Three men who attacked and killed a young albino boy in Tanzania have been condemned to death by hanging, a Tanzanian court has ruled. The 14 year-old boy was killed and his legs were severed for use in witchcraft potions. According urban-legend, witchdoctors use these body parts in concoctions they claim bring luck and wealth.
The condemned men are three of many Tanzanians and Burundians who participate in the diabolical ritual activities for fortunes that entail the killing and stealing of albino body parts. The sentenced culprits however, have the right to appeal against the death penalty – a sentence their lawyers described as unforeseen.
Even though the albino body-part business has existed for many years in Tanzania and Burundi, this is the first conviction to be made. Forty-six albino people have been murdered in Tanzania alone in the past 18 months, many people have been arrested, but no one had ever been sentenced. BBC Africa analyst Mary Harper says it is possible that Wednesday’s death sentence will deter people from killing albino people in Tanzania where an estimated 17,000 albino people live.
But in a country as poor as Tanzania, where the legend that albino body parts bring good luck and wealth, some observers believe that the killings of albinos are likely to continue, given the lucre of the body parts, and the fact that some witchdoctors still practice the dark-art.
The Albino Association of Tanzania says that although just 4,000 albinos are officially registered in the country, they believe the actual number could be as high as 173,000.
The cycle has been vicious. Witchdoctors in Tanzania, Burundi and other parts of East Africa have made tens of thousands of dollars from selling potions and other items made from the bones, hair, skin and genitals of dead albino people, and they pay a lot of money to the killers, for body the parts.
But the violence against albinos is not restricted to Tanzania; last October, a man and a teenage girl who were killed in Burundi were reportedly found dead with their legs and arms missing. Police also confirmed that the tip of the girl’s tongue was also removed. In November it was reported that a six-year-old albino girl in Burundi was found dead with her head and limbs removed. Local media report that the albinos in Burundi, estimated to number around 200 – are now living in fear for their lives.
Albinism affects one in 20,000 people worldwide, but in Tanzania the prevalence appears to be much higher. Sorcery and occultism maintain this strong foothold in Tanzania and Burundi, especially in the remote rural areas around the fishing and mining regions of Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria. Witchdoctors, middlemen and the clients who pay for albino body parts are among the 173 people currently in custody for these gruesome killings.