Limpopo, South Africa: a ritual killer on the loose?

Nzhelele is located in the region of Limpopo, one of 9 primary administrative regions in South Africa. Reportedly, ritualistic murders – in Southern Africa called muti murders -occur frequently in the Limpopo region although presumably not all murders are reported or discovered. Also see my May 28, 2021 posting entitled South Africa: ‘Enough with muti killings’.

Kidnappings and theft rife in Nzhelele Valley, Limpopo.
Screenshot. To watch the video click here

Recently, the mutilated body of an 11-year-old girl, Pfunzo Makuya, was found floating in a local dam nearly a week after she had gone missing from Phadzima Dzumbathoho. Earlier this year there was a public outcry after the disappearance of several children and the discovery of three bodies floating in the water since the beginning of this year. One well-known case concerned the disappearance of a 10-year-old girl, Fiona Matodzi, in the Vhembe area, in August. She was never found and her family fears a muti killing.

The police has started an investigation and asked the general public to cooperate and provide all information which could lead to the culprits.
(webmaster FVDK)

A ritual killer on the loose?

The mutilated body of Pfunzo Makuya (11) was found floating in a local dam nearly a week after she had gone missing from Phadzima Dzumbathoho. Photo supplied.

Published: November 18, 2022
By: Elmon Tshikhudo – Zoutnet, South Africa

Could vicious ritual killers be stalking innocent people in villages around the Nzhelele region? This has become the most asked question in that area lately, especially following the disappearance and subsequent discovery of the mutilated body of an 11-year-old girl that was found floating in a local dam.

The girl, Pfunzo Makuya of Phadzima Dzumbathoho, was last seen on Wednesday afternoon, 9 November, between 16:00 and 17:00, after her mother sent her to the local shoemaker. According to a reliable source who spoke to this newspaper, the girl never reached the shoemaker, who runs his business not far from her home.

On Monday, 14 November, nearly a week after the girl had gone missing, local fishermen who were out fishing found her body floating in the dam. One of her hands had been cut off and in places, pieces of flesh had been carved from her body.

Naturally, this led the community to strong suspicions that she had been ritually murdered. Community leader Mr Richard Ramabulana said the disappearance of people who were later found dead had become a source of great concern in the area. “Since the beginning of the year we have had three cases and the worst part of it is that they were all later found floating in the water. As a community, we will work with the police to fast-track this investigation and our call to the residents is to give as much information to the police as possible,” he said.

The parents of the dead girl were still very traumatised and requested to be given space before making a statement.

Over recent months, many outcries have been made by communities over the disappearance of children in the Vhembe area. One of the most notable cases was that of the missing Fiona Matodzi. The 10-year-old girl was allegedly kidnapped on her way home from the local Dzindi Primary School. The incident happened at Itsani on 11 August this year, and no trace of her has been found since then.

Acting Vhembe police spokesperson Sergeant Vuledzani Dathi confirmed the recent incident and said a case of murder had been opened. He said the body would be subjected to an autopsy that would determine the cause of death. Those with information about the case should contact Detective Sergeant Ronald Kwinda at 071 677 1766 or call the Crime Stop number on 08600 10111.

Source: A ritual killer on the loose?


Uganda: why human sacrifices still thrive in Kayunga District

Many of my postings on this site refer to reported or suspected ritual murder cases in West Africa. However, this phenomenon dating from ancient times also exists in other regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Superstition and the greed for power, wealth or good health constitute the main driving forces behind the crimes of ritual murder, human sacrifice and/or ritual cannibalism.

In East Africa ritualistic murders are rife in Uganda. As mentioned below, according to the 2013 Child Sacrifice and Mutilations Report, one child is killed for rituals every week. A mind blowing statistic. Within Uganda the Kayunga District has earned the dubious reputation of being one of the most notorious killing places. Read the breath taking article below; the reader is warned as it contains graphic details.

Uganda is one of an increasing number of SSA countries where human sacrifice and ritualistic murders have become crimes which carry the death penalty. Many countries and international initiatives have outlawed the capital punishment, but several African countries take a different course, notably to contain and/or eradicate ritual murders. The big question is whether the death penalty, which is not always executed, will bring us closer to a society where people no longer fear falling victim to ritual killers. Or should we look for another approach the eradicate this scourge of ignorance and superstition?

PS For an interesting plea to abolish the death penalty the reader is invited to read the following article: ‘Death of Death Penalty in Ghana‘ or click here.
(webmaster FVDK)

Why human sacrifices still thrive in Kayunga

A suspect digs up a place where he claimed to have buried a child in Kayunga District last year. PHOTO/FRED MUZAALE

Published: November 11, 2022
By: Fred Muzaale – Monitor, Uganda

What you need to know:

  • Police say most victims of human sacrifices are children because they are easier to abduct and seen as “pure” and of “higher ritual value.”
  • Last year, President Museveni passed the Prevention and Prohibition of Human Sacrifice Bill 2021, which criminalises the act of human sacrifice.

————————————————————————————————————–

On a hot Monday afternoon at Kayunga Court premises in Kayunga District, Allan Ssembatya walks with his head lowered. 

Visibly not in a good mood, he is in the company of a man and a woman. The two grown-ups are his mother and father.

The 19-year-old Ssembatya’s forehead bares a big scar that he sustained after he was cut with a machete by two men during an attempted ritual murder incident in 2009. He was by then 6 years old.
Fortunately, Ssembatya, now in Senior One, survived, but lost both of his testicles. Because of the cut inflicted on his head, he now has persistent headaches and nightmares.

A resident of Busolo Village in Kayunga Sub-county, Ssembatya spent one month in a coma after the incident.

“Doctors who examined him after the attack said he would not be able to bear children. This is purely a case of human sacrifice,” Ms Sarah Tumusiime, the Kayunga Chief Magistrate, revealed during a court session last month.

She sentenced the convicts; Paul Ngaswireki and Awali Kivumbi, both residents of Busolo Village, who were found guilty of committing the offence, to 40 years each in prison.

According to Ssembatya’s father, his son was attacked by the two men when he had gone to the garden to harvest a jackfruit. He was later left fighting for his life in a forest.

Ssembatya’s case is the latest among such incidents, but Kayunga District has had numerous human sacrifice-related incidents.

In March 2020, a 60-year-old man in Kakoola Village, Kitimbwa Sub-county, was beheaded and his head taken by unknown assailants.

The torso was later recovered from a bush. Two witch doctors were arrested in connection with this incident although the whereabouts of the human skull is still unknown.

Additionally, a traditional healer in Kisoga Village, Nazigo Sub-county, was arrested in 2018 after five bodies were found buried in his shrine. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by Mukono High Court.

Last year, a father in Bbaale Sub-county was arrested after he allegedly killed two of his children over ritual sacrifice. He confessed to the act claiming he was promised Shs2m.

Ms Beatrice Ajwang, the Kayunga District officer-in-charge of the Criminal Investigations Department, said most of the suspects arrested in connection with such acts are “traditional healers and people who want to get rich quickly”.

Ms Ajwang said most victims of human sacrifices are children, apparently because they are easier to abduct and seen as “pure” and of “higher ritual value.”

Without disclosing statistical figures of how many cases of human sacrifice had been recorded in the district, Ms Ajwang confirms that “Kayunga is a hotbed of ritual sacrifice”.

She said out of more than 300 traditional healers operating in the district, their preliminary investigations reveal that half of the number are quacks.

“Kayunga is a unique area, you will find many households having shrines on top of being multi-ethnic. This could be a major contributor to these acts,” Kayunga chairperson Andrew Muwonge said.

Ms Ajwang said despite enacting laws to crack down on those engaging in human sacrifices, the practice has continued.

The law
Last year, President Museveni passed  the Prevention and Prohibition of Human Sacrifice Bill 2021, which criminalises the act of human sacrifice.

The legislation was moved as a private member’s Bill by former Ayivu County legislator Bernard Atiku with the intent of addressing the growing vice of human sacrifice.

According to the new law, any person who mutilates or causes the death of another person for the purpose of performing or furthering a ritual commits an offence and will be punished by the death penalty upon conviction.

“Worse still, it is a big challenge investigating human sacrifice cases because on some occasions it is carried out by parents themselves on their children while in some other cases people are not willing to give information that could be of help to arrest and prosecute offenders,” Ms Ajwanga said, adding: “We appeal to religious leaders to help us instill morals in our people. As police, we have tried to sensitise them against this vice.’’

Ms Sylvia Namutebi, aka Maama Fiina, the national chairperson of Uganda Traditional Healer’s Association, dismisses claims that the acts are committed by people who practice her trade.

“No genuine traditional healer can sacrifice a human being. These are masqueraders hiding in our job. It is our duty to ensure we [genuine healers] weed out such bad people,” Ms Namutebi said.

She said with the help of genuine healers, they have arrested and prosecuted such ‘wrong elements’, noting that she is on a country-wide tour to sensitise traditional healers on professional ethics.

Mr Peter Mawerere, the Kayunga deputy Resident District Commissioner, blamed the vice on ignorance, greed, and poverty. He noted that many people sacrifice human beings because they think it will make them wealthier.

“It is surprising that many people go to traditional healers when they fall sick, even when their ailments can be treated by qualified medical personnel,” he said.

“We have tasked the leadership of traditional healers to fight the acts, which we highly believe are perpetuated by some of their members,” he added.

Rev Fr Maurice Kigoye, the parish priest of Kangulumira Parish in Kangulumira Sub-county,  said: “It [human sacrifice] is really an inhuman act. How can you think that when you kill a person and drink their blood, you can get rich? As religious leaders, we have tried to lure them [culprits] to turn to God and get saved,” Fr Kigoye said.

NGO role
Mr Peter Sewakiryanga, the executive director of Kyampisi Child Care Ministries (KCM), said his organisation receives a number of human sacrifice cases from Kayunga District every month.

“We work with probation officers, police, and other agencies who bring to our attention such cases,” he said.

Mr Sewakiryanga added that in a bid to ensure the culprits are arrested and prosecuted, his organisation facilitates investigations carried out by police officers.

“Many such cases die at the investigation stage, but with our support, a number of the suspects have been prosecuted and convicted like the recent one of Ssembatya. Court sentenced the convicts to 40 years each in jail,” he said.

He explains that KCM also offers treatment, counselling, and psychosocial support to survivors of ritual sacrifice.

“We have in some cases relocated families of the victims for their safety, built them houses and offered education to survivors,” Mr Sewakiryanga said.

2013 report

According to the 2013 Child Sacrifice and Mutilations Report, one child is killed for rituals every week.

The report indicates that people carry out human sacrifices to seek wealth, among others. 

Source: Why human sacrifices still thrive in Kayunga

After two suspected ritual murders, in Nimba County, Liberia, tribal devils become detectives

Unfortunately, ritual murder are no exception in Africa’s oldest republic. Experience teaches us that ritualistic murders in Liberia are on the increase during elections campaigns and when important political appointments are expected – which though does not exclude other circumstances explaining a rise in ritual killings. In the past four to five years, ritual murders have been reported in at least seven of Liberia’s fifteen counties including Montserrado, Bomi, Bong, Nimba, Grand Bassa, Grand Kru and Maryland counties. However, the absence of discoveries of mutilated bodies or reports of ritual murders should not be interpreted as the absence of these criminal and outdated superstitious practices. By definition, occult practices and ritualistic murders take place in secret.

In the article below reference is made to a prominent person who held a very senior position in the Weah Administration and who allegedly is said to be implied in the reported case of two young boys who were murdered for ritual activities. It should be underlined here that this is not the position of the webmaster of this site (FVDK). Moreover, I uphold the principle that no one is guilty unless found guilty by an independent judge after an impartial, public trial.

The original article shown here includes a number of links referring to other, previously published articles containing relevant and related information. I have decided to also include these articles in this posting in order to avoid the (future) situation that the original articles are no longer available or accessible after they have lost been lost in cyberspace, unfortunately not an uncommon phenomenon.

All articles together sketch a reality in Liberia which is rarely shown but which exists. No use to deny or to ignore it. A reality of traditional practices and beliefs, a reality of cultural history including respect for the ancestors. Notwithstanding the foregoing, it goes without saying that a ‘war on ignorance and superstition’ is a must in Africa’s oldest republic, which was created in 1847 by African Americans.

Finally, my June 25 posting, Liberia: Traditional devils arrest six men for allegedly killing two children for rituals, refers to the same case.
(webmaster FVDK)

Liberia: In Nimba, Tribal Devils Become Detectives

The suspects in the deaths of two children in Boe Bonlay Town, District #6, Nimba County.  

Published: October 4, 2022
By: Ishmael F. Menkor – Daily Observer, Liberia

…. When the National Police could not solve a double homicide in their rural community, the people of Beo Bonlay Town, Nimba County, employed the most unconventional means.

It was a breakthrough in a double-murder case that would have been written off as an anomaly except that, in the context of numerous unsolved gruesome murders across Liberia in recent years, police investigations have consistently come up with the same results as they did in this one — “no evidence” or “no foul play” — case closed. 

But the people of Beo Bonlay Town, District # 6, Nimba County, would not take ‘no’ for an answer. In an unprecedented move, they summoned their tribal devils to confirm their hunch and solve what they believed were the murders of two innocent boys who had gone missing and later turned up dead in separate locations. 

It all started on June 9, when the two boys, Handsome-boy Mahn, 9 and Zayglay David, 4, went missing after they returned from the farm in the afternoon.

Hours after their disappearance, the community launched an immediate manhunt for the children. Unfortunately they were found dead with their bodies dumped in two separate wells about 20 minutes apart. 

The deaths of the two children sent shockwaves of fear and  concern among citizens of the district, especially when the first batch of investigators from the Tappita Police Detail, led by the detail commander and the 15-man coroner jury, ruled that there was no foul-play. 

But reports reaching the Daily Observer said an initial examination of the corpses showed that the boys’ necks had been broken. There was also an alleged ‘erasing mark’ on the coroner jury’s report, but this is yet to be verified. 

“The devil”, it is said, “is in the details.” Or is it? 

Unconvinced by the “no foul-play” conclusions of the coroner jury and the police, the citizens this time brought out their tribal devils to search for the perpetrators. It was during the search that seven men were arrested on July 16,  and turned over to police in Sanniquellie for interrogation.

Even after the tribal devils arrested the suspects, the police (again) claimed that due to lack of scientific evidence, they could not charge the alleged perpetrators. This caused the case to drag on until September, when the Crime Services Department (CSD) sent another batch of officers, backed by former Ganta Police Commander, Adolphus Zorh, to conduct the investigation.

Commander Zorh’s team was able to establish the facts and determine that two of the seven men be released because police could not find any evidence to charge them. The other five men arrested by tribal devils were charged by police and sent to court.

According to the CSD, Sanniquellie Detachment, Liberia National Police, the five men were charged with “murder, criminal facilitation and criminal conspiracy” and sent to the Sanniquellie Magisterial Court for preliminary investigation.

Initial confessions

Following their arrest by the tribal devils in the beginning, one of the suspects, Prince Karney, age 41, immediately confessed that they were given the amount of US$1,200 for the murderous operation.

He said he then hired one Zayee Winpea, 43, to kill the two children for the amount of US$300 and gave US$150 to Nenkerwon Mahn, an 18-year-old uncle of the kids, to serve as a watchman while the killing was carried out.

The oldest among the suspects, 45-year-old Morris Gonwon, was also promised US$150 for his role in the killing, which was not spelled out.  Two of the seven suspects, George Sumah and Lawrence Sumah, were hired to take the victims’ blood to Monrovia, while another suspect, Harrison Sumah, was the one who lured the kids with candy before grabbing them. 

During the CSD final investigation, Morris Gonwon and George Sumah were released on grounds that there was not enough evidence to prosecute them. The five persons charged and sent to court are Prince Karney, Harrison Sumah, Lawrence Freeman, Nenkerwon Mahn, and Zayee Winpea.

Prince Karney is said to be the Youth leader of Boe Bonlay and coordinator for the “Friends of Jackson Paye”, a political canvassing group. Jackson Paye is a former Deputy Minister of National Defense who has expressed his desire to contest for the Nimba County District #6 representative seat in 2023.

The murder suspects alleged that the former deputy minister facilitated the killing by giving them the US$1,200 for the operation — to get the children’s blood, allegedly for ritual purposes.

However, Jackson Paye on Truth FM on Thursday, June 22, 2022 denied having any connection to the killings, describing the acts as barbaric, inhumane and uncivilized. He explained that the “Friends of Paye” want the law to take its course, ensuring the alleged perpetrators face the full weight of the law. 

Traditional justice 

It is not clear whether the tribal devils ever got to the heart of the matter to determine exactly who ordered the men to kill the two children.  We may never know. 

However, in cases where communities in Liberia have invoked tribal justice systems to supersede statutory law — especially in the absence of forensic evidence — statutory systems tend to give way. Especially in rural communities, law enforcement personnel dare not interfere with matters involving tribal devils. 

In the recent past, such has been the case in instances where communities have risen up to express their dissatisfaction when their expectations of government have been egregiously dashed. 

In November 2021, Lofa County, a powerful sect of the Poro Society, the Ngaimu, staged a protest, blocking the bridge that connects Bong and Lofa counties, to oppose the delay by the Supreme Court to decide whether Senator-elect Brownie Samukai should take his Lofa County senatorial seat, which had been unoccupied due to a disability imposed on him by the Court for nearly a year.

In response, the Deputy Inspector General for Operations of the Liberia National Police (LNP), Marvin Sackor, threatened necessary actions against any country devil protest. Yet, no move was made on the part of the police.  

A month earlier, October 18, 2021, members of the secret Poro Society shut down ArcelorMittal Liberia’s operations in Yekepa, Nimba County for more than 48 hours at both Mount Tokadeh and Mount Gangra, over claims that AML failed to live up to its previous amended mineral development agreement (MDA) with the government.  

For ArcelorMittal Liberia, this was not the first time.  Barely six weeks earlier, on September 27, 2021, the Poro masters temporarily besieged the operation areas of AML, halting operations for 8 hours. 

But tribal or traditional devils are only one extreme of traditional justice systems. Liberia recognizes a whole regime of what it calls “trial by ordeal”, a method by which suspects are made to undergo an often dangerous test to determine their innocence or guilt. However, while the United Nations has called on Liberia to abolish all forms of trial by ordeal, only the most harmful aspects of this system of justice have been abolished.

Source: Liberia: In Nimba, Tribal Devils Become Detectives

Also:

Lofa County locked down by “Country Devil”

(L-r)  Cars forcefully stopped at the crossing point between Bong and Lofa Counties – leaving several business people stranded along the way.  

Published: November 26, 2021
By: Marcus Malaya – Daily Observer, Liberia

A protest against the Supreme Court of Liberia has resulted in the shut-down of the border crossing point between Bong and Lofa Counties – leaving several business people stranded along the way.

The protest, which is being led by the powerful sect of the Poro Society, the Ngaimu, is intended to oppose the delay by the Supreme Court to decide the fate of the Lofa County senatorial seat, which has been unoccupied due to the disability imposed on Senator-elect Brownie Samukai by the Court.

The protesters, who are all men and led by the fearsome, Ngaimu – the traditional name of head of the Poro Society in that part of Liberia – have blocked the road, halting the movement of people and goods between the two counties, while those who are not members of the society have remained indoors since the morning hours of Thursday, November 25.

“Ngaimu has set a roadblock in the village of Beyan Town on the Lofa side of the border.  The action of Ngaimu is in protest of the Court and the Government of Liberia’s failure to announce the Senate seat of Lofa County vacant since the Senator-elect Samukai has not been able to take the seat due to his disability by the Supreme Court,” disclosed eyewitnesses at the scene of the protest.

The protesters, however, vowed to keep the road closed until the Court ruled on the matter – deciding if the senate will be declared vacant or not. And security personnel, some of whom are not members of the society, have also been dared to remove the roadblock, setup by Ngaimu.

The fear of the Ngaimu has also prevented the women from going out to tend to their farms, since it is forbidden for a woman to lay eyes on it – as doing so comes with consequences, traditionalists claim.

The eyewitness accounts revealed that there are more than three “Ngaimus” currently at the St. Paul Bridge in Beyan Town and there are more “Ngaimus” coming to join the others currently at the bridge.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court months ago denied Samukai’s request for the high court to reverse the judgment of the Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice, which found him and two others guilty of misapplying over US$1 million in pension funds stored up in a bank account for members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) when he served as Defense Minister. 

The disability includes the payment of US$173,276.05 as some portion of his share of money illegally withdrawn from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) pension funds, for which he was found guilty of misapplication of entrusted property, theft of property, and other criminal offenses by Criminal Court ‘C’ with such ruling confirmed by the Supreme.

While Samukai made a payment of US$173,276.05, his two deputies Joseph F. Johnson, former Deputy Minister for Administration, and J. Nyumah Dorkor, former Comptroller, did not despite being found guilty jointly.

Samukai, together with Johnson and Dorkor, were to pay the amount of US$573,832.68 within a six-month period to avoid imprisonment, according to the Supreme Court mandate to the Criminal Court ‘C’.  It was out of the amount of US$573,832.68 that Samukai alone managed to pay the US$173,276.05, which his followers believed is the portion of his share of the money.

The Court then ordered the National Election Commission not to certify him until the disability imposed on him as a result of his conviction for felony is removed. The Court argued that from a review of the records, Samukai and his two deputies were jointly charged with the commission of the crimes for which they were brought down guilty.

The Supreme Court added that the restitution is a part of the sentence, as such; Samukai and the two others are to restitute the amount withdrawn from the AFL Pension Account without the permission or authorization of the soldiers.

History of the case

Samukai, then former Defense Minister, together with Johnson and Dorkor without any authorization, withdrew the amount US$1,147,665.35 from the pension fund belonging to soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).

The three men were later declared guilty of multiple crimes including misuse of private funds and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison each, and also ordered to restitute the money within a year by the Criminal Court ‘C’. The judgment was later modified by the Supreme Court after Samukai and the others appealed against it to the high court.

In the modification, the Supreme Court said it was suspending their prison term on grounds that, if they were to pay fifty percent (50) of the judgment amount of the US$1,147,665.35, which is $573,832.68, within six months period, which expired by August, 26, they would avoid Imprisonment.

Source: Liberia: Lofa Locked Down by “Country Devil”

Also:

Liberia National Police warns against ‘Country Devil’ protests

Headquarters of the Liberia National Police (LNP)

Published: December 10, 2021
By: Tina S. Mehnpaine – Daily Observer, Liberia

The Deputy  Inspector General for Operations of the Liberia National Police (LNP), Marvin Sackor has threatened necessary actions against any country devil protest.

He said if people are disenchanted, they should make use of the legal means rather than staying in protest to undermine the peace of the country.

“It is unfortunate and unfair that some of our people are using the tradition to undermine the peace and security of this country. Let me say this, article 17 of our constitution gives citizens the right to peacefully assemble and petition their government. So if you, as a citizen of this country, will use whatever political means or any disenchantment to undermine the peace of this country, I can assure the public that the Liberia National Police will use whatever force necessary to contain that situation,” he warned.

Since the staging of a protest by members of the poro society in Lofa county to call on the attention of the Supreme Court to decide the fate of Senator-elect Brownie Samukai, traditional leaders have been accused of allowing politicians to influence them.

The group of men led by their powerful poro master, Ngainmu, on November 30, blocked the entrance of the St. Paul bridge that connects Bomi and Lofa counties to pressure the court to reopen the case of Senator-elect Samukai.

Sackor added that if traditional people have any disenchantment in the country, they should use legal means to get redress instead of blocking roads to cause chaos among citizens.

“There is no exception to the rule of law; our traditional people need to understand that this country is governed by law,” Sackor declared. “ Anyone – I am very clear here – that thinks that they have any other power to undermine the Constitution, trust me, the Liberia National Police will use every legal means to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. So, I am appealing to our traditional people in Lofa. Handle your situation through the legal means. Any attempt to block the St. Paul Bridge, we are under obligation to make sure that the Constitution is intact.”

Nathaniel F. McGill, Minister of State, also accused politicians of masterminding the protest and branding it as a disgrace to Liberian culture.

“I was watching Facebook live and I saw a country devil protesting. This has never happened in our country, it is a shame and whoever did that must be disgraceful,” said Minister McGill.

Addressing the Ministry of information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) regular press briefing in Monrovia, Sackor reminded traditional leaders that they are not above the law and, therefore, any attempt to block roads, the police will not hesitate to act.

Meanwhile, the deputy inspector general has revealed that due to the increasing wave of criminal activities in the country, there will be restrictions imposed on motorcyclists. 

He said a police investigation has shown that criminals are transported by motorcyclists so the Police have commenced the implementation of the no-go-zones for motorcyclists ahead of the festive season in Liberia, to avoid the transportation of criminals.

Source: Liberia: LNP Warns Against ‘Country Devil’ Protests

Also:

Poro Society halts ArcelorMittal’s operations in Yekepa

AML train in motion in Liberia

Published: October 19, 2021
By: Ishmael F. Menkor – Daily Observer, Liberia

Steel giant ArcelorMittal was forced yesterday to shut down its Yekepa operations after members of the secret poro society made an unannounced visit to protest against alleged neglect by the company.

The strike action, which is highly unprecedented for members of the highly respected Poro Society in Liberia, comes amid rising tension in the company’s operating areas weeks after it had signed an amended mineral development agreement with the government of Liberia.

The agreement, which now awaits ratification from lawmakers, has been met with rejection by mines communities in Nimba County, where the company operates, over claims that AML failed to live up to its previous amended mineral development agreement (MDA) with the government. 

Poro Society members, led by the Poro Master,  shut down AML operations for more than  48 hours  at both Mount Tokadeh and Mount Gangra and might likely last for 14 days, according to an insider close to the Poro masters. 

The protest, which is the second in a month, is happening as county officials remain mute on the matter while they negotiate behind closed doors.

However, an elderly resident of one of mine communities has disclosed that the company, through its’ Community liaison manager, has begun negotiating with society members to cancel their protest and meet on the round table to discuss issues relating to their concerns.

In a statement, the  AML confirmed the incident, saying, “on early Saturday morning, October 16, 2021, some individuals wearing ceremonial traditional costumes blocked the main access road to the mining site of ArcelorMittal Liberia in Yekepa, disrupting business operations of the company.” 

“As a company that prioritizes safety and security, ArcelorMittal Liberia warns of the associated risks of unauthorized entry of individuals into an industrial environment and condemns such illegal action, said the statement from AML. “AML reaffirms its commitment to community engagement on issues around its operations as a means of finding a common ground.”

Meanwhile, AML said while they respect and continue to support traditional and cultural activities especially in their operational areas, they disagreed with disruptions and acts aimed at causing fear among its workforce are unwarranted and undermine close working relations.

On September 27, 2021 the Poro masters temporarily sieged the operation areas of AML, halting operation of 8 hours.

There has been tension in Nimba County since the Government and AML reached a new Mineral Development Agreement to extend the operation to 2036, where AML stands to invest about UD$ 800 million.

The deal has so far been rejected by mining communities due to claims of past abandonment and negligence of previous MDA.

Source: Poro Society Masters Halt AML Operations in Yekepa

Also:

The following article was originally published on November 1, 2007. It contains highly recommended reading for the readers of this site. It was decided to include it in this posting for two reasons. First, it was originally included in the Daily Observer article on the two slain boys in Nimba County (on top) and secondly, because it contains relevant background information on traditional beliefs and practices which still exist in Liberia despite being outlawed for reasons which will be clear after having read the article.

Liberia: Trial by ordeal makes the guilty burn but “undermines justice”

Sassywood and Witch Persecution in Liberia – by Leo Igwe. To access the article, please click here
Igwe’s article serves as illustration and is not related to the OCHA article below.

Published: November 1, 2007
By: OCHA Services – Relief Web

MONROVIA, 1 November 2007 (IRIN)

  • About 50 people in the village of Klay, northwestern Liberia, recently gathered to watch a man apply red-hot metal to the limbs of four youths accused of robbery.

The man dipped a machete in a concoction of water, palm oil and kola nuts, held it in fire for several minutes, and then placed it on the right legs of the four suspects. None of the youths – ages 16 to 26 – appeared to flinch. They were deemed not guilty.

This practice known as ‘sassywood’ is banned under national law, but is still regarded as a legitimate form of justice by many Liberians. A suspect is subjected to intense pain and judged on his or her reaction – if the hot metal burns the person’s leg, he or she is found guilty.

The UN has repeatedly warned that the practice is undermining efforts to improve human rights in Liberia as the country attempts to recover from 14 years of war.

Many legal specialists and human rights activists say relying on customs such as trial by ordeal – often harmful and even deadly – is down to the decrepit state of Liberia’s judicial system. And many say not enough is being done to restore the sector, left in tatters by the war.

Four years after the fighting ended, progress in rebuilding the judicial and corrections system is “very slow”, according to an August report by the UN Security Council. “The judicial system is constrained by limited infrastructure, shortage of qualified personnel, lack of capacity to process cases, poor management and lack of the necessary will to institute reforms.” The report said most people do not have access to legal counsel.

Legal advisers in Liberia say the absence of functioning courts in most rural areas is due in large part to lawyers’ reluctance to take judgeships there, as well as the lack of infrastructure for courts.

In the central Liberian town of Gbarnga in Bong County, 150km north of the capital Monrovia, residents told IRIN that trial by ordeal is the only means to adjudicate alleged crimes.

“If somebody is accused of stealing money, clothes, jewellery, food or other items, the best [way] to know who committed the act is to administer sassywood, which is fast – it takes less than 30 minutes to know who did the act,” Gbarnga resident Johnny Bono said.

Users of sassywood believe the person administering it and the instruments used have mystical powers. Practitioners are paid in money or goods – up to 2000 Liberian dollars (US$32) per ‘trial’ in the capital and about a third of that in rural areas. Sometimes payment is kola nuts and a pure-white chicken.

According to a rights activist in Nimba County, the problem is that many people will submit to sassywood because they do not know it has been outlawed.

“Sassywood is very common here and most people believe that it is the only means of knowing a guilty person,” said Dualo Lor of the church-based NGO Equip-Liberia in Nimba, 300km from Monrovia. “They are not even aware the practice is outlawed.”

He group recently prevented the application of sassywood on a 32-year-old man accused of theft. “We have been trying very hard [to educate] the people about the danger of sassywood, but they just have not stopped it.”

Some legal experts say it will be tough to stop if citizens do not feel they have a reliable justice system to take its place.

“The trial by ordeal in most parts of the country clearly shows that most people do not have confidence in the court system,” Anthony Valcke, Liberia country director of the American Bar Association in Africa, told IRIN. “If people had such confidence, they would not resort to trial by ordeal.”

Tradition

“No amount of laws or government order can stop sassywood,” Yerkula Zaizay, a resident of Gbarnga, told IRIN. “It is a tradition that our forefathers left with us. This is better than going to court. My late grandfather taught me how to apply sassywood and it is part of my culture so it cannot be easily stopped.”

Gbarnga resident Bono said, “We cannot waste our time going to court. The sassywood is our courtroom. This is what our forefathers have been practising in the past and it has been working.”

Lawyer Augustine Toe, head of the Justice and Peace Commission, a Catholic human rights group, said: “Sassywood undermines the justice system of this country and the rights of an accused are not protected. Our constitution provides that anyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a [court of law].”

Liberia’s chief prosecutor, Tiawon Gongloe, told IRIN he had instructed all county prosecuting officers to arrest anyone carrying out trial by ordeal.

“We are aware sassywood is going on and this act is not only unlawful, but unconstitutional,” he said, noting that 12 people were arrested earlier this year in southeastern Liberia for having administered sassywood.

UN independent human rights expert, Charlotte Abaka, said the government had to do more. “The Liberian government should take concrete steps to enforce the ban on trial by ordeal,” she said, calling the practice a “grave” breach of human rights.

ak/np/mw

Source: Liberia: Trial by ordeal makes the guilty burn but “undermines justice”

Nigeria: Edo Police Command uncovers ritualist’s den, 20 corpses in Benin City, Edo State 

Warning: the following contains graphic details.

Recently, Edo State police did a horrific find when it discovered in Benin City a ritualist’s den with 20 mummified bodies: 15 dried male corpses, three female corpses and two children corpses. Benin City is the capital of Edo State. Click here for more information on the Edo or Benin people.

It is not known who the victims are and how long the corpses have been in the ritualist’s den.

In general, it’s a gruesome reality that many unidentified bodies of victims of ritual murders (‘money rituals’) in Nigeria may be linked to unexplained disappearances. Even worse, some people are not being reported as missing.

Hence the exact number of victims of ritualistic murders in Nigeria is unknown, but much higher than the number of reported cases.
(webmaster FVDK)

Location of Edo state and Benin City in Nigeria

Edo Police Command uncovers ritualist’s den, 20 corpses in Benin

Published: August 19, 2022
By: The Guardian, Nigeria

Edo State Police Command has uncovered a ritualist’s den with 20 mummified bodies, along Ekehuan Road area of Benin City. 
   
The State Commissioner of Police (CP), Abutu Yaro, said the Command unravelled the suspected ritual shrine on Wednesday, August 17 and arrested three suspected ritualists.
  
Yaro said the raid is in line with the Command’s operational mandate of curbing crime in the state.

He said: “Following credible information at the Command’s disposal that some corpses were discovered in a building along Asoro slope off Ekehuan Road, Uzebu Quarters, in Benin City, operatives of the Command immediately swung into action and mobilised to the scene.”
  
According to him, three suspects were arrested at the scene, namely: Chimaobi Okoewu ‘m’ and Oko Samuel ‘m’ both of Afikpo in Ebonyi and Gideon Sunday ‘m’ of Akwa-Ibom State, while other suspects fled.
  
Yaro said the police have launched an intensive manhunt to apprehend the fleeing suspects.
 
Among the corpses discovered at the scene of the crime, are 15 dried male corpses, three female corpses and two children corpses.
 
He noted that the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the State Command Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (CIID) has been directed to carry out a discreet investigation to unravel the circumstances surrounding the discovered corpses.
  
The commissioner urged members of the general public to be calm as the Command will continue to ensure the safety of all law-abiding citizens and those residing in Edo State.

Source: Edo Police Command uncovers ritualist’s den, 20 corpses in Benin

Over 16 ritual murders occur in Ghana each year, a recent study shows

Highly recommended reading!

The article below pays attention to the first study of its kind (at least, as far as I know) that gives us reliable and in-depth information on the scale of ritual murders in a West African country as well as details pertaining to the ‘how and why’ of ritual killings in this country, Ghana. The author, Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu, is a law and criminology researcher at Aberystwyth University and a lecturer at Arden University (all in the United Kingdom). He recognizes that the reported ritual murder cases which were analyzed, and which were all reported in three local Ghanaian media outlets in the 2013-2020 period, may be only the tip of the iceberg due to a number of factors which he explains in the study.

The author studied and analyzed 96 ritual murder cases (reported in the 2013-2020 period) involving approximately 116 victims including 62 children. This means an average of 16 ritual murders including 9 child victims each year – in Ghana only, a country with a population of about 30 million. Significantly, the study shows that ritual murders form approximately 1.6% of all the murders chronicled in the country annually.

The study is entitled ‘The Superstition that Dismembers the African Child: An Exploration of the Scale and Features of Juju-Driven Paedicide in Ghana’.  The 42-page study, in volume 60 issue 1 of the ‘International Annals of Criminology’ by Cambridge University Press, has been published in open access for which the publishers are to be commended. It is available in both HTML and PDF formats at: https://doi.org/10.1017/cri.2022.2 or click here.
(webmaster FVDK)

Over 16 ritual murders occur in Ghana each year, a recent study shows

Published: August 23, 2022
By: Vincent Tutu Bawuah – Modern Ghana

Juju-driven homicide or ritual murder has been the subject of many media reports in contemporary Ghana. However, very little is known about the prevalence/magnitude and features of this crime in the country, as national data sets on the ritual murder phenomenon are presently non-existent. 

To help address the problem relating to the paucity of information on ritual murder, Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu (also known as Black Power), a law and criminology researcher at Aberystwyth University and a lecturer at Arden University (all in the United Kingdom), has conducted a dynamic study on juju and ritual paedicides/pedicides (i.e. killing children for ritual or occult purposes) in Ghana, the first of its kind in a West African setting. 

The study sought to establish the scale and identify the primary features, motivations, and socio-cultural, religious and economic contexts of ‘ritual paedicide’ (a phrase coined by the researcher himself) in contemporary Ghana. It also examines the criminal justice system’s responses to such murders. 

To realize the defined aim, an in-depth analysis of ritual homicide cases/reports publicized in three local Ghanaian media outlets (the Daily GraphicGhanaian Times, and Daily Guide) between September 2013 and August 2020 was carried out. Semi-structured interviews involving 20 participants were then conducted to gain additional insights into key aspects of the results of the media content analysis. 

The following are some of the key findings of the study: 

A total of 96 reports/articles on ritual murder were extracted from the websites of the three media outlets perused, and this involved approximately 116 victims. Out of the 116 victims, 62 were children. This means that at least 16.5 ritual murders involving approximately 9 child victims occur in Ghana each year. The study also indicates that ritual paedicide forms approximately 1.6% of all the murders chronicled in the country annually. The researcher however admits that the number of ritual paedicide cases identified in the selected media outlets may be only the tip of the iceberg due to a number of limitations highlighted in the study. 

Most ritual paedicide victims (over 79%) are children of low socio-economic backgrounds in rural and semi-rural communities. There is no significant difference in the number of boys and girls murdered. Blood, the head, the limbs, and the private parts are the most sought-after body parts. Several reasons have been suggested for this trend. Ritual paedicide cases were more prevalent in the western part of Ghana than in other areas of the country. A reason for this development has been suggested in the study. 

Poor parental supervision is a significant risk factor for ritual paedicide. Over 70% of the victims were kidnapped while playing outside their homes unsupervised, going to school or fetching water from a stream unaccompanied, or running errands for their parents or other family members. Though letting children under 10 years roam about unsupervised appears to be a normal practice in most African communities, the study cautions against it. 

Most ritual murders involve multiple perpetrators, and a number of factors have been offered to explain this trend. Most perpetrators and prime suspects are males, aged between 20 and 39 years, mostly unemployed or financially handicapped. However, the study does not rule out the involvement of rich and educated people who are highly likely to hire others (ideally, poor or unemployed youth) to commit the barbaric crime rather than doing it themselves. 

Unlike other forms of homicide, perpetrators of ritual paedicide are strangers nearly as often as being family members and acquaintances. Fathers, stepfathers, and uncles are the dominant culprits in cases where victims and perpetrators are related. 

The most dominant motivation for ritual murder in Ghana is pecuniary gain. Among the key factors that account for the prevalence and persistence of ritual murders in the country are widespread unemployment and concomitant economic privations, obsession with juju, the increasing popularity of ‘cyber-criminality’ and the so-called Sakawa Boys, exposure of Ghanaian youth to African movies that portray juju and juju rituals as an efficient wealth-guaranteeing religious practice, illiteracy, and the emergence of a new ‘consumerist ethos’ that has engrossed the Ghanaian society and which is marked by the unrestrained quest for material success and the flamboyant display of luxury. 

The majority of perpetrators are not apprehended or even identified by law enforcement agencies. There is evidence of police laxity in investigating and prosecuting cases of ritual pedicide in Ghana. 

The study, entitled ‘The Superstition that Dismembers the African Child: An Exploration of the Scale and Features of Juju-Driven Paedicide in Ghana’, makes a significant contribution to the body of knowledge. It is highly significant as it breaks new ground and provides a foundation for further informed engagement with the ritual paedicide phenomenon in Africa. 

The full study (a 42-page article) has been published (open access) in volume 60 issue 1 of the ‘International Annals of Criminology’ by Cambridge University Press. It could be accessed in both HTML and PDF formats at: https://doi.org/10.1017/cri.2022.2

Source: Over 16 ritual murders occur in Ghana each year, a recent study shows

Uganda sees spike in human sacrifices

Below follows a shocking account from Uganda. It is not the first time on this site that human sacrifices, ritual murders and ritualistic activities are being reported from this East African country.

The reported steep increase in the number of (reported and/or discovered!) human sacrifices is indeed extremely worrisome, the more so that we may assume that the discovered or reported cases of ritual killing are only the tip of an iceberg.

It’s a horrifying reality that mainly children are victim of these crimes which are above all based on superstition and (partly) caused by poverty. Partly caused, because according to reports not only poor people resort to human sacrifices to increase their well-being. Also (rich) businessmen do, as the 2014 case of the business tycoon Kato Kajubi demonstrates (see my posting dated May 7, 2021).

Whereas in 2019 22 ritualistic murders were recorded, this number rose to 45 in 2020, and to 65 last year (2021), resulting in the sad total figure of 132 human sacrifices which have been recorded.

Ritual killings must stop!
(webmaster FVDK)

‘A big problem’: Uganda sees spike in human sacrifice incidents

Most victims of the sacrifices are children, apparently because they are easier to abduct and seen as “pure” and so of “higher ritual value”. (AA Archive)

Published: July 3, 2022
By: TRT News

Authorities say human sacrifices take place at advice of ‘witch doctors’ in superstition-hit rural areas to bring good luck.

Human sacrifices continue unabated in the remote and rural areas of the landlocked East African country of Uganda despite authorities enacting tough laws and threatening death sentences.

According to officials, 132 incidents of human sacrifices have been recorded in the last three years. The numbers have spiked from 22 sacrifices in 2019, 45 in 2020 and 65 in 2021.

Most victims of such “ritual sacrifices” are children, apparently because they are easier to abduct and seen as “pure” and so of “higher ritual value”.

Anadolu Agency quoted authorities as saying on Sunday that the sacrifices are being carried out by witch doctors or local traditional healers, dotting rural areas.

Admitting that human sacrifice is a big problem, Lucas Oweyesigire, the police spokesman for the Kampala region, said most such practices take place in rural areas.

The so-called leader of traditional healing and witch doctors, Mama Fina, has also condemned human sacrifice and described those recommending the sacrifice of human beings as “fake”.

Taking advice from witch doctors

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said only last month they “arrested a man identified as Musilimu Mbwire on suspicion of killing his two sons in human sacrifice.”

According to preliminary investigations, a rich man had paid Mbwire money and convinced him to sacrifice his two sons at the instructions of a witch doctor.

Superstitions lead people in rural areas to seek help from witch doctors, who in turn offer weird prescriptions, including human sacrifices to turn around their luck.

A more worrisome part of the superstition is to undertake human sacrifice to put the body at the foundation of a building to bring good luck.

Timothy Mukasa, a local leader in Kampala’s suburb of Kireka, said many multi-storey buildings in the town have been built on a human body.

“The witch doctors tell owners to put a human body at the foundation of the construction of the buildings,” he said.

In 2014, authorities apprehended and later sentenced a tycoon Kato Kajubi for sacrificing a child and then putting his body in the foundation of a building that he was about to construct.

David Musenze, a journalist who studied psychology, said there are not many qualified counsellors to attend to psychological and mental issues of people, which makes them take advice from witch doctors.

“People go to witch doctors to help them get jobs, be promoted at jobs, or kill their enemies, along with many other problems,” he said.

Source: ‘A big problem’: Uganda sees spike in human sacrifice incidents

Liberia: Traditional devils arrest six men for allegedly killing two children for rituals 

The arrest of six men in Nimba County, Liberia, for allegedly killing two children on June 9 warrants three comments.

Handsome-boy Mahn, 9 years old, and 4-year old Zayzay David mysteriously went missing in Boe Bonlay Town, Boe-Quillah Administrative District, which is also part of District #6, Nimba County. Later the kids were found dead, murdered, although the police ruled out any foul play. Subsequently, the villagers asked traditional devils for help, to search for the perpetrators. This led to a ‘citizen arrest’ when six men were arrested on July 16 and turned over to police in Sanniquellie, Nimba County for interrogation. Among the suspects was an uncle of the two children.

Reportedly, the arrested men confessed and admitted to killing the two kids. The suspects accused a former Deputy Defense Minister of involvement ands ordering the ritualistic murder. Allegedly, the named former deputy minister wanted to contest for a representative seat in 2023 in Nimba District #6.

The reader is warned that the article below contains graphic details.

The incident leads me to three comments, based on the facts as reported by the source, the Liberian newspaper Daily Observer, one of Liberia’s leading newspapers, known and respected for its trusted news and interesting analyses.

First, the ‘election season’ is approaching in Liberia with planned presidential and general elections in 2023. It is not uncommon in Liberia that during election campaigns people disappear mysteriously, to be found later dead, mutilated, with ‘parts missing’, a local expression indicating the removal of organs or body parts for ritualistic purposes. Already Liberia has experienced several cases of unexplained disappearances, suspected deaths, and obvious ritual murders in the past few years.

Secondly, if true that initially the police had reported that it had found no foul play whereas the bodies of the victims were found to be not intact, this raises questions about police competence and the rule of law in Liberia. The latter has been subject to increasing criticism during the current administration of President George Weah who faces elections in 2023, the outcome of which will decide whether he will be a ‘one-term-President’ or will seize a second presidential term. It is interesting to note that apparently the people of Boe Bonlay Town showed more confidence in their traditional devils than in the local police.

Lastly, the Daily Observer article presented below contains the full name of the former Deputy Minister of Defense who is allegedly involved in this crime. Although this may be in conformity with Liberian rules and practice, I personally disapprove of such public naming and shaming. Moreover, we should always bear in mind that a suspect or accused person is not guilty unless found guilty by a competent, independent judge in a public, non-partisan trial.

In view of the in my opinion hectic period which Liberia will be facing the next two years it is important to realize this.
(webmaster FVDFK)

Liberia: ‘Traditional devils’ arrest six men suspected of two ritual killings

Published: June 24, 2022
By: Ishmael G. Menkor – The Daily Observer

Traditional devils in the Nimba County District #6, specifically Boe Bonlay Town, have arrested six men for allegedly killing two children on June 9. The two children, identified as Handsome-boy Mahn, 9, and Zayzay David, 4, mysteriously went missing in the Boe Bonlay Town, Boe-Quillah Administrative District, which is also part of District #6, Nimba County.

The kids had returned from the farm before the unfortunate accident.  According to the kids’ parents, Mahn and David went missing while playing.  The community then launched a search immediately but unfortunately, the kids were found dead with their bodies dumped in two separate wells about 20 minutes apart. The death of the two children then raised concern and fears among the citizens and the district at large, especially when the police or the 15-person coroner jury explained that there was no foul play found.

Despite the jury or the police ruling out any foul-play, the citizens this time brought out traditional devils to search for the perpetrators. During this exercise, several men were arrested on July 16 and turned over to police in Sanniquellie, Nimba County for interrogation.

Following their arrest, the six suspects reportedly admitted to killing the children, with one of the accused suspects, Prince Karney, age 41, explaining that they were given the amount of US$1,200 for the operation.

According to information, the main suspect, Zayee Winpea, 43, was hired by Karney to kill the two children for the amount of US$300, while Nenkerwon Mahn, 18, was given US$150 to serve as a watchman while the killing was ongoing. Nenkerwon Mahn is said to be the uncle of the two kids and he also confessed to serving as gate man, while the killing was going on.

The oldest among the suspects, Morris Gonwon, age 45, was also promised US$150 for his part, but his role in the killing was not spelled out.  Two of the suspects, George Sumah, 42, and Lawrence Freeman, 45, were accused of transporting the blood to Monrovia, while Harrison Sumah, 29, grabbed the two children by luring them with lollipops and took them to the house where they were killed, according to Radio Nimba.

Karney was said to be the ‘youth leader’ of Boe Bonlay in Nimba County, and the district coordinator for the Friends of former Deputy Defense Minister Jackson Paye, who had expressed his desire to contest for a representative seat in 2023 in Nimba District #6.

Former Minister Paye was accused by the suspects of facilitating the killing by giving them US$1,200. But Paye on Truth FM on June 23 denied any link to the killing, describing the killing as barbaric, inhumane, and uncivilized.

He explained that the Friends of Paye want the law to take its course, ensuring the alleged perpetrators face the full weight of the law.

Source: Liberia: Traditional Devils Arrest Six

Nimba County, Liberia

Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission advocates strong mechanisms to fight harmful practices against children – AU Day of the Child marked in Ghana

Last Thursday, June 16, was the Day of the African Child, created by the organization of African Unity in 1991, and triggered by sad events in South Africa. The Day of the African Child is celebrated on the African continent and around the world.

In Nigeria, Africa’s largest country in terms of population and number of childen, where an estimated 75 million children live, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) paid attention to the event. Nigeria is no exception on the African continent where harmful practices threaten and affect the lives of millions of innocent and defenseless children. Among these practices we note child marriage, child trafficking, rape, female genital mutilation, infanticide and other forms of violence against children, some of whom are accused of being witches, some of whom are being targeted for ritualistic purposes, notably children with albinism.

Also in Ghana, the Volta Region office of the Department of Children under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), in collaboration with Plan International, Ghana, celebrated this year’s African Union Day of the African Child.

Mr Seth Kwasi Agbi, the District Chief Executive for South Tongu, in a keynote address, condemned all harmful acts such as child trafficking, child labour, and ritualistic murders which also victimize children.
(webmaster FVDK)

NHRC advocates strong mechanisms to fight harmful practices against children

Published: June 17, 2022
By: Michael Olugbode, This Day – Nigeria

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has reiterated the need to devise and strengthen national accountability mechanisms that will deter harmful practices against children, so as to enable them to attain all-around development in life.

The Executive Secretary of the commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu, stated this in his welcome remarks at the commemoration of the 2022 Day of the African Child (DAC).

He noted that the celebration was an opportunity to take stock of what has been done with regards to the adoption of policies and practices targeted at eliminating harmful practices affecting children in Nigeria.

Ojukwu, who was represented at the event by the Director of Monitoring Department, Mr. Benedict Agu, said the 2022 theme of the celebration: ‘Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013’,  is appropriate as it seeks to address the peculiar human rights challenges affecting children.

He noted that these challenges, are negative harmful practices such as early/forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child trafficking among others.

He stated that against this background, the commission’s role in advancing the campaign to end harmful practices affecting children is hinged on its mandate to promote, protect and enforce the rights of all persons in Nigeria.

According to him, “Notably, the commission was a critical partner in the advocacy for the passage of the Child’s Rights Act 2003, and has been involved in continued advocacy for its adoption into Child Rights Laws of about 26 states of the federation.

“It is also a member of the State Child Rights Implementation Committee of several states in Nigeria and has continued to advocate for the mainstreaming of children’s rights in relevant policies of the government.”

Ojukwu stated that the commission has further prioritised Child Rights in its work through the creation of the Department of Women and Children, and the thematic team on the Rights of the Child, which have enabled it to take action against pervasive child rights abuses such as child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV), infanticide, child trafficking among others.

In her key message, a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Ms. Aver She said the commemoration of DAC is an opportunity to sensitise duty bearers on the importance of engaging children in their own issues and promoting participation as well as inclusion in line with the principles of child participation.

Gavar, who is also the director of Human Rights Education and Promotion in the commission, said the focus of the DAC 2022 is also to respond to the high prevalence of harmful practices affecting children in different parts of Africa, including rape, FGM, child marriage, infanticide among others.

She urged the government to strengthen its child protection system through increased budgetary lines across sectors dealing with child rights implementation and through the establishment of one-step centres for integrated response to child survivors of rape, child marriage, FGM and all forms of violence against children.

In her remarks, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, disclosed that the ministry has made progress in spearheading a range of policy documents to address harmful cultural practices, like the implementation of the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) 2003, National Guidelines on Establishment of Child Care Institutions, and National Strategy on Elimination of Child Marriage.

Source: NHRC Advocates Strong Mechanisms to Fight Harmful Practices against Children

AU Day of the African child marked in South Tongu, Volta Region, Ghana.

Mr Israel Akrobortu, the Volta Regional Director of the Department of Children,

Published: June 17, 2022
By: News Ghana, Ghana News Agency – GNA

The Volta Region office of the Department of Children under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), in collaboration with Plan International, Ghana, have celebrated this year’s African Union Day of the African Child with a call to end harmful practices affecting children. 

In an address, Mr Israel Akrobortu, the Volta Regional Director of the Department of Children, said some traditional customs and practices conflicted with children’s rights and were harmful to their development. 

“Child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation are two of the most discriminatory harmful cultural practices that have been committed regularly over long periods that some communities and societies have come to accept,” he said. 

Mr Akrobotu called on duty bearers to take urgent steps to stop such negative practices, which were affecting children, especially female genital cutting, to protect the vulnerable, especially girls from all unnecessary and dangerous practices.

Mr Seth Kwasi Agbi, the District Chief Executive for South Tongu, in a keynote address, said it was important to focus on the vital efforts of communities and child rights activists working on policies and practices to eliminate “these harmful practices affecting children on the continent.” 

He explained that the acts, such as child trafficking, child labour, ritual murder, and defilement, if not curbed and eventually eliminated, would be detrimental to the growth and development of the continent. 

Mr Alfred Dzikunoo, Programmes Coordinator, and a representative from Plan International, Ghana, said Plan Ghana had made many contributions to end the canker against the Ghanaian Child. 

The interventions include empowering girls with life skills, knowledge and networks to become empowered agents of change in their own lives, engagement of duty-bearers such as GHS, DOVVSU, and DSW to improve education on child marriage FGM, and child labour.

Torgbi Atsugah Sogah Il, a Divisional chief from Fieve Traditional Area, implored participating students to be good ambassadors and serve as role models for other children in their communities as well as cultivate the habit of championing the right to education. 

The 2022 celebration was on the theme: “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practices since 2013.” 

Comboni Senior High Technical School garnered 18 points against 15 by Sogakope Senior High School (SOGASCO) to win the debate on the topic: “Has the policies on harmful socio-cultural practices affecting children since 2013 curbed the menace,?” 

The “Day of the African Child” dates back to 1991 when the African Union (AU) initiated a remembrance of the children who lost their lives in a peaceful protest in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. 

The event attracted school children, officials from the South Tongu District Education Directorate, teachers, local government staff, and traditional rulers within the South Tongu District.

Source: AU Day of the African child marked in South Tongu

Districts in the Volta Region, Ghana.


Shocking report on rural infanticide, violence against children accused of witchcraft, and ritual attacks against children with albinism in 19 SSA countries

In a recently released document of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), Revealing Our Hidden Shame – Addressing Charges of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks, it is being reported that “hundreds of thousands of children in Africa are believed to be accused every year of what is widely regarded across Africa as a particularly heinous crime: witchcraft”.

In the document, 19 Sub-Sahara African countries are mentioned as the scene of cases of the commission of rural infanticide crimes, attacks against children with disabilities, ritual attacks against children with albinism and cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft.

The 19 SSA countries are scattered across the continent and it is believed – in view of the scarcity of data – that the cases which have come to light only constitute the tip of the iceberg.

It goes without saying that there is no place in the 21st century for these practices and crimes.

Warning: Some readers may find the following story disturbing
(webmaster FVDK).

Cult-related attacks against children still occur in at least 19 SSA countries

Published: June 2, 2022
By: LUSA – Macau Business dot com

Angola is the only Portuguese-speaking African country mentioned in a report released on Wednesday by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) on the practice of ritual attacks against children.

In the document, “Revealing Our Hidden Shame – Addressing Charges of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks”, presented Tuesday in a video conference from Addis Ababa, “hundreds of thousands of children in Africa are believed to be accused every year of what is widely regarded across Africa as a particularly heinous crime: witchcraft”.

ACPF executive director Joan Nyanyuki argues in the introduction that “across the African continent, much has been done to improve laws and policies aimed at ending violence against children.”

“Some progress has been made in establishing the systems and structures needed to implement and enforce these policies and laws. These efforts, however, have not sufficiently addressed an important dimension of violence against children: accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks,” it adds.

In the document, 19 countries are referenced as the scene of cases of the commission of rural infanticide crimes, attacks against children with disabilities, attacks against children with albinism and cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft.

“The report documents, to the extent possible in light of the scarcity of data, how widespread accusations of witchcraft are across the continent (although they vary in extent over time and from place to place). Best estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of children face accusations every year in Africa and subsequently suffer serious violations.”

Examples given by the document point to reported cases of ritual infanticide in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar and Niger, while Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Essuatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Zimbabwe have reported ritual attacks on children with disabilities.

Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali and Tanzania have reported attacks on children with albinism and in South Africa, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania cases of violence against children accused of being witches are reported.

“To protect children from the harm of witchcraft accusations, it is not necessary to deny that ‘witchcraft’ exists. Instead, it is important to prioritise child protection while preventing child abuse by addressing the belief that such abuse can somehow protect communities from perceived danger,” the document argues.

The research that resulted in the report found that with the exception of work done by some non-governmental organisations, “few organisations and states in Africa make systematic efforts to prevent such abuse”.

“Few prohibit accusations. Services for children who have suffered harm and violence related to accusations are few and far between. This area needs urgent attention,” argues the report.

Joan Nyanyuki argues “a comprehensive and coordinated effort by state and non-state actors is needed to uncover the nature, magnitude and impact of violence related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks. This approach will ensure that child protection systems, laws and policies are enhanced to adequately address these forms of violence against children.”

Source: Angola: Cult-related attacks against children still occur in country – report

Also see the following linksWarning: some readers may find the following stories and photos disturbing

How Nigeria’s fear of child ‘witchcraft’ ruins young lives
ALJAZEERA – Marc Ellison, November 14, 2018

‘They accused me of killing and eating my grandmother’: Agony of Congo’s 50,000 ‘child witches’ who are brutally exorcised to ‘beat the devil out of them’
Daily Mail UK / MailOnLine, Nick Fagge, October 19, 2015

Child-witches of Kinshasa
The Eye Of Photography – L’ŒIL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE January 2, 2012

‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ – June 22, 2009

Saving Africa’s Witch Children (dated June 22, 2009) reporting on how thousands of small children in Nigeria are branded witches. The web page also contains a large number of news reports and articles (2005-2009) including websites of organizations fighting against these cruel and illegal practices.

Africa Map

Malawi: killed for their bones – on the trail of the trade in human body parts

There is hardly any doubt that in Malawi the position of people with albinism is the most fragile and dangerous as compared to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. I have repeatedly mentioned this here, see e.g. my posting earlier this year, on January 22.

In 2017, ALJAZEERA reported that In Malawi, more than 115 people had been attacked in the past two years and that at least 20 of them did not survive the attack. Below follows an extensive report of ALJAZEERA on the victims, the survivors and the perpetrators (as far as known).

ALJAZEERA is to be commended for raising awareness on the human rights violations people with albinism experience and the efforts being made to protect them.

ALJAZEERA is to be commended for this excellent work of investigative journalism and the attention thus paid to this curse. People with albinism face discrimination in at least 23 African countries. For many, this discrimination amounts to insecurity, violence & murder.

Also in the current year, ALJAZEERA paid attention to the plight of people with albinism, on June 13, International Albinism Awareness Day, with a series of tweets. Click here to access the tweets.

Warning: some readers may find the following stories disturbing (webmaster FVDK).

Published: June 13, 2022
By: ALJAZEERA

Killed for their bones – On the trail of the trade in human body parts

In Malawi, people with albinism are being killed and their bodies harvested; children and adults hacked to death with machetes and kitchen knives. More than 115 people have been attacked in the past two years, at least 20, fatally. Those who have survived have been left with deep physical and psychological scars, and remain fearful that those who hunt them will return.

But why is this happening? Ask and most people will talk about an elusive market for these body parts, people who are prepared to pay large sums of money for them and witch doctors who use them in potions to cure everything from disease to bad luck. But few seem to know where this trade actually takes place or to be able to point to an instance of money changing hands.

So, does this market of human body parts really exist, or is it a myth that is driving murder? We went in search of the market and found a toxic mix of witchcraft, poverty and desperation.

Here are the stories of the victims, the survivors and the perpetrators.

The condition that makes me black without black, white but not white. That is how it was, and I will tell you all about it. – Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory

1 – The Victims

David’s story

Village of Nambilikira, Dedza district, eastern Malawi

It was a Sunday in April 2016. A warm, dry day. Seventeen-year-old David Fletcher was being moody and withdrawn. He wanted to watch a football match at the local school instead of helping his family gather maize in the fields. His parents eventually relented and let him go.

When he didn’t return later that day, they searched the village, but couldn’t find David.

The next day, they walked to the nearest police station to report him missing. Then they waited.

A week later, the local police chief came to their home to deliver the news: David’s dismembered body had been found, 80km away, in neighbouring Mozambique. It was badly decomposed, he told them. It couldn’t be brought to the village for burial, but he could bring the arms and legs, if they wished. And if the family could afford the journey, they could visit it where it was found.

“He was dead. What benefit was there to see his dead body?” Fletcher Machinjiri, David’s 65-year-old father, asks, dismissively. “It was too expensive for us.”

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Fletcher is sitting outside his house. His 53-year-old wife, Namvaleni Lokechi, sits beside him. Her face is expressionless. Their 32-year-old daughter Mudelanji and 21-year-old son Manchinjiri sit on the hard earth a few metres away. They listen as though it is the first time they have heard the story.

“He was killed like a goat at a market,” Lokechi says, staring into the distance. “His arms and legs had been chopped off. They broke off some of his bones. His skin was hanging. And they buried him in a shallow grave.”

He was killed like a goat at a market. His arms and legs had been chopped off.– Namvaleni Lokechi, the mother of David Fletcher, a murdered 17-year-old

She makes chopping motions with her hands as she speaks.

“We cry every day,” Fletcher says. “To us, he was a ray of hope. We believed in his future. We thought he would lift our hand because he was good at school.” 

“We still battle to eat without him.”

‘A war against people with albinism’

Born in 1999, David was the fourth of five siblings – and the only one to have been born with albinism.

“I wasn’t surprised when he was born,” David’s mother says softly. “I was more than happy with his complexion.”

Her tiny frame stiffens when she talks about her son.

She had an aunt in Blantyre with the same congenital disorder that results in a partial absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, she explains. 

“I’ve always felt that this group of people were lucky in life,” she says slowly.

David was a star pupil at the local school in the neighbouring village of Kachule.

His teacher, Clement Gweza, recalls feeling mildly concerned when he didn’t turn up for school that Monday. 

“I thought maybe there were no groceries at home, or maybe he was unwell,” Clement says, sitting inside his empty classroom. “But the second day [he didn’t turn up] … then I got worried.”

When he learned what had happened to David, he says, he was shocked. “It meant I was next,” he says, placing his hands on his chest. 

For Clement also has albinism.

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So, too, does 14-year-old Latida Macho, another pupil at the school. She is one of five siblings with the condition. After David’s murder, her family refused to send her to school for three weeks.

“If this is war against people with albinism, then it means I’m second in line,” Clement reflects.

He says he knew that people with albinism were being murdered, but “for it to happen in the district, but also in my class, it was unreal”.

Within days, two men were arrested for the murder.

Both Malawians, they were tried in a district court in May 2016 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit a crime and abduction. 

David’s family say they heard about the arrests and subsequent trial only from the media. And that they are bitterly disappointed with the outcome.

“The accused persons should be killed as well,” Fletcher says, pointing to the floor. “The child was brutally killed, hence they must equally be killed brutally.”

Alfred’s story

Village of Nasi, district of Phalombe, eastern Malawi

Seventeen-year-old Alfred Chigalu lives with his aunt in a mud home surrounded by dead sunflowers. 

Their courtyard of red earth is home to five goats and a dozen raucous chickens.

The nearest neighbour is a five-minute walk away, along a path cut through overgrown grass. It takes 20 minutes – across dried up tobacco fields – to reach the main road. Drought has hit this region hard, and while tall mango trees provide shade for the farmers, they bear no fruit.

The climate here is harsh. Crops are often destroyed by drought or violent hailstorms. Like others in the village, Alfred and his aunt, Lydia Petulo, are surviving on pieces of dried maize from last year’s harvest. The goats in the yard are not their own. Lydia looks after them for a local merchant, and receives one at the end of each year in return.

In December 2015, four men broke down the door of Alfred’s bedroom while he was sleeping. They slashed at him with machetes, hitting the back of his head, his shoulders and his back. They tried to drag him out of the house. When his aunt found him in a pool of his own blood, his attackers ran away.

Alfred survived but was left badly scarred.

Now, the slightest sound wakes him, and when he walks to the village he must be accompanied.

“Before the attack I used to depend on him; I could send him to the market, he could go to the farm and do the farming,” Lydia says, biting her lips as she completes her sentences.

“But I cannot do the same these days.”

“I fear for his life. The responsibility has shifted to me.”

But this isn’t the first time she has been afraid for her nephew. She took him out of school six years ago, when the taunting began, she explains. 

Lydia slouches as she narrates their story. Her tired eyes wander. But they brighten when she talks about Alfred. She adopted him after his mother – her sister – died.

Alfred had a sibling who also had albinism, but that child died, she recalls. She doesn’t remember the dates or the details – of his sibling’s or his parents’ deaths – other than that both of Alfred’s parents died around the time he took his first steps.

‘I am lonely’

Alfred is sitting outside on the floor, his back against the house, wearing oversized jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. They are the only clothes he owns. He was wearing his other outfit when he was attacked. There was so much blood that it had to be burned.

On his head is a large cowboy hat. 

He is tall with broad shoulders that droop when he walks. For the first few hours that we are there, he doesn’t talk.

But when we put the camera away and move out of sight of the curious neighbours who have gathered to watch, he begins to speak.

His parched lips barely move.

“I wake up at 6 in the morning, every day. I sweep the yard, but I feel pain in my arms,” he says slowly.

He removes his shirt to reveal long, deep scars on his chest and back.

“The way they cut me, they cut my veins. I can barely hold a hoe,” he explains.

I want to finish school, to become a teacher, and move out of here. I would love if someone could take me away from this village. I have to get out of this place.– Seventeen-year-old Alfred Chigalu, who was attacked in November 2015

When she found him on the floor, Lydia began to scream and cry.

“The neighbours came, but it was too late, the attackers had left,” she says. “I really felt sorry for him when I looked at him and I knew he was lucky to have survived. He would have been killed if he hadn’t screamed for me.”

She says she knows why he was attacked.

“Before the attack, some people used to mock him if he went outside the house. They [would say] he is worth millions of kwacha [thousands of dollars], so that gave us an indication that his life could be in danger,” Lydia explains.

The physical wounds have mostly healed, but life is not the same for Alfred. He misses “chatting”, he says, shyly, before adding: “Most of all I miss my friends. I am lonely.”

His aunt says he “lacks peace”.

In April 2016, Ikponwosa Ero, the UN’s independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, visited Alfred and his aunt. She told Al Jazeera that Alfred seemed to have suffered “memory loss” after the attack. But when we visit him two months later, he rolls off the names of towns in Malawi, capital cities of African countries and national political leaders. He seems to be recovering.

Fiddling with a piece of dry hay, he tells us: “I want to finish school, to become a teacher, and move out of here. I would love if someone could take me away from this village. I have to get out of this place.”

Hari’s story

Village of Mpakati, Machinga district, southern Malawi

Edna Cedric remembers that night in February 2016.

Her husband, Marizane Kapiri, had gone fishing. Her identical nine-year-old twins, Hari and Harrison, were sleeping beside her.

She heard a knock at the door. When she answered it, a machete-wielding man barged inside, slashing at her.

He pulled Hari from the bed and dragged him to the door. Edna tried to hold on to him while also gripping Harrison with her other hand. 

Then the intruder struck her face with the machete and she fell to the floor. And, just like that, her son was gone.

The police brought the head wrapped in a cloth and in a sack. His mother identified it.– Marizane Kapiri, Hari’s stepfather 

“I couldn’t hold on to him any longer,” she says, quietly. “I ran out screaming.”

“Four days later, the police found his head in Mozambique.”

“The place was very lonely. This is why we moved here,” her husband says.

The fisherman is not the father of Edna’s children. He says he spent the best part of the five days after Hari was abducted explaining to the police why he wasn’t at home when the attack took place. They suspected that he was involved and it wasn’t until the village chief explained to them that he spent much of his time at the lake, catching fish to feed the family, that the police let him go.

“After the police discovered the head, they sent a message to us that we should be ready to see it,” Marizane explains. “They brought the head wrapped in a cloth and in a sack. His mother identified it.” 

According to Amnesty International, two men were arrested in connection with Hari’s murder. One was said to be an uncle, and the other a stranger who had an existing conviction for possessing the bones of a person with albinism. For that crime, he had been fined $30.

The family, though, say they have no idea who was responsible for the attack and what has become of those who were arrested.

The twin brother

Harrison is wearing pyjamas and a cowboy hat. He sits between his parents as they take turns to talk. He fiddles with the cords of his hat, licks his cracked lips and scratches at the dry skin on his arms. He only returned to school in September 2016, eight months after his brother was taken.

Their mudbrick home is in a remote rural area, far from the main road between Blantyre and Mangochi. Houses here sit in small plots on expansive fields. It is a few minutes’ walk to the nearest neighbours through fields of browning plants that haven’t been harvested in a year. Here, police officers are few and far between.

But this is not where Hari was taken from. That home was even more isolated, Marizane explains.

“We demolished the house … and moved here so we are closer to other people,” he says.

But the move hasn’t changed much for the remaining brother, Harrison. 

“He wakes up in the middle of night, screaming, because he can’t find his brother. We just tell him he will come back one day,” Marizane explains. 

He wakes up in the middle of night, screaming, because he can’t find his brother.– Marizane Kapiri, whose stepson, Hari, was murdered

Edna says that she can’t get over the pain she felt when she saw Hari’s head.

“I immediately thought about his brother, Harrison, and I knew his life would never be the same,” she says, looking at her surviving son.

2 – A History of Violence

Borrowed from the word “albus”, meaning white in Latin, albinism is a congenital disorder where the body is unable to create enough melanin to darken the skin, hair and eyes.

The non-contagious condition affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide. But it is more common in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 5,000 have albinism. Most cases are in Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In Malawi, a country of 16.5 million people, there are said to be 7,000 to 10,000 people with albinism.

Why it affects this part of the world so disproportionately is unclear.

And it is not just a matter of colour: lack of melanin often results in poor vision and sensitivity to light. In fact, many people with albinism are legally blind.

Because their skin is particularly vulnerable to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, they can also be predisposed to skin cancer and lesions.

According to a 2014 study, people with albinism in Africa are 1,000 times more likely to get skin cancer than others.

But their plight is not solely medical.

The story of discrimination against people with albinism is an old but not necessarily well-documented one. It is driven by myths and superstition.

According to Amnesty International, those with albinism face discrimination in 23 countries in Africa.

For many, this discrimination amounts to violence – murder, infanticide and live burials.

The past decade has seen an increase in the number of documented killings and maimings of people with the condition, driven in part by a belief that their organs, bones and body parts can be sold on the black market.

And that belief is fed by the myth that their bones are made of gold dust and the suggestion that they are a necessary component of magic potions.

But while there are reports of bones reaching up to $75,000 on the black market, there have been no documented cases of money changing hands. So the question of whether an organised trade in the body parts of people with albinism exists has yet to be definitively answered.

The UN’s Ikponwosa Ero says they have been unable to confirm the existence of a market.

“There is allegedly a lot of money in this business. And I say allegedly because people keep on repeating the idea that there is a lot of money in this, and it would seem that the media is part of the reason some people have gotten involved,” she says. “But then some countries have witnessed a reduction in the number of attacks, maybe because people are realising there is no value [in the bones and body parts].”

The majority of the documented attacks have taken place in the Great Lakes region, particularly Tanzania and Burundi. According to media reports, Tanzania has seen some 180 attacks, including 76 murders, since 2000. Thirty-five of those murders took place in 2015.

Within eight months of her appointment as the UN’s independent expert on albinism in June 2015, Ikponwosa, who herself has albinism, documented 40 attacks in eight countries. 

Although there has long been discrimination, she points to a more recent phenomenon: “Hacking people [with albinism] alive.”

‘Millions, millions’

Zomba, southern Malawi

Emily Chiumia works at a government department in Zomba, southern Malawi. But she moonlights as an activist for people with albinism.

She’s happy to talk, even if the topic is the names they call her.

“You walk on the street, and they call you ‘millions, millions’,” she laughs, “as if we are gold.”

Emily is the former vice-president of the Association for Persons with Albinism (APAM). Since the attacks began, Emily and the association have been documenting the offences committed against people like her.

Most of them, she says, are carried out by relatives, neighbours or people the victims considered to be friends.

“Before, it was a case of people saying ‘if you sleep with a person with albinism, your skin will turn white’,” she says. “But now, it’s different. I cannot enjoy my life as I used to … I can’t walk in the evenings, can’t sleep, even at home, I fear who might come.” Her laugh has disappeared now.

You walk on the street, and they call you ‘millions, millions’, as if we are gold.– Emily Chiumia, former vice-president of the Association for Persons with Albinism

Radio DJ Ian Sambota describes how in 2012 he was befriended by an “older, educated” woman who first offered him K100,000 ($138) and then K500,000 ($700) to sleep with her. “She was HIV positive and she thought if she slept with a person with albinism, it would be solved,” he says.

Ian refused, but admits that the offer was tempting because he needed the money to pay for medical care for his mother.

Steven Burgess is in his 40s and says he has been called a “white animal” since he was a child. But this is “a time of crisis”, he explains, referring to the increase in attacks.

Bazirio Kaudzu, 46, says he feels so threatened that he only travels to the clinic in the capital Lilongwe – to collect the zinc oxide ointment needed to treat the lesions and blisters on his skin – if his nephew accompanies him. It’s an expensive journey for the tomato farmer, so each month he must take out a loan to cover the cost of the taxi ride for two.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

Patricia Maguwa, 37, remembers a time when her husband, gospel singer Geoffrey Zigoma, was considered one of the golden voices of Malawian music. Before he died of cancer in 2013, he always tried to offer a counter-narrative to the misperceptions about people with albinism, she says.

“He was called names like ‘yellow man’, but he never felt insecure about his life,” she says from her modest home 7km outside Lilongwe. “[But] the situation is different now.”

A shifting trade

Malawi’s government recognises that there is a problem.

Neverson Chisiza, a senior state advocate at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, says there have been at least 85 documented cases, including murder, assault, attempted abductions, trafficking, maiming, and grave robberies since 2014. At least 20 of those cases have been murder.

In May 2016, Ikponwosa Ero said that if serious action wasn’t taken to stop the attacks, people with albinism could become extinct in Malawi.

Malawi’s government says a crackdown in neighbouring Tanzania has shifted the “trade” in body parts to their country.

Senior Chief Kawinga, a traditional authority from Malawi’s Machinga district, where most of the attacks have taken place, told us during a visit to his office that he’d heard the market for body parts was in neighbouring Mozambique. Each country in the region tends to posit their neighbour as the source of the problem.

Though many people tend to use the term “albino”, there have been significant attempts to change the terminology to “person with albinism”. Ikponwosa Ero says this is preferred as it puts the person before the condition, while Canadian charity Under the Same Sun points to the fact that albino has historically been used in a derogatory manner.

In June 2016, 150 government officials, academics and activists from 26 countries met in Dar es Salaam for the first forum on albinism in Africa. It aimed to create an action plan to end the attacks, and concluded that governments must dedicate a budget and a multisectoral task force to doing so. It recommended a range of measures and best practices. “Now that we have a catalogue of effective specific measures that are not very expensive to execute, governments should no longer act ignorant of what to do on the issue … It is time to act,” said Ikponwosa Ero.

3 – The Perpetrators

Zomba, southern Malawi

The red brick walls glisten in the midday sun.

Zomba Maximum Prison stands like a citadel in the former capital. It might resemble a factory were it not for its watch towers and the metal fence that encircles it. Flanked by mango trees and shrubs, a dirt track leads to the main entrance.

Inside, some 2,365 prisoners are either awaiting trial or serving time for some of the most serious of crimes: murder, abduction, trafficking, and armed robbery.

The prison’s director, Major Manwell, greets us at the front door – an almost three-metre tall gateway made of green steel. He is wearing a khaki safari suit and leather sandals.

“How can I help you?” he asks with a knowing smile.

Manwell hands us over to two prison guards who lead us into an open corridor between the front desk and the staff kitchen. A makeshift clothes line hangs nearby. We sit on a bench, shaded by the prison’s towering walls.

Over the next three hours, we will meet eight prisoners who are either awaiting trial or have been convicted of playing some part in an attack on somebody with albinism.

One at a time, they sit opposite us on another wooden bench, a translator beside them.

A guard sits at a distance – far enough that his presence doesn’t feel intrusive, but close enough to eavesdrop. His body language tells us when he finds an inmate’s story of interest. When he doesn’t, he slumps back into his leather chair.

Just two of the inmates acknowledge that their case is related to someone with albinism. Most insist that they were framed or have been wrongly accused. Only one admits to having committed a crime.

“They are not able to come to terms with their crimes,” says the guard, removing his cap so that he can scratch his head. “They are in denial.”

The tomb raider

Stenala Shaibu Lizahapa is wearing a clean white shirt and tattered jeans. He takes his seat slowly and crosses his legs. A thin row of rosary beads pass through his fingers. Stenala is not in a hurry. Unlike the others, he doesn’t fidget. He simply sits and waits.

He is in his mid-30s and has been convicted of trespassing on a gravesite to remove three bones from the body of a deceased man named Awali Mandevu.

Along with five others, he was caught trying to sell the bones to an undercover police officer in April 2015.

All six were charged with criminal trespassing, removal of human tissue and selling human bones.

Three of them, including Stenala, pleaded guilty. Two others denied the charges and were acquitted, while the case against the sixth was dropped.

Stenala was sentenced to six years in prison.

He says he has made peace with his crime.

“What I did was wrong, but I felt desperate,” he says softly, only briefly making eye contact. “I feel ashamed.”

If there is a market [for bones], I don’t know… I would have believed it if I saw it. – Stenala Shaibu Lizahapa, sentenced to six years in prison for selling human bones

As a fisherman, he says he was earning K500 (70 cents) a day. So when friends asked if he’d help them deliver a set of bones to a client – promising it would make him “rich enough to drive” – he says he was tempted.

“With my income, I can’t afford a motorcycle, but a car – that was a dream … The devil took over me,” he says.

In early April 2015, Stenala travelled with friends from Machinga to his home district of Jali, where he went to Chinangwa, a village neighbouring his own, in search of a grave he’d been told housed the corpse of a person with albinism.

“Who doesn’t want more money?” he asks rhetorically. “I knew it was wrong, but I did it for my family.”

“If there is a market [for bones], I don’t know,” he says. “I would have believed it if I saw it.”

The victim’s family

Chinangwa village, Zomba district, southern Malawi

In the village of Chinangwa, Emily Emisi is sitting on a straw mat outside her mud brick and thatch-roofed home.

She offers us a mat on which to sit – between a couple of brown puppies and some corn drying in the winter sun.

“Why didn’t you call before you came?” the 36-year-old asks with a smile. “I would have cooked.”

Her generosity betrays her means. Her open yard – like the barren plateau that surrounds it – is hard brown earth. A few mango and small kachere trees surround the settlement.

Three children sit on the floor. For a while, they watch curiously. But when the novelty of strangers wears off, they return to kicking a punctured miniature football.

“It was my grandfather’s grave that Stenala dug up,” Emily says. “It was terrible. He was buried a long time [ago], in the 1990s. And this felt like a second funeral for him.”

Emily says it didn’t come as a surprise to many of the villagers when they learned that Stenala was responsible.

“He was known to steal goats,” she says.

Stenala had got into an argument with his brother weeks before when he’d tried to persuade him to help find the bones, Emily explains. His brother had refused and the argument had turned into a fight. The whole village heard about it, she says.

“Then, he tried to romance an albino girl, but the girl refused and told villagers that she was being pursued by him.”

She is “happy he has been put away”, she says, because he would “terrorise the village”.

Someone close to Stenala must have betrayed him, Emily speculates, because nobody knew that the village graveyard had been tampered with.

But, while she has no doubt that Stenala had been searching for the bones of somebody with albinism, Emily says he dug up the wrong grave.

“My grandfather, Awali Madenvu, was not an albino. But his grave was close to an albino and so they got the wrong bones.”

That wouldn’t have made any difference anyway – the penalty in Malawi is the same.

Because his was not a case of murder or attempted murder, Stenala wasn’t eligible for legal aid and so had no representation in court.

He was tried, sentenced and given 30 days to appeal.

When we tell Emily that Stenala admits his guilt and is remorseful, she clicks her tongue and looks away. “Of course, after the hardship in jail, he is going to be remorseful,” she says.

“He is not someone who will change. We all think that his sentence is too short, and we expect him to come back and teach us a lesson.”

‘I will wait for him’

As the sun is about to set, the silhouette of a woman appears through a haze of dust. She has a girl at her side and a baby in her arms.

“That is Annie Fuleya,” a young girl says. “Stenala’s wife.”

She is on her way to gather wood. Stenala’s home village of Jali is just a few hundred metres away. Emily’s family crosses paths with Stenala’s every day.

Annie is tall with a brush-cut. She wears a long green skirt and a pale blue T-shirt.

In the weeks leading up to the incident, the 26-year-old says her husband was acting strangely. She recalls asking him to stay away from a friend she thought was trouble.

“I didn’t believe it at first but then after the conviction I felt let down by him,” she reflects, looking away as she completes her sentence. Then, without looking back at us, she adds: “I believe that he did it.”

Annie was pregnant when her husband was arrested and must now raise their four-year-old daughter Saamyato and their now 14-month-old baby Latifa alone.

She left Machinga for Stenala’s village after his arrest, believing it was safer to be close to her mother-in-law. Now, she works in other people’s fields and depends on financial support from the extended family to help raise her children.

“All I know is that he was found with body parts of an albino. I don’t know what parts. I don’t know what he did. I just feel disappointed,” Annie says, holding on to Latifa as the baby wriggles in her arms.

“But I understand that he may have done it because of our situation. He doesn’t earn enough as a fisherman. He looks after me, his mother, my mother, and two orphaned children from an aunt,” she explains softly. “Perhaps this is what drove him to do this.”

“I will wait for him. Because I have forgiven him,” she adds. “But he will have to conduct himself properly on his return.”

Stenala’s mother, who has been watching pensively as her daughter-in-law talks, agrees to speak to us under the shadow of a large kachere tree. Elizabeth Magawa is 49, and the resemblance to her son is immediately apparent. She smiles when we tell her this and the children who have gathered around, burst into laughter.

Elizabeth seems tired. She says she has aged over the past year.

“I didn’t look like this,” she sighs. “I spend sleepless nights wondering why Stenala would have done such a thing. He always helped the family.”

“It is something I will never understand,” she says. Then, she adds: “But I know he was fully capable of such a thing.”

Maybe Stenala did it because of our poverty, or because of peer pressure. I don’t know. – Elizabeth Magawa, mother of Stenala Shaibu, sentenced to six years for selling human bones

Her son’s arrest brought the family unwanted attention in the village, but Elizabeth says they haven’t suffered any serious repercussions.

“There was a lot of talk. They spoke about bones. But they’ve moved on,” she says.

“Maybe Stenala did it because of our poverty, or because of peer pressure. I don’t know.”

It has grown cold now and, without warning, Annie stands up and walks away, in the direction of her mother-in-law’s house.

Elizabeth watches as her daughter-in-law disappears into the darkness, her young daughter in tow.

Charles Nyasa: Convicted of trying to sell human tissue

Charles Nyasa cries as he tells his story.

The 24-year-old from Zomba district was sentenced to six years for being in possession of human flesh in March 2015.

He says he heard an advert for a witch doctor on radio or television – he can’t recall which – that promised “quick riches”. But when he visited the witch doctor, he was told to bring the placenta of a newborn. So, he says, he spent K8,000 ($11) buying one from nurses at a hospital.

When he took it to the witch doctor, he was accused of carrying a placenta from a newborn with albinism.

He was convicted but insists his case had nothing to do with albinism.

John Alfred: Convicted of trying to sell a child

Thirty-one-year-old John Alfred looks older than his years. He is feverish and sweating profusely, but wants to talk.

John was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to sell his own child.

“I did it because of my [financial] condition. No other reason,” he says, shaking.

The father of five from Naweta village, in Machinga district, was earning K4,000 ($5.50) for two weeks’ work in the gardens and on the farms of a businessman.

“My boss saw me living in poverty and said to me one day: ‘Why don’t you be brave, and sell that child of yours?’ pointing to my daughter Vanessa. He said there were buyers in Mozambique for children like her.”

I had five children, and I thought that maybe it wasn’t a problem to get rid of one.– John Alfred, sentenced to six years for trying to sell his daughter

John says that his daughter does not have albinism but “resembled one”. The authorities at the prison say the child does have the condition, although there is no mention of it in his prison file.

“I had five children, and I thought that maybe it wasn’t a problem to get rid of one,” John says.

In April 2015, without consulting his wife, he took their four-year-old daughter and left for Mozambique.

“I didn’t know where I was going. I was just going to Mozambique to find this market,” he says.

But the police intercepted him in Machinga and arrested him.

“I admitted it in court and was sentenced,” he tells us.

Melinda Mbendera: Convicted of attempted kidnapping

Twenty-year-old Melinda Mbendera is agitated. She twitches and bites her lips as she talks.

She was found guilty of trying to kidnap a child with albinism and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. But she insists that she is innocent. The court didn’t have enough evidence, she declares, and based their verdict solely on the claims of the child and her parents.

She says the judge told her that it would be safer for her to be in jail than on the streets, where she might face mob justice.

In 2016, 11 people suspected of being involved in digging graves or carrying human flesh were lynched in Malawi. In one case in the Nsanje district in March 2016, seven witch doctors accused of using bones in their potions were burned alive. A month earlier, a courthouse in the South Lunzu township in Blantyre, was razed to the ground after three people accused of murdering somebody with albinism had been bailed.

Melinda says she previously spent eight months in prison for stealing K200,000 ($275) from a family friend. She suspects her criminal record influenced the verdict in this case.

But, she maintains: “I didn’t spend eight months in this wretched place only to go out and commit another crime.”

“The police said that because I stole before, the probability was high that I did this … but why would I sell a human being?” she asks.

4 – A Question of Justice

Zomba, southern Malawi

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Edge Kanyongolo is a tall man with thick eyebrows and an even thicker moustache.

The associate professor of law at the University of Malawi in Zomba is sitting behind his desk. Behind him, a window showcases a courtyard garden. Beside him, textbooks and legal reports are carefully stacked on a wooden bookshelf.

“The attacks on persons with albinism are a manifestation of a larger problem,” he says. “On the surface, there is the question of superstition and witchcraft, but I think underlying all of that is desperation.”

Malawi has been in an economic crisis since 2012. It began when tobacco, the country’s premier export, dropped in price by more than 50 percent in 2010. In 2012, under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund, President Joyce Banda imposed a range of hard-hitting economic reforms that were most harshly felt by the poor. The currency was devalued by almost 50 percent and inflation reached more than 20 percent.

In 2015, the World Bank rated Malawi as the poorest country in the world, per capita.

Two out of every five Malawians of employable age are without work. According to the International Labour Organisation, three in four young workers have only irregular employment, while nine out of 10 work in the informal sector, where their employment is precarious and may change daily. At least 61 percent of Malawians live on less than $1.25 a day and 2.3 million are said to be food-insecure.

“People don’t have options to earn money. And this then drives them to be so desperate and, as some would say – so irrational – as to think that getting the body parts of a type of person and so on, may make you rich,” the professor explains.

But Elijah Kachikuwo, the senior deputy commissioner of police in Mangochi, disagrees. In fact, he grows agitated when questioned about the connection. He is standing in the dusty courtyard of the main police station in Mangochi.

“It is not poverty that is causing this,” he declares, the lines on his forehead deepening. “We aren’t faced with poverty for the first time in the country. We shouldn’t hide behind this … so that question is out of order.”

The traditional healers

Mphalare in Dedza, central region of Malawi

Masiyambuyo Njolomole and Usmani Ibrahima Banda live in the remote village of Mphalare in Dedza. It is 80km – about an hour’s drive along a dirt track – from Lilongwe.

They are both traditional healers.

Seven wooden stools lined up against a wall and a small coffee table are the only furniture inside the house where we meet them. There is no electricity, so the door has been left ajar. The sunlight illuminates the two men’s faces. A woman sweeps the yard outside, scraping at the dry earth.

Usmani wears a skull cap; Masiyambuyo a headdress made from monkey skin. The latter smiles as he presents his registration card. Usmani’s expired in 2011.

Masiyambuyo, a tall, thin man, makes it clear that neither of them use bones of any kind in their potions. He says “people like him” are being made scapegoats for criminals and a political conspiracy because the government has lost control of the situation. “This is a syndicate by some influential people in this country who are interested in body parts of albinos. They simply want to take the attention away from them; that is why they are accusing us,” he declares.

“Albinos have existed for a long time and we have also existed for a long time,” he adds.

In June 2016, Malawi’s High Court banned “witch doctors, traditional healers, charm sellers, fortune tellers and magicians,” in an effort to quell the trade in the bones of people with albinism.

Traditional healers such as Usmani and Masiyambuyo argue that only hurts the people they help.

“People think we deal with witchcraft, but we are here to help people,” Masiyambuyo says, earnestly, opening his arms.

According to the Traditional Healers Association of Malawi, up to 97 percent of the population visit traditional healers and herbalists. It is hard to verify this but it is clear that many people do use them, particularly in rural areas, where the state is often conspicuous by its absence.

There are two physicians and 59 nurses for every 100,000 people in Malawi. The ratio is the lowest in all of sub-Saharan Africa

Usmani says that, in such circumstances, the services he and Masiyambuyo provide are critical.

People think we deal with witchcraft, but we are here to help people.– Masiyambuyo Njolomole, a traditional healer based in Dedza

He was trained by his father, the softly spoken traditional healer explains, and used to specialise in sexually transmitted diseases. But, “nowadays, [it’s] cancer, blood pressure, asthma, using herbs and a mixture from seven trees” he adds, showing us plastic packets of concoctions made primarily from plants.

“People come to me when the hospitals have failed them.”

Dr Chilani is the spokesperson for Malawi’s Traditional Healers Association and tells us over the phone that “everyone [in the country], [from] farmers to politicians” uses traditional healers.

Many believe that illness involves an “element of being bewitched”, he explains. But, he insists, “sending people to kill others” isn’t part of their craft.

“We help people, we don’t kill them,” he says.

The new law targeting unlicensed traditional healers would purportedly help end these crimes. But the line between traditional healer and witch doctor isn’t always clear.

Mary Shawa, the former principal secretary at the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, says the distinction lies in registration. “No one who obeys the law needs to feel threatened,” she explains.

Chilani’s Facebook page offers “revenge spells, fertility spells, magic rings and witchcraft spells”, but also asks that anyone with information about the bones of somebody with albinism contact him so that it can be reported to the police. He says no one has been in touch.

“If we have been around for generations, and the killings of persons with albinism began roughly two years ago, what were we doing all this time?” he asks.

One lawyer for every 38,500 Malawians 

Lilongwe, central region of Malawi

Piles of paper cover Masauko Chamkakala’s desk. The director of Legal Aid, the body tasked with representing those who cannot afford legal representation, is in his office in Area 4 of Lilongwe.

The country’s legal system, he says, is a mess.

“More than 90 percent of the population cannot afford legal representation. We have seven lawyers for the entire country,” he says, his hands clasped and eyebrows raised.

The Legal Aid Act stipulates that anyone charged with a crime that could result in a custodial sentence is entitled to legal aid, but limited resources have resulted in the courts restricting this to homicide cases.

A 2013 report found that Malawi had fewer than 400 lawyers. That was one lawyer for every 38,500 people.

The jails are overcrowded and suspects can wait months or even years before their cases go to trial.

“If you go to the prisons [and] start going through the cases, you realise that so many of these people are not supposed to be there,” Masauko says, pointing out that: “For an ordinary person to get an appointment with a lawyer will cost him K20,000 ($27), while the [monthly] minimum wage is K18,000 ($25).”

Then there is the question of entrapment – a method that police officers have admitted to using but one which has so far led only to the arrest of sellers.

More than 90 percent of the population cannot afford legal representation. We have seven lawyers for the entire country.– Masauko Chamkakala, the director of Legal Aid

In a side office near Malawi’s High Court, Neverson Chisiza, a senior state advocate at Malawi’s Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, acknowledges that there have been discussions within the ministry about “why it is always sellers, those who are desperate [and] looking for quick money, [who] are caught, not the buyers”.

And without the buyers, the police are little closer to understanding the source of this trade.

Masouko says that the hysteria over the killings of people with albinism has reached such a height that “it is possible a person could be convicted for carrying antelope bones because they resemble human bones”.

And, he adds, those accused of any crime related to people with albinism are tried in “people’s courts”.

A question of government preparedness

Lilongwe, central region of Malawi

It is late on a Friday afternoon when Mary Shawa meets us in her office and her team are about to leave for the day. She is responsible for the security, health and wellbeing of Malawians with albinism.

“Until the atrocities started, we didn’t look at persons with albinism as people with a disability. We saw them as ordinary people,” she says, adjusting her glasses.

She slumps back into her chair. “If you look at the demographics, they are young and old, some working as lawyers and teachers, some still in school,” she adds.

Before moving to this ministry in 2012, Mary was the secretary for nutrition, HIV and Aids in the president’s office, credited with tackling the country’s HIV pandemic

She speaks authoritatively and frankly, rejecting any suggestion that the government hasn’t done enough to address the crimes committed against people with albinism. She rattles off the details of cases that have been solved and cites “ministerial research” to suggest that there is no market for the bones.

“[The] culprits get the bones and walk around looking for a market to sell them,” she says. 

Mary says her ministry has been leading a communications plan to tackle the crisis. “The radio messages, the billboards, this is all us,” she explains.

But it’s hard to tell if anyone is listening.

“We are also compiling a census, to register all persons with albinism in the country,” she says, leaning forward, her hands resting on the desk.

But beyond the issue of security, people with albinism have other needs – sunscreen, hats and sunglasses to protect them from the sun. The Ministry of Health does provide zinc oxide at clinics but that only helps with the blisters and lesions and doesn’t offer any protection. Moreover, patients have to travel to the main cities to access the ointment.

Mary hints at a lack of funding. Malawi is heavily reliant on donors, and it’s unlikely that sunscreen or hats top the government’s financial priorities or a foreign government’s agenda.

Village of Nambilikira, Dedza district, eastern Malawi

5 – The Future

Confident, assertive and friendly, Clement Gweza seems as though he was born to teach. He transforms the 60 rowdy teenagers into an orderly classroom and begins his social and environmental science lesson by scribbling “How to prevent air pollution” on the blackboard.

The 24-year-old is smartly dressed in an off-white shirt, pinstriped tie and black trousers.

“It was difficult at first,” he says. “The children found it hard to understand my albinism, because people, not just the learners, don’t think that a person with albinism can do something that can be recognised by society.”

He became a teacher, he says, because the tuition was free and he couldn’t afford to pay to study anything else.

At first, he worried that his students wouldn’t respect him. But, he says, “after a few weeks, the learners came round. They will tell you: ‘Ah! He is a good teacher and he understands our problems’.”

But he knows that, despite the respect he enjoys in the classroom, he is not safe outside of it.

The murder of one of his students, David Fletcher, made him afraid.

He has stopped walking outside at night and, if he must, he asks a close friend or relative to accompany him.

“If I can’t find someone to take me home, I will stay where I am and sleep there. I have no choice,” he says.

“Everything has changed. I look at the people, the friends around me, and I think ‘maybe he wants to kill me and make some money’.”

Stercia Kanyowa’s story

Masumpankhunda, in Lilongwe, central Malawi

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Twelve-year-old Stercia Kanyowa says she doesn’t want to beg. She wants an education, and to stand on her own two feet.

“I want to be a teacher first. Then maybe a journalist or a bank manager,” she declares.

Stercia is one of three children with albinism at the Malingunde School for the Visually Impaired. As an only child from a single-parent household, she says completing school is her only hope for the future. She has been here since 2011.

“Of course, I miss home. It’s long since I have gone home. Who doesn’t miss home?” she says, outside her dormitory.

The school is government-run, and functions almost exclusively on donations. There are 17 classrooms and 40 teachers for 3,000 students.

There is no electricity. Inside Stercia’s classroom, some students are huddled around braille machines, while others, such as 15-year-old Foster Kennedy, who also has albinism, use a magnifying glass to read textbooks.

“Everyone here is a friend. You would think we are born from the same mother,” Foster says, smiling.

He wants to be a radio personality or a songwriter, he explains.

The school yard is a thoroughfare for people walking or cycling to the town centre, which means that there are always strangers passing through. This concerns the school authorities. Without a wall or a gate, the school is vulnerable to theft and the students to being attacked. In early 2015, a 16-year-old student with albinism was almost abducted by a stranger who promised to buy her supplies from the local market.

“It is an open place. And anything can happen,” says Chiko Kamphandira, the school principal.

Back outside, Stercia, who is head of the school choir, begins to sing one of her favourite songs, before stopping suddenly, self-conscious and shy.

“I am going to work hard and fulfill my dreams,” she says. “I don’t see myself as any different. I am just a human being.”

Ian Simbota’s story

Blantyre, southern Malawi

Ian Simbota is eating a chicken tikka burger at a Pakistani fast food diner when we spot him one evening in Blantyre.

When we ask to talk to him, he scans our journalists’ credentials before agreeing. It turns out that he gets paid to talk as a late-night radio talk show host and a DJ with the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. And he has just returned from Kasungu, in the central region of Malawi, where he was the master of ceremonies for World International Albinism Awareness Day.

When he finishes his meal, he invites us to the radio studio.

Once on the airwaves, the slightly pensive man we met at the restaurant is no more. He taunts and teases his listeners. The studio is his safe place.

Later on, he talks of a double life. As a radio star, his voice and name are widely recognised. But not all of his listeners know that he has albinism. And there are times when his confident persona gives way to fear.

“Look, I am working at night. And people know I am here,” he says. “What are they thinking, planning? From here I will get a car and go home. And when I go home, I feel unsafe. What if they attack me? I think about it all the time.”

Ian became a full-time DJ in 2015. It was a dream come true. “I wanted to be a midwife as a child [but] thankfully my mother convinced me otherwise,” he laughs.

“And then, I wanted to be a radio host. Geoffrey Zigoma [the gospel singer] made a huge impact on my life.”

But life hasn’t been easy for Ian.

When he was born, he was the second child in his family to have albinism. His father walked out on them.

“My father told my mum to kill us. When she refused, he left,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“At that time, people didn’t know about the genes and stuff. My dad thought it was a curse.”

Ian’s mother left her village in southern Malawi and came to Blantyre with her two children to look for a job. She found one as a cleaner at the College of Medicine.

His father remarried. His next child was also born with albinism.

School was tough for Ian. He says his teachers didn’t realise that he was visually impaired so would just call him lazy. When he completed his certificate in journalism and applied for internships in radio, his visual impairments worked against him again – station managers were concerned that he wouldn’t be able to see the computer screens, he says.

Then his mother died after a prolonged illness, and the new job felt like the start of a new life for him. But then the attacks on people with albinism began.

“I can tell you, it has become difficult,” he says. “I have friends. But at this point in time, I only trust one friend in my circle. I have other friends, but then sometimes, you just wonder, you know, maybe, he is being used [to get close to me].”

He also has to face harassment on the streets and says his girlfriend left him last year because “she couldn’t deal with what … [he] was going through”.

But today he’s the voice of a successful radio show.

“I like radio because you could come naked to the studio and it doesn’t matter. People are listening to your voice,” he says, pausing for a second, before laughing.

“I have done a little bit of TV, but radio is better because listeners create a different picture of what they think you are. It’s only now [with the crisis] that people realise I am a person with albinism …”

Source: Malawi: killed for their bones – on the trail of the trade in human body parts