Kissed By The Sun: Being an Albino in Africa
I have struggled for a while to capture in an article, a proper narrative that depicts and encapsulates the total albino experience without making it seem like a mere compilation of facts. I wanted a piece that would paint pictures in the mind of the reader and I failed at several attempts at doing this until today.
What changed? Today, a lady announced the birth of her second albino daughter on a social media platform. Now, all news of births should be received with all joy, celebration and good wishes. Of course I did what was appropriate, I congratulated her. However, I must be sincere in stating that I was torn between being really happy for her and being sad for her.
Perhaps you wonder why the gloom? From her little expose, I could tell she did not know the first thing about albinism, even though her first daughter is almost two years old. This worried and saddened me. I do not mean to be a downer but the African society as it is, is currently incredibly intolerant and discriminatory towards minority groups, especially people living with albinism.
According to The Albino Foundation, 2013 population statistics shows that there are approximately 2,000,000 albinos in Nigeria alone – a country with a total population of 174,000,000. This means that the ratio of albinos to the total population is 1:87. These figures prove Nigeria to have the largest population of albinos in Africa, yet the average Nigerian albino daily deals with incessant name-calling, teasing, social exclusion and sometimes, outright rejection and abuse.
The societal stand towards albinos however does not exist in isolation but stems from long-existing myths and beliefs. Albinos are believed to have magical power being transmitted from certain parts of their bodies and thus, make for the perfect antidote against the deadly HIV virus. It is also believed that when the body parts of albinos are used for rituals, they bring unfathomable wealth. Although untrue, these myths and fetish beliefs form the basis for the numerous accounts of killing and maiming of albinos in some African countries, especially in Tanzania.
The 1:200 ratio of the albino population to the total population in Tanzania makes targeting them easy. The Tanzanian community only recently put in place protective measures for people living with albinism after several years of rampant and uncontrolled persecution, maiming and killing of albinos, even to the point of robbing graves of albino corpses.
Superstitions hold strong in rural Zimbabwe. The practice of killing suspected witches still survives, and albino children were once smothered at birth. The belief that adult albinos do not die, but simply vanish, is still widely held.
Although Nigeria does not have reportage of albino killings, the society is still largely unaware and insensitive. Surveys from the South African Institute for Medical Research have shown that albinos have much lower marriage rates and are often denied access to equal employment opportunities Albinos often share experiences of being excluded from events and being treated hurtfully.
The African governments’ lack of sensitivity and responsibility to minority groups hold the implications that there are no sensitization programs for the community, no protective laws for the minority, and no special provisions or health aids. The totality of all these realities is enough to cause an albino to be psychologically imbalanced and inept, coupled with all the natural physical challenges that come with the condition.
Nonetheless, through it all, there is a glimmer of hope. In the same African society, there exist extremely enlightened and compassionate individuals who are ready to go the extra mile to offer support to those in need. Here in Nigeria, we have The Albino Foundation; in Zimbabwe, there is the Zimbabwe Albino Trust and in Tanzania, the Tanzania Albino Society; all making giant strides in the bid to “liberate” the albino nation.
There are a number of albinos who have successfully emerged through all that gloom to become authorities and top-personalities in their careers and spheres.
Meet Salum Khalfani Bar’wani
A politician from Tanzania who was elected in 2010 as a member of the National Assembly of Tanzania.
Ostracized by his community in Mali because of his albinism, Salif eventually emerged to become a successful singer now known as the Golden Voice of Africa.
A South African legal prosecutor turned supermodel who has been dubbed The New Face of Fashion.
The fact that there are a number of albinos who have broken free of the societal shackles and restrictions placed on them gives the hope that every single albino who so desires can at the very least, live a meaningful and fulfilled life. For the sake of the latest generation of albinos and those unborn, I pray for an enlightened, supportive and accepting society where the sun kissed skin will be regarded as just another shade of normal.