism in public places.
Going forward, let everybody remember that silence is not golden-but an endorsement of wrongs that go unchallenged. The fight against albino killings calls for concerted efforts.