Albinism in Tanzania: slow progress in combatting violence and discrimination

In 2008 a wave of murders of albinos in eastern and central Africa attracted worldwide attention and condemnation even though it wasn’t the first time albinos were targeted in countries like Tanzania, Burundi and Malawi.

In June 2008, a New York Times online edition aired a news brief on albino killings in Tanzania, which caused a sensation. In July 2008, a BBC journalist, Vicky Ntetema, posed as a businesswoman who wanted to get rich quick and consulted 10 witchdoctors in Tanzania. Several witchdoctors promised to get her a magic concoction mixed with ground albino organs. The starting price was $2,000 for the vital organs. Later she had to go in hiding after receiving death threats because of her undercover work. A BBC video on the horrifying spate of killings of albinos in Tanzania, broadcast in August of the same year, was later taken off the air. Also in July Al Jazeera presented a video on the fate of albinos in Tanzania (Part 1 and Part 2). The European Union condemned the ritual murdering of albinos (September, 2008), followed by UNICEF (December, 2008). By then, according to the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS), more than 35 albinos had been killed in 2008 alone, with many other such cases unreported. For more cases, covering the 2003 – 2010 period, you’re welcome to visit my archives. Unfortunately, many links have expired. (For this reason I copy all articles and publish them on the present site while acknowledging their origin).
It’s important to mention that ‘Under The Same Sun’ founder Peter Ash estimates the total number of deadly victims to be twice the official figure in a December 3, 2008 interview. Viewers are warned that the interview can be shocking because of the graphic nature of the story.

The NGO Under The Same Sun helps people with albinism overcome often deadly discrimination through education and advocacy. UTSS was started by Peter Ash, a former pastor and Canadian businessman with albinism, and Vicky Ntetema, mentioned earlier, Tanzania’s BBC bureau chief whose report in July 2008 broke the story to the world of the gruesome murders of persons with albinism in Tanzania. UTSS was founded in 2008. Visit the impressive site of Under The Same Sun, a comprehensive site about Persons with Albinism in Tanzania.

Under The Same Sun helps people with albinism overcome often deadly discrimination through education and advocacy

The following article dates from 2015 but as forthcoming posts will also demonstrate, the fight against discrimination of people with albinism is far from over, and therefor I want to congratulate Under The Same Sun, the Tanzania Albinism Society, and other organizations supporting the same cause for their valuable work and wish them success in the future. May their work soon be no longer needed!

Published on May 13, 2015
By Daniel Wesangula
The Guardian

Around 30,000 people with albinism are thought to be living in Tanzania. Photograph: Ana Palacios

Albinos live with the risk of being killed, their body parts fetching high prices for witchcraft – but NGOs hope that change is coming.

“This is possibly the worst time to be a person living with albinism in Tanzania,” says Amir Manento.

In October, citizens will go to the polls to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections. “Every election period brings with it a new cycle of killings. In between we have other smaller elections translating to more abductions, more killings.” Manento, a retired judge and human rights activist, has been at the forefront of campaigning for the rights of people living with albinism for decades. “We see an increase of witchcraft and the use of human body parts, particularly albino body parts, in the run-up to the general elections.” Albino body parts are associated with good luck, and as the country gears up for the elections, the demand for good luck charms goes up. Sacrifices during this time are thought by some to be a sure way of guaranteeing victory in the polls.

“Albino hunting came into the limelight around 10 years ago, particularly within the fishing and mining communities,” says Dr Benson Bana, a political science and public administration lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam. Bana believes that some of the roots of the problem lie in the financial downturn in the area around Lake Victoria, one of the regions where there have been the most killings and abductions.

“A certain poverty touched our people after the privatisation of fishing activities in Lake Victoria,” says Bana. “Everything was being controlled, from where one could fish to the size of the holes in his fishing net. The result was diminished harvests. Every above-average catch by the little guys was then attributed to superstition. This is when witchdoctors started peddling the belief that people living with albinism or their body parts, most of whom coincidentally live in these regions, could be used as good luck charms.”

Bana believes that this devastating association was then passed on to neighbouring mining communities. “Eventually it caught wind and was looked upon as a legitimate way of acquiring riches and power by some individuals. Hence the association with politicians.”

Tanzania is thought to have one of the world’s largest populations of people living with albinism, a congenital disorder that robs skin, eyes and hair of their pigment. But for years this population of about 30,000 people has existed under the threat of abductions and ritual killings, and in recent years the situation appears to have worsened.

According to a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a complete set of Albino body parts – including all four limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose – can fetch up to $75,000 (pdf).

The Tanzania Albinism Society says it is almost impossible to know the numbers of those abducted or killed since the beginning of the year. What they are sure of, though, is that the number of victims will be higher than the two cases that made it into police records in 2013.

“Even last year the numbers might have been higher because these crimes are very intimate. Mostly a close family member, even a father, is involved in the killings and abductions. In such cases silence wins; his wife will probably be an accomplice in the crime. Nothing will be said of the matter again and the police will have no chance of prosecuting anyone,” says Severin Edward, programme coordinator for the Tanzanian Albinism Society.

A total of 155 cases of violation of albino rights have been reported to Tanzanian authorities since 2009, according to a study (pdf) released in March by Under The Same Sun, an NGO working to combat discrimination against people with albinism.

“Of these cases, 75 were deaths. We have also received 18 reports of grave violations,” said Don Sawatzky, director of operations for UTSS. The study, which gathered together data from 25 different countries in Africa, found reports of 145 albino killings, in addition to 226 violations that include mutilations, other forms of violence, and kidnappings.

UTSS has been actively pushing the United Nations for four key resolutions aimed at ending all forms of discrimination of people living with albinism.

A total of 155 cases of violation of albino rights have been reported to Tanzanian authorities since 2009.
Photograph: Ana Palacios

However, Sawatzky argues that to describe the killings as a phenomenon propelled by recent economic hardship would be “to accept the easy answer”.
“Nobody really knows the origin of the killings, since documentation in Africa is not common other than through oral tradition. All we know for sure is that albinism has been ‘mythologised’ since time beyond memory. Muti murders, or ‘medicine’ killings, have a deep, longstanding history, and are a familiar concept to most Africans,” he says. In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the nation’s first albino member of parliament, Isaac Mwaura, says it is time measures are put in place to end these killings and abductions, and that existing laws need to be adhered to by all affected countries.

“Kenya has strict trafficking laws, the same as Tanzania. What makes it possible for criminals to take our children, mothers, fathers or brothers across borders and sell them off like commodities to witch doctors? Enforcement of laws is one of the weakest links in this war. We have become the hunted. Neither we nor our children are safe. Fathers are betraying their children’s trust and selling them off like unwanted baggage. Mothers are conspiring to traffic their own flesh and blood to senseless deaths.”

In Tanzania the government has been working with NGOs and civil society, and results are now being seen. “Never before have we seen so much effort from the government and the general public. At least we are now getting convictions, primarily because investigations are more thorough and new laws are being set up,” says Manento. “Although no executions have taken place, a total of 17 individuals have received the death sentence, some of them as recently as March, when four individuals, including the husband of the murdered victim, were convicted,” he said.

To win this war, NGOs at the forefront believe collusion within the community must come to an end. “We must educate families to understand that having such a child is not a gateway to quick riches. We then encourage the rest of the community to speak up,” says Edward. “The society needs to be more empowered and supported to co-operate. For instance, when family members are involved in killings or abductions it is quite difficult to get witnesses, because even they are not assured of their security.”

Sawatzky also believes that the war will be won, just not in the near future. “Like all forms of discrimination, it will take several generations to achieve. I will not see the war won in my lifetime. The youth and future generations are the best answer to this war,” he said.

More community sensitisation needs to be achieved, says Justus Kamugisha, regional police chief in Shinyanga, in the north of the country. “We need to make our people understand that there are no shortcuts to prosperity. Only hard, honest work pays. Taking the life of someone else, regardless of his condition, is simply murder, for which you will be charged.”

Source: The Guardian, May 13, 2015

More:

Albinism in Tanzania: safe havens in schools and support centers – in pictures
Photographs by Ana Palacios – May 13, 2015

Tanzania bans witchdoctors in attempt to end albino killings,
The Guardian, January 14, 2015

Tanzania albino murders: ‘More than 200 witchdoctors’ arrested
BBC, March 12, 2015

Witchcraft and the law in Tanzania
The Guardian, September 26, 2008

Six people with albinism will stand for election to fight stigma in Malawi

Candidates hope to combat sharp rise in killings of people with albinism, whose body parts are used in ritual practices

Published on June 26, 2018
By Charles Pensulo
The Guardian

Cassim Jaffalie, three, with his friends at his family home in Machinga, southern Malawi. His father has given up work to protect his son. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Being born with albinism can be a death sentence in Malawi. With 22 recorded murders in the past four years, dozens more people have been reported missing – suspected abducted and killed.

Now an association of people with albinism in Malawi has announced it will put forward six candidates for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, in an unprecedented move to combat stigma.

Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for people living with albinism – a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes – who are targeted so that their body parts can be used in magic potions and other ritual practices.

The unprecedented rise in ritual and witchcraft-related killing for body parts that has also been documented in Tanzania and Burundi has led to the UN creating a special mandate to protect people with the genetic disorder.

Overstone Kondowe, director of the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi, said fielding political candidates would go a long way in changing how people with albinism were viewed in Malawi.

“We want to show the public that we are more than our skin,” he said.

Elizabeth Machinjiri is one of those planning to stand as a member of parliament in Blantyre. The director of a local charity, Disability Rights Movement, Machinjiri said her experience was key.

“What I have seen is that disability issues are ignored in the country,” she said. “In our parliament there are only one or two people that have a disability. I understand one will not even [stand in] the next election. We need to be represented. Other people may not understand the pain and hard things that we go through every day.”

Machinjiri said she would lobby for schools and hospitals to be disability-friendly.

“Mostly people choose [an MP] because they are rich. I am saying no, because that money is personal and cannot be used for developmental projects. Once elected, I will make sure that I present the voices and wishes of people living in my area and not only my views.”

Machinjiri said that stopping abductions of people living with albinism in the country will take huge political will. She may not find it easy to convince people, and still has to raise money to fund the campaign process.

“We need political commitment in fighting this,” she said, emphasising that attacks are becoming more commonplace. “People should know that I am standing for a reason. I won’t hide evil since I am a courageous person.”

Source: The Guardian, June 26, 2018

Confronting Superstition in Postcolonial Mozambique

Leo Igwe wrote a very interesting article on the background of superstition in Mozambique. He explains the belief in superstition and the fact that Mozambicans resort to occult practices:  “It’s all related (if not caused) by the lack of effective state interventions and leadership.” As he argues, “(…) in the absence of modernity, people in Mozambique and elsewhere in the region invoke magic and superstition to help process the existential challenges and uncertainties that they face in their everyday life. (…)

I have a very high opinion of Leo Igwe. For ten years or more I’ve been reading his thoughts, experiences and views. He’s a well-known human rights activist. I would wish there are many many more Leo Igwe’s! Therefore his opinions matter.

Leo Igwe critically examines the modernity arguments, referring to scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Jean and John Comaroff. But how right are they? One could easily reverse the question. Is state intervention the critical factor? What if it did not exist? To what extent it would have been decisive?

In my opinion the real explanation for the phenomenon of superstition lies in the fact that the people concerned have not been educated in the proper sense.

Education, education and once more education! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of modern education. It’s the only long term solution for the problem of superstition. In the short term, the State should do its work: enforce the respect for the rule of law and hold those who are suspected of human rights violations and ritualistic murders accountable for their heinous crimes!

More on Leo Igwe later.

Published on February 26, 2018
By Leo Igwe, Conatus News

In Mozambique, murders of albinos, bald men, and other superstition-fueled crimes are common. Where do these ritual killings come from? 

Recently, there have been reported incidents of harmful acts that are connected with traditional beliefs and practices across the region. For instance, some people attacked traders and fishermen for ‘tying the rain’. They alleged that the victims controlled rainfall in the area to benefit their businesses. The practice of rainmaking and unmaking in found in other African societies. Fortunately, the police intervened and warned the perpetrators against making such false accusations.

In another instance, ritualists killed five bald men in the district of Milange because their head supposedly contained gold. It is not clear how and when Mozambicans started associating bald heads with gold or magical wealth. Similar superstitious narratives have led to violence in other African cultures. For example, in Nigeria, those who believe that the hump contains some ‘precious mineral’ attack people with a hunchback.

Mozambique, however, has been particularly susceptible to ritual murders in recent years. People living with albinism (PLA) have been hunted down and killed in Mozambique for their body parts. The body parts of PLA are used to prepare magical substances that ostensibly bring wealth and good fortune. In September 2017, ritualists killed and removed the brain of a 17-year-old boy.

People Living with Albinism (PLA)

 

Mozambicans who suffer ailments or death impute witchcraft, and those who are accused of witchcraft are frequently attacked or killed. In 2011, at least 20 people were murdered for alleged involvement in witchcraft in Mozambique. Some of those arrested for attacking or lynching alleged witches were even schoolteachers. It has thereforebecome pertinent to explore how these manifestations of superstition and magical beliefs are related to the idea of modernity or the postcolonial context. Why has the spread of modernization not resulted in the disappearance of superstitious beliefs and practices in contemporary Mozambique?

A Reaction to modernity?

Some scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Jean and John Comaroff have designated the manifestations of occult beliefs in contemporary Africa as part of the dividends of Africa’s encounter with modernity. They have argued that modern changes have fractured Africa, and disrupted the lives of people within Africa. Ritual beliefs, and superstition-based practices, argue Geschiere and Comaroff, are ways that Africans make sense of these changes.

However, the modernity argument needs to be critically re-examined. First, how is accusing traders and farmers of holding the rain or killing PLA a way of making sense of modern changes? Does modernisation propel people to make witchcraft accusations and lynch alleged witches? How is the crisis wrought by modernisation (whatever that means) connected with magical imputations and ritualistic beliefs? Where is the logic in the argument that modernity is the raison d’etre of the growing visibility of occult beliefs in the region? Are modern phenomena not supposed to be oppositional to magic and superstition?

There is no doubt that modernisation has brought about significant change in African societies. The introduction of state bureaucracy, the school system, science and technology, neoliberal economics and the media has led to social, economic and political adjustments in postcolonial Africa. But occult beliefs and practices predate modernity in Africa. Africans have been using narratives of magic to make sense of their lives and social organisations before the introduction of state bureaucracy and other modern institutions. Modernisation has not led to the total disappearance of magical beliefs. So, is it justified to postulate that the manifestation of superstitions in postcolonial Africa is because of modernity?

In contemporary Africa, people make active use of both the magical and modern. Modernisation has provided Africans with an additional facility and resource in making sense of experiences. Where African people cannot use or access the modern, the magical is deployed. If the modern does not suffice, superstition is relied upon to supplement. People try to explain their misfortune using science and logic or by applying material and naturalistic resources. But where the material and natural are unhelpful and unsatisfactory, where they do not provide the answers and solutions, the supernatural and spiritual is used.

Superstition and magic are waxing strong and manifesting forcefully in places like Mozambique despite the modernisation process because there is some purpose that these ritualistic beliefs and practices are serving which modernity has not addressed.

State Failures

In Mozambique, the state has failed in helping the citizens to meaningfully manage the shortage of rain and other existential uncertainties and anxieties. The required education or awareness is lacking. The state has not provided evidence-based information or response to the problem of limited rainfall especially to people in rural communities. According to a local source, elderly persons in the country languish in poverty: “They do not have access to basic health services, transportation and housing. Most elderly persons do not enjoy psychological and material well-being. They live in deplorable conditions, abandoned by relatives, accused of witchcraft and with little or no income”.

The state of Mozambique has been unable to put in place effective poverty alleviation programs for the citizens. There is no functioning social support system to cater for the poor, and the unemployed. So people try to make sense of their unfortunate situations using whatever they can lay their hands on whether they are material, immaterial or mixed. No incentives are extended to farmers and fishermen who are struggling to earn a living. They bear the brunt of poor harvest without state support or subsidy. Traders and others managing various businesses are left to cope with the harsh economic realities.

Conclusion

Due to the lack of effective state interventions and leadership in these critical areas, Africans resort to occult practices to make sense of their lives and experiences. In the absence of modernity, people in Mozambique and elsewhere in the region invoke magic and superstition to help process the existential challenges and uncertainties that they face in their everyday life.

Source: Conatus News, February 26, 2017

Also: The Moravi Post, February 27, 2018

Mozambique police warn bald men after ritual attack

Superstition, ignorance, lack of education, they’re all part of the explanation for the bizarre ritual killings that shook Mozambique last year. Bald men were targeted!

Published on June 7, 2017
Published by BBC

Superstition: some people believe that the heads of bald men contain gold.

Bald men in Mozambique could be targets of ritual attacks, police have warned, after the recent killing of five men for their body parts.

Two suspects have been arrested in the central district of Milange, where the killings occurred.

“The belief is that the head of a bald man contains gold,” said Afonso Dias, a police commander in Mozambique’s central Zambezia province.

Albino people have also been killed in the region for ritual purposes.

Three men have been killed in the past week alone.

The BBC’s Jose Tembe in the capital, Maputo, says police think the notion of a bald head containing gold is a ruse by witchdoctors to get clients to take a person’s head to them.

“Their motive comes from superstition and culture – the local community thinks bald individuals are rich,” Commander Dias is reported as having told a press conference in Maputo.

The suspects are two young Mozambicans aged around 20, the AFP news agency reports.

A regional security spokesman, Miguel Caetano, told AFP that one of the victims had his head cut off and his organs removed.

The organs were to be used in rituals to advance the wealth of clients in Tanzania and Malawi, Mr Caetano said, citing the suspects.

There has been a spate of killings of people with albinism in East Africa in recent years, with their body parts used to make charms and potions by witchdoctors.

Source: BBC, June 7, 2017

Brain harvested from murdered Mozambique albino boy

Published on September 16, 2017
By News24

The 17-year old albino boy was murdered on Wednesday in the Benga area of Tete province, Mozambique (picture not related to case).

Maputo – A 17-year-old albino boy was killed and his brain removed for what is believed to be use in witchcraft in Mozambique, local news reports said.

Albinos in Mozambique are often hunted for their body parts, which are used as charms and magical potions in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck.

“The criminals took the bones out of the arms and legs, the hair and broke the head to remove the brain,” a local official told Mozambican news agency AIM.

The body was found after the boy was killed on Wednesday in the Benga area of Tete province, AIM said.

Lurdes Ferreira, a police spokesman in the Tete province, said police are investigating the teenager’s kidnap and murder. “We have launched a search and arrest operation for those responsible for the macabre crime,” Ferreira said.

The murder comes four months after a failed attempt by two parents to sell their albino child in Moatize.

Tete, which borders Malawi, is believed to have a large market for albino organ trafficking.

There have been more than 100 attacks against albinos in Mozambique since 2014, according to the UN, with hunters persecuting them for everything from their toes to their faeces.

Source: News24, September 16, 2017

AfriKids: Ghana’s haven for ‘spirit’ children marked for murder

Further to my previous post – on Seth Kwame Boateng’s breathtaking account of a journey to an orphanage in Sirigu, in Ghana’s Upper East Region, in 2011, I find it heart-warming to read about the valuable work which is being realized by the non-governmental organization AfriKids. In Northern Ghana, AfriKids runs a centre in the village of Sirigu and another in nearby Bongo district. Though I am not sure, it looks as if Afrikid’s Sirigu center for disabled children and pregnant women is the same as the Mother of Mercy Babies Home visited by Seth Kwame Boateng in 2011. Joseph Asakibeem is AfriKids project manager in the Upper East Region. He and his team are doing a great job. Read about their work below (‘AfriKids: Ghana’s haven for ‘spirit’ children marked for murder’).

Joseph Asakibeem hails from the Kassena Nankana district (in the Upper East Region) where the superstition in the power of spirit children is most widespread. AfriKids and OrphanAidAfrica have been fighting against infanticide for many years.

In 2013 the two non-governmental organizations were joined by Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an investigative journalist and filmmaker. Anas’ film Spirit Child ‘promised’ to become a U-turn in the fight against infanticide. In the aftermath of his investigation, local leaders in the Kassena Nankana region banned the ritual killing of ‘spirit children‘. However…., a recent follow-up to Anas’ 2013 investigative report – see my post dated June 4, 2018 – shows that the practice of infanticide still exists in the region.

AfriKids: Ghana’s haven for ‘spirit’ children marked for murder

Published on February 27, 2018, at 11:50 am
By MIldred Europa Taylor

Ghana, Upper East region – This Catholic Sister has dedicated her life to protecting babies and children and plays a precious role in the fight against infanticide in the region — Afrikids

The act of killing babies who were born with disabilities was until recently widely practised in some parts of northern Ghana. These children were labelled as “spirit children” with the belief that they brought bad luck. They were killed to “save the lives of their parents and family”.

These children were basically taken to medicine men who would give them a poisonous potion and lock them in a room. The belief is that if you die from the potion, it means you are indeed a spirit. The children are then buried in an isolated place far away from the village.

This traditional belief was highly practised in some parts of the Kassena-Nankana West District in the Upper East region but thanks to AfriKids, a child rights Non-governmental organization (NGO), the practice has declined even though it is believed to be still ongoing in some parts of northern Ghana. The NGO has so far been able to save a number of children perceived to be “spirit children” in some parts of the Upper East Region.

Joseph Asakibeem is the project manager at AfriKids. The 41-year-old was recently awarded the Bond Humanitarian Award 2018 for his work in saving many disabled children who would have been killed due to the traditional practice.

Growing up in the Kassena Nanakana district where the belief in spirit children was deeply entrenched, Asakibeem told Reuters that he and his team at AfriKids started talking to chiefs, parents, opinion leaders and medicine men about the need to change the perception they have about children born with disabilities.

Asakibeem explained to them that there were medical reasons for these disabilities – poor nutrition and health care during pregnancy, and the inability to get access to medical help during labour resulting in complications.

AfriKids has a centre in the village, Sirigu, and another in nearby Bongo district, where they provide help for disabled children and antenatal care for pregnant women. Mothers, through Afrikids, have also been able to acquire small loans to grow their businesses.

The main challenge for the child rights NGO has been trying to change the mindset of concoction men and other community members about “spirit children”, but interestingly, many of them have now joined the fight against the practice.

For 10 years, no child has been killed for being deformed in Kassena Nankana, but Asakibeem said the act is still being practised in other areas. Babies whose mothers die in childbirth, or who are born after the family has been hit with an unfortunate incident, have the risk of being labelled spirit children.

As AfriKids continues to expand its activities to the whole of northern Ghana, Asakibeem is hopeful that the practice would be effectively abolished in 15 years.

In 2013, Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas published “Spirit Child”, an undercover investigation film on the ritual killings of deformed children. Two concoction men were charged with attempted murder and another three men charged with conspiracy to commit murder. 

Source: Face2FaceAfrica, February 27, 2018

Ghana – Upper East Region

Shocking!…Ritual baby killing in Northern Ghana

On June 4, this year, I drew attention to Spirit Child, a film on infanticide in West Africa, made by Anas Aremeyaw Anas and Seamus Mirodan, and I reproduced a related article, published by Al Jazeera. The article, on infanticide in Ghana – and Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria – was a follow-up to a 2013 investigative report of the same journalist and filmmaker, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. The latter and his colleague, Seamus Mirodan, are to be commended for their fight against infanticide.

Fortunately, they are not the only ones who raise there voices against these age-old practices which have no reason to exist in the 21st century. While mentioning the names of others it is not my intention to belittle the activities and achievements of others, who work with them. Recently, I read an article on AfriKids, a non-governmental organization running an orphanage in northern Ghana, in the Upper East Region, in a village called Sirigu, to be more specific. Project manager at AfriKids is Joseph Asakibeem, who was recently awarded the Bond Humanitarian Award 2018 for his work in saving many children who would have been killed due to the gruesome traditional practice of killing disabled children and so-called ‘spirit childs’. More on Afrikids and its work in my next post.

When reading about the village of Sirigu I remembered an article, written by another outstanding Ghanaian journalist, Seth Kwame Boateng. In 2011 he visited Sirigu and made a breath-taking documentary for Ghana’s Joy 99.7 FM’s Hotline. Below the transcript.
Seth Kwame Boateng was named ‘journalist of the month‘ in July 2017 and can boast of an impressive list of awards and documentaries. Read here what he wrote in 2011 on infanticide in Northern Ghana:

SHOCKING!…Ritual baby killing in Northern Ghana

Originally published on April 1, 2011
by Seth Kwame Boateng

Joy FM reporter Seth Kwame Boateng visits an orphanage in the Upper East Region of Ghana called “Sirigu” to uncover the chilling practice of cultural murder; the killing of babies who are born with deformities, or whose birth coincide with a tragic incident in the family, such as the loss of a parent.

Such babies are called spirit children or siri sirigu, and are thought to be bad omen for the community.

Below is a transcription of his documentary for Joy 99.7 FM’s Hotline.
I have come to the Upper East Region on an assignment, a very different assignment. The job has tight time frames. I’m rushing to meet deadlines.

I hear a stranger chatting with a friend on the streets of Bolgatanga. He mentions a Babies’ Home in the area.

The conversation reminds me of a story somebody once told me about this town and a very strange kind of orphanage.

Most children who end up in an orphanage have lost their parents. But in the Sirigu facility in Bolga, the children’s fate is much more tragic. If the child is born with deformities, the child is killed.

The first time I heard this story, I could hardly believe it. I’ve always lived in a community where great merry-making accompanies childbirth, no matter the condition of the baby or the mother.

So at first I didn’t pay too much attention to the story.

{They put the child on the hill and put plenty rocks on the child.}

Since coming to Bolgatanga I feel this story is following me. I see goose pimples all over my body and my eyes are heavy with tears when people tell me the details.

I have a very busy schedule. I tell myself I won’t have time to go to this place of horror. As I reach for my pillow one night to sleep, I can’t help myself. I make a firm resolution to travel to Sirigu the next morning no matter the consequences. It’s as if I have been possessed, I feel so uncomfortable.

I reach a friend at dawn the next day who agrees to take me on his motor bike to Sirigu. It takes about 45 minutes to drive from Bolgatanga to Sirigu and it’s not easy. The road is barely passable.
We have done only 10 minutes of the journey, and I have already regretted embarking on this trip. I don’t have a helmet. In the side mirror, I see my hair color has turned brown as if I’ve applied a dye.
I don’t have any protective cloth, so I’m shivering as if I’ve been beaten by heavy rain as I sit behind my friend on his bike.
But the story of those babies and a drive to understand the dark side of cultural practice keeps me going.

After 45 minutes of a bone-shaking journey, we finally reach Sirigu.

{Some come healthy, some come sick, some almost dying.}

At the Mother of Mercy Babies Home in Sirigu a Catholic Sister, a caretaker and a community leader are in front of the fading, brown iron gate of the home to welcome us. I look at the children and wonder what stories they would tell if they could find the words and exchange it with me. There are 16 babies in this 26-year-old home and the youngest is only two months old.

In an orphanage in Sirigu, in Ghana’s Upper East region. This Catholic Sister has dedicated her life to protecting babies and children. Now in 2018 the orphanage is being run by Afrikids.

The caretakers tell me the babies in the home are not considered ‘real’ human beings by their families. They have been cast out as evil spirits… either because they were born physically deformed or their mothers died during childbirth. And, according to an ancient cultural practice that survives in this area the babies must die to save the families from evil.

In some situations there were strange events at the time of their birth. All of the children except one, are motherless.

The caretaker, Sister Innocentia Depor tells me how some of the children are rescued and arrive on their doorstep.

{Because of the education, family members of the babies bring them themselves. The moment they get to know that the child can be termed a spirit child, they rush them here. So come very hefty, sick and weak.}

I decide to go to the nearby town to delve deeper into this story. Perhaps I will find some fathers or family members.

I meet the assemblyman for the area, Azokulgu Azotipelba, and he makes a shocking admission.

{it happened within our house, our family and within our community so I have witnessed it several times. And when that type of child dies, they don’t use a proper thing to carry him for the burial, they will take a rough mat and put the child there and hold it just like anything and go and throw it away. They normally don’t take the baby to the hill alive. They will use something like a stone, stick, or a cutlass to hit the child and kill him}

Once again, my entire body is shaking. My mouth is wide open and I’m close to tears as I visualize the events the Assemblyman is describing.

Trying to understand innocent blood being shed in the name of culture, I talk with an elder in the town, John Ayamaga. He takes time as he explains.

{when you give birth and the mother dies instantly, the myth is that it is the baby that has killed the mother so the child must also go so when there is no intervention, the baby is sent to the hill there for that rituals. If the child is born with some deformities either with some teeth or some of the hair being white, that child is termed a spirit child and that baby is not accepted in that community. We have a very big hill; they take them there and put a stone on that spirit child so that it will not get up again. The family will not fail to do that because they think if that baby has killed the mother, it can kill the rest of the family.}

I listen carefully to the stories of the people who have seen this horror first hand. I try to put myself in their shoes, to understand the fear and ignorance that leads to the slaughter of innocent children.

As I watch the kids of the Sirigu orphanage playing, I think of those who didn’t make here… Lying in shallow graves under a pile of stones on the hills in the distance.

Then a breeze blows through the window and this place of safety feels vulnerable. What if frightened family members hunted down these kids who have found refuge here. The assemblyman Azokulgu Azotipelba says this frightening possibility exists.

{At times the children will grow up to 10 or 15 years and they will still manage and go and kill that particular child. If a baby like this escape, the whole family and the entire community will come out and go and search and kill that baby. Because it is a culture for that community and the whole community believes that whatever the soothsayer says is for all so they have no reason to defy it.}

But despite these dangers the children will be discharged when they are three years old, according to the caretaker, sister Innocentia.

And, the local community has started taking advantage of the facility, bringing children who are not endangered but merely because they cannot afford to raise them.

{It was before that they don’t want the children that they always want to kill. But now with the education, they want their children but how to take care of them, very tiny, they prefer to bring the children here so that after three years when they can eat anything then they come for their child. When they bring the babies we always tell them not to come and throw the babies here like that. They should always visit them. And when they are bringing the babies, here, each child with a caretaker so that when the baby is discharged, he will have somebody he is familiar with. He will not feel like a stranger in somebody’s house.}

Poor people from the surrounding villages, outside Sirigu, have heard about the home and now bring their babies here because they are struggling to make ends meet. One child was recently brought from Bongo, a town in the Upper East Region. Little Marilyn as they’ve named her is only a month old but motherless. She is fortunate to have been spotted and saved by Hajia Mary Issaka, a midwife in-charge of the Anafubisi health center.

{Last week Friday we went to a community to run a clinic then we saw a pregnant woman holding this baby at the outreach point then we ask of the mother and she said the mother died at Bolga hospital. We ask what they were given and they told us that some people came to the funeral and donated some money and bought some lactogen and they are giving to the baby. So when we saw her, we knew that they cannot take care of the baby in the house so I sent this nurse to go the house and meet the community members and speak to the people about this orphanage. If they agree, we will arrange and bring the baby to Sirigu and they agreed.}

But little Marilyn is one of the more fortunate.

Everywhere I go in this town people have stories about baby killing that make my blood run cold.

{there are certain things they don’t even want to mention it. There was a community like that when a woman died after delivery and they gave the baby to another woman who died when there was an outbreak of CSM. And they are saying that it is the baby that has killed both the mother and the caretaker so they brought the baby out and knock the child on the tree and it died. So some of these things they are silent}.

The services of the Sirigu home is made possible by donations from foreign NGO’s like Friends of African Babies (FAB), based in the region.

Mary Kaglan is from Ireland and a member of the NGO. She tells me what motivated her organisation help the home.

{I think it was to see these sisters working so hard looking after so many babies thus the least we could do as we live in the area and that any help we could give them would be a bonus. The sisters of course take very good care of the babies so it is not that the case that the babies are looking after. But I think it is that people would be aware there is a home in Sirigu so people can visit and assist with the little they have}

But even with the assistance of the FAB NGO, sister Innocentia Apor and the staff here struggle to raise these children.

{The NHIS does not cover all the sickness so when you have a child that sickness surpasses the national insurance, it is difficult and to take a child like this, you would have to start the child with artificial food and all these are very costly. They are all the challenges. Right now we have one who has hydrocephalus and if it had not been FAB, it would have been difficult for us to take care of him. So medical wise it is a challenge}

The world is full of orphanages. And, I’ve done my fair share of stories about pain and suffering.

But the faces of the children of this place and the silent cries of the ones buried on the hill will remain with me for a long time to come.

Seth Kwame Boateng; for hotline in Sirigu.

Source: Modern Ghana, April 1, 2011

Upper East Region – Ghana

Zambia: Ritual killings… IG assures public of safety

Cases of suspected ritual killings in Lusaka are on the increase – Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja assures the public of protection but cautions against contentment.

Published on February 27, 2018
By CHILA NAMAIKO and FRANCINA PHIRI
Times of Zambia

CASES of suspected ritual killings in Lusaka seem to have resurfaced, with Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja assuring members of the public of protection but cautioned against contentment. Mr Kanganja has assured that security personnel are conducting patrols throughout the night, and has called on members of the public to report any suspicious looking persons to Police.

At the weekend, police in Lusaka picked up the body of an unidentified male person in Paradise area of Matero without private parts, ears, while the stomach was ripped in a suspected ritualistic fashion.

Three weeks ago, another unidentified man was discovered dead with ears and private parts missing and the stomach ripped open in yet another suspected case of ritual killing in Paradise area of Matero.

Meanwhile, Police in Chienge District of Luapula Province have picked up body parts of a two-year-old toddler who was allegedly murdered by a 22-year-old man while acting together with two others who are at large.

Outgoing police commissioner Hudson Namachila said police found a heart, lungs and an ear in a pit latrine on Saturday between 06:00 hours and 08:00 hours.

Incoming provincial Police chief Elias Chushi also confirmed the incident.
Mr Kanganja warned the criminals behind such barbaric acts that the law would catch up with them as Police were working round-the-clock to ensure the people of Matero were protected. He said in an interview yesterday that people in affected areas should not leave in fear because Police had divided Lusaka into zones. Through the zones, the Inspector General said the officers were conducting intensified patrols throughout the night. “I wish also to urge members of the public to constantly collaborate with the Police by reporting all suspicious looking characters in their areas,” he said.

He said the criminals behind such barbaric acts live in communities and called on members of the public to be vigilant and report suspicious persons to police.
Mr Kanganja warned that criminals would not be allowed to commit cruel acts with impunity and officers had intensified patrols to bring to book the culprits.

For the body that was picked up on Friday, police have apprehended a male aged 29 in connection with the murder after the body was discovered around 04:00 hours by members of the public. Police spokesperson Esther Katongo said the suspect, who lived in the same area, was found washing some blood off his hands and was currently detained in Police custody. Upon searching his home, police found two pairs of trousers and a pair of shoes all stained with blood and other items yet to be subjected to forensic investigations to ascertain if they were human parts or tissue.

In the Chienge incident, Mr Namachila said that after instituting investigations, the police apprehended Lucky Kafwimbi of Mukunta village who revealed where they had hidden the body. He said that physical inspection showed that the body had a lung cut and his left ear was removed. Mr Namachila named the deceased as Gift Chola of Chief Puta’s area in Chienge Village. “Police managed to apprehend one man who helped in revealing where they had hidden the body of the baby that they brutally murdered for suspected rituals,” he said.

Source: Times of Zambia, February 27, 2018

Zambia: Cannibals in Matero? Suspected ritual killer arrested in Lusaka

Unfortunately, Zambia is no exception. Ritual killing of human beings – children, adults – takes place in Zambia too. I’ve been following events in Zambia since quite some time. Many suspected cases of ritual killings as well as real cases have been reported over the years. Without a shadow of a doubt the tip of the iceberg – as in many other countries. Many ritual murders are not discovered, or not reported as such. One of the cases in my archives dates back to 1996. An excerpt: “(…) Early this year, another spate of mob justice hit the country, especially Lusaka and the tourist capital Livingstone, after children started disappearing. Some of the children were later found, horribly mutilated. These murders were believed to be ritual killings. Angry mobs again took their justice, beating to death some suspects who the police say were innocent. This ended only when the police arrested and had several men convicted.(…)

More in the near future. Read here (below) one of the more recent cases. Matero lies a few miles west of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.
Readers are warned, the details are gruesome.

Ritual killings, superstition, mob justice, absence of rule of law, ignorance, they’re all interrelated. Let’s hope that the Zambian government continues on the good road taken, as shown by the appearance in Parliament and the frank statements of Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo.

Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo: “Between October 21, last year, and February 24, this year, seven suspected ritual killings were reported to Police (…)”

CANNIBALS IN MATERO?…POLICE RECOVER COOKED HUMAN HEART, LIVER AFTER ARRESTING A SUSPECTED RITUAL KILLER IN LUSAKA

Published on March 2, 2018
By CHILA NAMAIKO and JANE MWANSA
Times of Zambia

A COOKED human heart and liver have been recovered by police in Lusaka after arresting a suspected mastermind in the spate of suspected ritualistic killings of seven people in Matero, Parliament heard yesterday.

Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo said some of the cooked body parts were eaten by the suspect, who also shared with his unsuspecting neighbours.
Mr Kampyongo informed the House that the suspect also led the officers to the recovery of ears and several private parts, which had now been submitted to the forensic laboratory for examination. Updating the House in a ministerial statement on recent suspected ritual killings, he said all the victims of the murders were found with their chests ripped open and internal parts missing.
He said the security situation in Matero was generally stable until October, 21, last year, when the first suspected ritual killing was reported.
Between that date and February 24, this year, seven suspected ritual killings were reported to Police, with the victims in all the incidences had been males aged between 25 and 40 years. “By 24th February 2018, the Zambia Police Service investigation unit had with the help of the suspect recovered suspected cooked human heart and liver, “he said.

Mr Kampyongo said police visited and processed the crime scene, and preliminary findings suggested that the people behind the gruesome murders used the same method of killing.
For instance, at every crime scene, a concrete block was found. The officers believe the same block was one of the weapons used.
“The ripping open of the chest, cutting off of the ears and the private parts also appear to have been conducted in a similar manner. The preliminary findings suggest that these murders have been carried out by the same group,” he said.
Mr Kampyongo warned that false beliefs of human body parts helping one to accumulate wealth had no place in Zambia, and the law would catch up with the perpetrators.

To bring the perpetrators of such barbaric crimes, the House heard that police had instituted investigations, which had so far resulted in the arrest of one suspect.
He said the suspect, believed to be the master-mind, was assisting the officers with further investigations and would appear in court soon.
Police had taken a number of measures to enhance security in Matero such as foot patrol and motorised patrols, increased presence in high-density townships, and sensitisation to members of the community on personal security. He assured the public of police protection.

Meanwhile, residents of Kitwe woke up to a rude shock yesterday after a human head was found along the banks of the Kafue River.
When contacted for a comment, Copperbelt Commissioner of Police Charity Katanga said police were waiting for the family of the deceased to come and identify the head. And scores of residents living near the river thronged the scene to have a glimpse of the bizarre finding, which was later picked up by police.

Source: Times of Zambia, March 2, 2018

South Africa: Suspect in Witbank muti killing dies in police custody

Muti murder in Clewer, near Witbank, South Africa – suspect dies in police custody

Published on 22 March 2018 – 10:44

One of the men implicated in the killing of an elderly woman in Clewer near Witbank has died in police cells‚ said Mpumalanga police.

“The remains of a 65-year-old woman were found at Clewer near Witbank. Three men have been arrested in connection [with this]. However one of them collapsed and died while in police custody. An investigation is underway‚” said Brigadier Leonard Hlathi.

Further details on how the suspect died were not immediately available.

The victim‚ believed to be Aletha Maree‚ had been reported missing after her home was burgled on February 25‚ said the SA Crime Community Watch group.

“Many aspects however are leading us to believe that it will most likely be [the remains of Maree] that were found some nine kilometres from where SACCW earlier recovered some personal belongings of the missing person where a large search then took place‚” spokesperson Maureen Scheerpers said last week.

DNA tests were being conducted to verify the identity of the remains. Maree was believed to have to been killed as part of a muti ritual. Maree is one of three people from Witbank who have recently been killed in what is believed are muti-related killings.

Source: Sowetan Live, March 22, 2018

Witbank, renamed eMalahleni  in 2006 is a city situated on the Highveld of Mpumalanga, South Africa. The name Witbank is Afrikaans for White Ridge.

Witbank was renamed eMalahleni in 2006.