Futile hunt for market of evil

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By Peter Kanjere:

MUTHARIKA—This must stop

Dealing with attacks and abductions of persons with albinism in Malawi remains a cryptic puzzle due to the mystery that shrouds actual market for body tissues of such marginalised people.

Reports suggest that the market is across the borders in countries such as Mozambique while others say witchdoctors are behind this evil business, which threatens the safety of 134,636 persons with albinism.

The closest that the nation came to tracing such a market was when police arrested Buleya Lule, a key suspect in the abduction of Goodson Makanjira, a 14-year-old boy with albinism in Dedza on February 13 2019.

Unfortunately, Lule died while in police custody a day after appearing in court alongside other suspects connected to the missing of Makanjira.

Unfortunately, while the police are entrusted with identifying the invisible market that drives demand and supply, a Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) report released on May 8 2019 implicated the very same law enforcers for their alleged role in the death of Lule.

“These police officers who should be investigated include Superintendent Paul Chipole, Sub-Inspector Ikram Malata, Commissioner Evalista Chisale, Inspector Ronnex Kapesa, station criminal investigations officer for Dedza police Mervin Gama and the four mobile police officers (not named)…,” the report which MHRC Commissioner Martha Chizuma released in Lilongwe reads.

Instead of devouting time to identifying the market for body tissues of persons with albinism, the police are busy investigating fellow men and women in uniform.

The disappearance of Makanjira came hot on the heels of two consecutive attacks in Nkhata Bay and Karonga.

In Nkhata Bay, Yasin Phiri was murdered in cold blood on the night of December 31 2018 in the presence of his son.

So, as has been the case with 24 other persons with albinism who were murdered in similar gruesome fashion, the police have made some arrests while handing death and life sentences to Willard Mikaele and Humphrey Elia for killing persons with albinism in Thyolo and Phalombe, respectively.

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Mikaele, a barber, received the sentence after he strangled to death Mphatso Pensulo, 19, on January 10 2017, on the advice of a witchdoctor in Mozambique so as to get rich.

On the other hand, Elia, 29, and wife Mary Nankhuku, 43, were found guilty in April 2019 of murdering 12-year-old Joseph Kachingwe.

Just as has been the case with the other cases, all that is known is that people are arrested for either attacking or murdering people with albinism so as to sell their body parts.

Where? No one knows. Thomas Msusa, Arch Bishop of Blantyre Archdiocese, posed a similar question when he spoke at St Paul’s Parish in Luchenza Municipality.

“My appeal is that leaders and stakeholders should investigate reports that there is a market for bones of people with albinism in Malawi,” The Daily Times edition of January 16 2019 quotes Msusa as saying.

Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi Executive Member, Christopher Ndovi, is quoted as telling the local press that it was sad that people with albinism live in fear.

He said some children with albinism are not reporting for classes in schools as they are afraid of the attacks.

A few months ago, the government ordered the relocation of such learners to ‘safer’ boarding schools.

“Our protection is in the hands of every Malawian, not only police. Unfortunately, we are betrayed by neighbours. No one from far can come and kill a person with albinism, and it means that someone within the communities is involved. The country has failed to protect us and I blame the communities,” Ndovi said.

Recently, President Peter Mutharika described as stupid and barbaric the killing of people living with albinism.

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He said this after the murder of Yasin Phiri in Nkhata Bay.

Speaking during the launch of Chiwanja cha Ayao at Mangochi Turn Off, Mutharika said his government would no longer tolerate people who are caught in connection with the killing of people with albinism.

“I want to say it here that we should stop attacking our friends with albinism. This must stop. It is ignorant to think that you will get rich if you have a body part of a person living with albinism.

“There is no way anybody can be rich. We have over 10 albinos that have been killed in this country and how many of those killers have become rich?

“Let us stop this childish and barbaric thinking,” he said.

Surely, the killing of people with albinism raises questions on the actual market.

United Nations human rights expert, Ikponsowa Ero, buttressed the same point on market.

“Addressing the root causes of attacks, in particular why they are happening, is indispensable to eradicating them. It is worrying to note that witchcraft beliefs and practices are widespread in Malawi, although often a taboo topic,” UN website quoted Ero as saying on April 26 2016.

KADADZERA —We have intensified awareness campaign

Malawi Police Service national spokesperson, James Kadadzera, told the press investigators are still gathering more information on the matter.

“This issue has national interest and, therefore, we cannot rush to charge the suspects before conducting thorough investigations.

“We followed our normal procedures by not keeping them in custody for 48 hours before remanding them at Nkhata Bay Prison, as we are conducting more investigations,” Kadadzera told the press.

Kadadzera then said the suspects’ rights would not be violated as the police could not rush into giving them charges.

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But Human Right Defenders Coalition Chairperson, Timothy Mtambo, said it was wrong for the police to delay in charging the suspects.

“If police charge the suspects, it does not mean that they will stop conducting investigations. There are many cases where the police charged the suspects and they are still conducting investigations.

“However, the police should know that we do not want delays on the matter because justice delayed is justice denied. We want this matter to come to an end so that the culprits face the law,” he said.

Some 24 people have been murdered and 160 attacked in Malawi since 2014 with most cases reported in Mangochi and Machinga plus other districts.

So, what pushes demand for this mysterious market for body parts of people with albinism?

Until a few months ago, what used to push demand were superstitious beliefs that were connected to illiteracy.

However, the arrests of medical officers, member of the clergy and police officers suggests that the issue is bigger than illiteracy. Money is the issue.

Others cite witchdoctors as being the market for such body parts with claims that they use them for rituals of those who want to get rich.

Again, unless the actual market is identified, all will be a matter of speculation and nothing informed can be expected to come out of that. In the end, persons with albinism will continue to live in fear.

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