TWO months ago, in the northern Malawi coastal town of Nkhata Bay, the life of 54-year-old Yasin Phiri, a person with albinism, came to an abrupt end. At around 10 pm on 31 December last year, some suspected ritualists broke into Phiri’s house, stabbed him to death. They then
dragged his lifeless body outside his house and had his hands chopped off. They did all this while Phiri’s nine-year-old son looked on.
Phiri’s death signalled a new wave of abductions and murders that have become a heated topic for politicians as Malawians prepare to vote in the May 21 Tripartite Elections where they will be electing a president, legislators and councillors.
All eyes are President Peter Mutharika, who is seeking a second term of office, to offer solutions to these brutal killings. His government has come under heavy criticism from opposition parties and the Civil Society for not doing enough to curb the senseless killings.
The association of Persons with Albinism (Apam) in its petition to Mutharika demanded that he institute a commission of inquiry to investigate the spate of abductions, attacks and killings of persons with albinism.
Setting up the Commission Mutharika said: ‘The commission shall have powers to consider, determine and inquire into all aspects related to attacks, abductions and killings of persons with albinism.’
The eight-member commission, which is led by a retired judge, would among others, establish whether or not there is trade and market in body parts of persons with albinism. The perceived trade has come about due to a mistaken belief that the body parts can bring good luck and wealth.
Since November 2014, Malawi has recorded 152 cases of attacks on albinism, including 25 murders and more than 10 people missing. Since November last year there have been two deaths and three abductions.
Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (Fedoma) executive director Action Amos says government must take a leading role to probe the attacks and ruthless killings of persons with albinism.
He says the commission of inquiry should investigate the truth about assumed markets for the targeted body parts of people with albinism, driving factors influencing people to get involved in the murders, awareness issues and delays by the justice system to conclude cases.
‘There is lack of information surrounding the issue. This would be addressed by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry,’ Amos says.
The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) also wants government to regulate the conduct of traditional healers who they believe perpetuate the problem and are regularly seen with charms and human body parts. Tanzania, facing a similar problem, has managed to clamp
down on traditional healers and is on track to root out those behind albino attacks, says the CSOs.
A crisis becomes a campaign tool
Major political parties in Malawi have joined the bandwagon of those calling on Mutharika’s administration to act.
Main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera says Mutharika has Executive powers to end this barbaric practice but is “sleeping on the job and being a coward.
‘I only have three words for the President; Do your job! Stop being a coward and do your job. If you do not end these murders and abductions, you will leave a legacy that will haunt you for the rest of your life,’ says Chakwera daring that once voted into power, he
will end the abductions and killings within a month.
But President Mutharika says ‘those who have solutions to albino attacks and murders should not wait until they are elected into office to assist.
‘They don’t have any plan on how they can stop these killings. If anyone has a solution please let them come forward and help us protect our brothers and sisters. Otherwise do not politicise this issue.’
Parliament enacted an amendment to the Anatomy Act in 2016 which makes it an offence to possess a body part of a deceased person or human tissue and the penalty for the prescribed offences was enhanced to life imprisonment without option of a fine.
Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee chairperson Maxwell Thyolera says: ‘Parliament had expected that with the amendment to the Anatomy Act, which introduced harsh punishment for anyone dealing in human body parts, such cases with would go down. But despite the
intervention, the attacks are continuing.’
He accuses the police of failing to get to the bottom of the matter.
All agree though that the resurgence of abductions, attacks and killings must be stopped forthwith as they say: ‘a killing of one person with albinism is one too many.’