Albino occult murders continue in East Africa

International News Editor 21 November 2008

A six-year old girl has been murdered and mutilated in Burundi in the latest of a spate of killings linked to ritual medicines.

This is the sixth person with albinism to be killed in Burundi in the last two months.

According to local officials, armed attackers broke into her home on Sunday and tied up her parents before shooting the child. They then removed her head and limbs, taking these with them.

It is thought that the girl was targeted because of a prevailing local belief that witchdoctors can make magical medicines from the body parts of albinos.

In exchange for thousands of dollars, occult practitioners claim that they can make potions using an albino’s legs, hands, hair and blood to bring love or prosperity.

Over 30 people have died in similar attacks in Tanzania, most recently a seven-month-old baby.

A few weeks ago, a 50-year-old farmer, Nyere Rutahiro, was murdered by a gang wielding machetes and shouting ‘we want your legs’.

His grave was sealed with cement to prevent his body parts from being stolen and sold to witchdoctors.

Last Thursday police in south-western Tanzania arrested a fisherman who was trying to sell his albino wife to two Congolese businessmen for $3000 (£1998).

Zihada Msembo, secretary general of the Tanzania Albino Society, told Reuters: “If you leave work at night as an albino, you are unsure of reaching home safely. When you sleep, you are unsure of waking up in one piece.”

It is thought that the murders might be connected to the trade in albino body-parts in Tanzania.

Kazungu Kassim, head of Burundi’s Albino Association, said: ‘Our country has earned a reputation that it is doing business with albino body parts, so people in other countries can kill and cross into Tanzania where there is a ready market.’

Nicodeme Gahimbare, a public prosecutor, said two men arrested in connection to recent deaths had been conducting business in Tanzania: ” said they got 1 million Burundian francs (£559) from a Tanzanian seeking albino body parts.”

He mentioned others who had confessed to dealing with a Tanzanian offering three million francs for albino hair.

Belief in the occult is common in rural areas around Lake Victoria, particularly in fishing or mining communities.

President Jakaya Kikwere has condemned the killings as ‘utterly stupid’, calling the witchdoctors ‘con artists’ and reminding Tanzanians that wealth is gained through hard work, not magic potions.

It is proving difficult for police to provide more effective protection, as, according to the Albino Association of Tanzania, although there are only 4000 albinos officially registered in Tanzania, the number could be nearer to 173,000. A census is underway to ascertain actual figures.

Some 173 people, including witchdoctors, middlemen and their clients have been arrested in connection with the killings, although none so far have been prosecuted.

Carly Hilts

International News Editor