In the rural areas of Tanzania, men, women, and children with albinism–a lack of pigment that makes them appear glaringly white–are waging an extensive human rights campaign against communities who routinely attack them for their hair or body parts, used in potions to attract wealth and good luck.
As BBC explains, the tradition of cooking albinos into potions is not a new one in Tanzania, and the parents of albino parents are forced to fear that, at any minute, a band of men may kidnap their children to sell to wealthy sectors of society for use in witchcraft.
It is estimated, the BBC notes, that 30,000 albinos live in Tanzania. Within that population, the number of violent attacks resulting in death in recent years is alarming: more than 70 albinos killed for their skin and hair. Of those, the BBC reports that only ten convictions have occurred, which activists attribute to the fact that well-connected and wealthy people were behind the attacks.
One activist, Mashaka Benedict of the Sengerema Albino Society, tells BBC that educated and wealthy people in rural areas are the greatest threat to albinos. “How can a poor man offer $10,000 [£6,300] for a body part? It’s the businessmen and politicians who are involved,” he alleges, noting the lack of logic in the claim that albinos bring money and good luck. “If that’s the case, why are we not rich?”
In May, one of the few cases of justice regarding albino killings made it to court in Tanzania. Two men were arrested for hacking an albino woman to death and taking her left leg, two fingers, and a nail from one of her thumbs. The men were witch doctors, and that case was the first of its kind since February 2013. Officials responded to the outrage in the albino community by telling the BBC that witch doctors cannot practice without a certificate from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which–of course–prohibits murder for the sake of herbalist tradition.
The most dangerous year for albinos in Tanzania has been 2014. Following the May killing, August went on record as one of the most violent months for albinos in years. As Vice notes, within weeks of each other, a 15-year-old girl lost half her arm to attackers working in the service of a witch doctor, while a man was killed for defending his albino wife as attackers took away half her left arm. The three men who attacked the teen girl were arrested. A witch doctor was reportedly offering up to $600 for the girl’s arm.
Few outside Tanzania’s albino community have done much to help prevent these attacks. Police tell the BBC they have tried to prevent them and raise awareness against killing albinos, but their public service announcements and government decrees rarely get to the rural interior of the nation. At least one foreign nation, Turkey, has committed money to the fight to protect albinos in Tanzania–both from witchcraft-based attacks and from the heightened health risks a lack of pigment brings them in a hot African nation.