Six people with albinism are to contest elections in Malawi next year in a bid to tackle widespread stigma and halt relentless attacks fueled by a trade in their body parts for witchcraft.
Overstone Kondowe, head of the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM), said it was vital to get people with albinism into parliament and local assemblies because previous governments had failed to help them.
“This is also [a] strategy for increasing visibility … the appointment of persons with albinism to high positions is one way to fight stigma,” he told Reuters.
Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries for people with albinism — a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes — who risk being mutilated and murdered for their body parts, which are prized in black magic and can fetch high sums.
The United Nations’ top expert on albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, has said people with albinism in Malawi were at risk of “extinction” due to the violence.
APAM said there had been nearly 150 attacks since 2014.
“Persons with albinism are still victims of prejudice, violence, abuse or political marginalization. The issues impacting [their] lives are complex and increasing,” Kondowe said by WhatsApp.
He said they wanted to field their own candidates as successive governments had not taken their problems seriously.
There are around 10,000 people with albinism in Malawi, out of a population of around 16.5 million.
Kondowe said key concerns included the deep poverty faced by most people with albinism, and a weak judicial system.
A lack of trained police and prosecutors meant many attacks were not properly investigated and most murders remained unsolved, he said.
“Persons with albinism continue to face daunting challenges which include justice denial, education denial, insecurity, ritual attacks [and] unemployment,” he added.
Malawians will go to the polls in 2019 to elect the president, parliament and ward councilors. Kondowe said the six candidates would be contesting seats in parliament and at local level.
Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide, but is more common in sub-Saharan Africa.