Salum Khalfani Bar'wani won a seat in Tanzania’s parliament in 2010, beating out an opponent who held the seat for 15 years. The victory wasn’t significant just because Salum ousted the old guard, he’s the first albino ever elected to a lawmaking position in Tanzania’s history.
No big deal right? Unfortunately, it’s a huge deal because in Tanzania they hate albinos. They hate them so much that they call Albinos ghosts and hunt them—for their body parts. Many hunters are so fucking ruthless, that they have no problem slaughtering five-year-olds like Mariam Emmanuel who was cornered in an alley and carved up like a turkey by village hunters. They aren’t just killing albinos for sport, millions believe that the blood and organs of albinos have magical properties. It’s believed that their body parts have curing powers.
Despite living in a country where the influence of Western culture is apparent, albinos are still hunted and killed. Some even grind their bones into a powder and bury them in the ground, hoping for them to magically become diamonds. So yeah, Salum’s victory is a very very big deal.
Tanzania has an estimated albino population of over 150,000. The Tanzania Albino Society was founded to protect these prosecuted people. They organize protests, but even with 8,000 members the organization isn’t safe. Attacks are common, one protestor was followed home and had her arm hacked off by attackers who attempted to remove her other arm as well.
Salum’s mission has been to champion albinos, and bring acceptance to those who share this simple skin disorder that has made them targets. He’s quoted in the Global Post as saying, “I joined politics to represent people who have disabilities, as I have. For us there is not any chance in education or jobs and in this country. Many people with albinism are killed but the government doesn’t say anything, they keep silent.”
Many albino children aren’t even enrolled in schools in Tanzania, since their safety is a constant issue. Despite Salum’s appointment, the problem isn’t being fixed quickly enough. The shocking truth is that selling the limbs of albinos is very profitable. An arm alone could fetch thousands.
Canadian Peter Ash, an albino himself, has made it his mission to protect the albinos of Tanzania. He’s spent over one million dollars on a campaign to protect these hunted people, and has committed to continued spending to fund a protection organization.
It’s not just the profits that keep albinos persecuted either, an estimated 93% of Tanzanians believe in witch craft—that probably includes some albinos themselves—this rampant spiritual confusion continues to fuel the killings.
Peter’s been instrumental in raising awareness, getting the media involved, and speaking publication to thousands at church services. He’s likened the persecution to that of Hitler’s of the Jews. Even Peter’s efforts, though well funded and aimed, have their pitfalls. His message in a speech was twisted when his translator used the word zeru zeru, which is a slur against albinos.
Stiil, Tanzania is working to fix this terrible problem, in the hopes that the biggest concern for albinos like Salum is to avoid skin cancer from the intense African sun. Some convicted albino killers have even been hung publicly, showing the government’s stance on this brutal persecution. Still, it’s alleged that there have been over 80 albino murders over the past few years, and that’s not including several rapes of albinos.