In life and politics we look for leaders who embody the boldness that we ourselves may not be able to show. The Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) encapsulated that spirit when they announced that they would put up six candidates to run for for President in next year’s Presidential election.
The association in question is a group of Malawians who suffer from albinism in the country. They are seeking to bring an end to the injustice that albino people in the country are regularly subjected to. To be albino in Malawi is to be endangered. Albinism is a genetic condition in which people are born with abnormally low levels of pigment, leading to pale white skin and blonde hair.
There are swathes of Malawian society who see albinism as something mystical. Superstition and belief in magic are widespread in parts of the country. Combined with poverty these beliefs make for a volatile mix and albino people are regularly targeted for kidnappings, mutilation and ‘ritual’ killings for the sake of harvesting their body parts, which are then sold on to witch doctors for profit.
Since late 2014, at least 117 people with albinism have been attacked in Malawi. Around 20 have been killed. APAM have said that between December 2014 and March 2016 50 attacks were recorded resulting in 11 deaths. 64% of those attacked were either women or children.
In one of the more gruesome cases authorities found a severed head who they believed belonged to a 9 year old boy.
The government has in the past passed legislation to specifically protect albinos. The Penal Code Amendment Act and Revised Anatomy Act, created new offences and levied tougher penalties but in the eyes of the albino community in Malawi it does not go anywhere near to stymieing the discrimination the Albinos face. Amnesty International said that despite the passing of the bill albinos are still being killed for their body parts.
Overstone Kondowe, speaking to CNN, described the situation, saying “persons with albinism continue to face daunting challenges which include justice denial, education denial, insecurity, ritual attacks, unemployment to under-employment and cancer attacks.”
One of the candidates who will be running for parliament in May next year is Elizabeth Machinjiri. Machinjiri said of the situation “We need political commitment in fighting this… people should know that I am standing for a reason. I won’t hide from evil since I am a courageous person.”
And it is those courageous people who, in every incidence in history, have been key to alleviating themselves of the weight of oppression. We know what this oppression looks like. We’ve seen barabarism before. Evil is not a feature exclusive to anywhere in particular. What is clear is that the Malawians will have to work towards not just for greater albino representation but to removing the conditions that allow a belief that albino people’s bones have magic powers. Education will be key in this fight, and if albino people can manage to win public office in next year’s elections then they might cautiously say that they have won the first round.