Hunted down and ostracised, Burundi albinos want their own census and MP

Monday December 28 2009

An albino girl at Kasisi Primary School in Fort Portal in Uganda. Albinos in Burundi want a law to compel parents to keep their albino children in school. Photo/MORGAN MBABAZI

An albino girl at Kasisi Primary School in Fort Portal in Uganda. Albinos in Burundi want a law to compel parents to keep their albino children in school. Photo/MORGAN MBABAZI 


Long used to discrimination, Burundi albinos now want state protection and recognition.

This comes even as there are cases in court over albino killings.

“We want the government to protect us and be considered like other persons. We are excluded in many spheres of life including employment,” said the Albino Association of Burundi communications manager Pascal Matabishi Bikaya.

“We need special skin doctors because of our sensitivity to the sun,” he added.

They also want to have one of their own to represent them in parliament like the case in Tanzania.

The association wants the government to come up with a law compelling parents to keep their albino children in school.

It also wants government to carry out a census to determine the real numbers of the albinos as a basis of supporting them.

To demonstrate the challenging life of an albino in Burundi, Kassim Kazungu now has to be on the lookout for a marauding merchant of death.

Each new day could as well be Mr Kazungu’s last considering the lucrative gruesome business where the body of one albino could fetch as much as $500,000.

Mr Kazungu, the president of the Albino Association of Burundi, has reason to worry: nine albinos were killed in 2008 and three in 2009 with one disappearing without trace.

“The killings of albinos has unfortunately turned into a business as a result of greed for money with bogus witchdoctors claiming that our body parts can bring about quick money and prosperity,” Mr Kazungu said.

“We were not really affected by the civil wars in Burundi but its only the recent killings of albinos that are making our lives more miserable,” he added.

Machete wielding robbers

The death merchants attack with machetes, snatch children from their parents’ arms and even exhume bodies of dead albinos to smuggle them to neighbouring Tanzania where the limbs, hands, hair, organs and blood are sold to local sorcerers.

Dead albinos are now being buried in cement-sealed graves to protect them against grave robbers.

The growing trade in albino body parts comes as no surprise in the region as many central Africans believe that albino flesh has magical powers thanks to widespread sorcery.

Albinos in Burundi live with discrimination every day right from their homes, community, school and work.

According to Mr Kazungu, some parents have even disowned their albino children while others keep them hidden.

“I was lucky my parents loved and protected me to the extent they educated me to university level. Other albinos are unlucky their parents will not support them thinking that they are of no use in life or are unable,” Mr Kazungu observed.

Albinism is a congenital lack of the melamin pigment in the skin, eyes and hair.

Melanin protects the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Albinos are also vulnerable to medical complications.

Health experts estimate that albinism affects one in 20,000 people worldwide.

To address stigma, Mr Kazungu suggested that the government should sensitise the public on the plight of albinos.