The impunity with which ruling party cadets and those killing people with albinism have proceeded in their respective disgusting acts cannot be handled simply by a presidential press release proclaiming that the president disapproves of these horrible activities. The fact that as a country and as a nation, we seem satisfied with Mgeme Kalirani’s press statement, in which he is speaking for his boss on this issue in such a distant manner as though the President himself has lost both his voice and his feelings, is even more disturbing.
The thread connecting the violence being perpetrated by seemingly immune DPP cadets and the victimization and persecutions being faced by people with albinism in this country is one of disaffection and incompetence. I wish to suggest that if the only thing president Mutharika can do about these very serious matters is instruct his spokesperson to issue a press statement, then he is definitely not truly touched by the events, or, even more alarmingly, he is simply underlining what we have always asserted: his incompetence.
Competent presidents, who know what they are doing and who have answers to the problems their country is facing, do not issue press statements. They Act.
If it does not help anyone for a president to stand on the podium and start telling people that he already knows who is plotting to rig elections and that he already knows what he will do to stop them, it serves people even less for him to issue press statements on political violence being perpetrated by cadets from his own political party, or the persecutions of people with albinism that the police, of which is commander in chief, are failing to curtail and curb.
First of all, let me address the issue of albinism.
Albinism is a genetically inherited condition characterized by hypopigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes, due to a reduced or complete lack of melanin pigment production. Because of the lack of skin pigmentation, people with albinism s are more susceptible to serious medical issues such as skin cancer, extreme sensitivity to sunlight, and visual impairment.
People with albinism (PWAs) have historically been ostracized—and even killed—as a result of their condition. Two main reasons account for the ostracism of and discrimination against PWAs: (1) PWAs have, or are more susceptible to having, physical disabilities; and (2) wide-spread ignorance surrounding the causes of the condition itself.
First, ostracism historically occurred because of the physical effects and disabilities that accompany albinism. For example, decreased visual acuity— sometimes leading to blindness—and extreme sensitivity to the sun are major phenomena among PWAs. Because of Malawi’s climate, these disabilities can quickly become crippling if not properly treated. Blindness and an inability to be in the sun for prolonged periods of time massively limit the educational and career opportunities of PWAs, thereby leading to discrimination and segregation within the community.
Second, discrimination occurs due to a general lack of knowledge surrounding albinism, which results in PWAs falling victim to egregious acts of violence. A large population of Malawians have negative views of PWAs. Rather than look to scientific or biomedical explanations of albinism, the Malawian community, like many other African communities, understands the condition through supernatural explanations such as magic and witchcraft. Magic and witchcraft are deeply rooted our culture and are part of our daily lives. The ignorance surrounding albinism is best demonstrated by wide-spread beliefs that PWAs possess magical bones and bring good or bad luck, that PWAs are the ghosts of Europeans, or that a child is afflicted with albinism when its mother has had extramarital relations with a white man. However, it is primarily the belief that PWAs possess magical qualities that has driven the hunting and eventual ritual slaying of PWAs. Witchcraft hysteria has risen since 2015, leading to exponential murders of PWAs for magical, luck-wielding, and get-rich-quick concoctions.
President Peter Mutharika himself and other top government officials condemned attacks on albinos in 2015 and the government announced a National Response Plan and appointed a special legal counsel to assist with investigations.
My question is: What has happened to that plan so that in 2018, all the president can do about the deteriorating situation is issue press releases?
I will tell you what has happened. That National Response Plan, just like many of Peter Mutharika’s promises, was nothing but window dressing and empty rhetoric. Form without substance. We have seen the same emptiness in all those foundation stones laid for different projects, and the manifesto promises to curb corruption and to address Malawi’s rotten governance framework. No resources were attached to the plan and as a result, there has not been any implementation. While some perpetrators have been convicted, most of the country’s crimes against albinos are still unsolved.
I believe that the president should only be issuing press statements to inform the nation of the progress of the fight against the atrocities, not simply to tell us about his indignation at them. We know he disapproves. What we want to hear is what he is doing about it as our leader.
Since the president and those advising him seem not to have a clue about what to do besides publishing press statements, I will offer free advice.
A robust plan to fight the atrocities and the persecution of people with albinism must first include the formation of a special task force that is well funded and resourced to specifically study the causes and find and implement solutions with a proper monitoring and evaluation mechanism.
Many activities need to be put in action and no stone should be left unturned. For civic education, there is a need for a plan to distribute educational materials in schools that dispel the myths surrounding albinism. Furthermore, positive measures by the government to address witchcraft practices must include the registration of traditional healers in order to achieve full oversight over their work. We must bear in mind that traditional healers are at the heart of the beliefs that lead to the persecutions and the killing of PWAs and that confusion still exists in the minds of the general public between witchcraft practice and the work of traditional healers,
To raise awareness of albinos’ plight, the UN named 13 June each year as International Albinism Awareness Day. This day needs to be commemorated with special events and reports detailing what the government- the task force- is doing, the successes it is achieving and the challenges it is facing. The government can even come up with its own extra days in the year- say quarterly- to review the work of the task force.
Now let me address the violence perpetrated by party cadets. This, to a president that actually knows what it means to lead a nation, should be a very simple matter. The reason why it seems complicated and instead of being addressed ends up in the president’s press statement is because the president does not realise that he has the power to control his party cadets and to be in full command of the police and ensure that they address the issue. We all know that the violence has been perpetrated by ruling party cadets. Surely it should be a simple matter of the police arresting the culprits and bringing them to book. So why put it in a press release? Could it be because the administration secretly condones these tactics that are aimed at intimidating the opposition?
I will go back to my original point. We are not interested in press statements telling us of how you disapprove of this and that, or how you already know who is behind this or that criminal behaviour. What we want is actions and visible progress of the issues being addressed. We want people living with albinism to feel free and safe from persecution. We want opposition political party supporters to wear their party T-shirts freely. We want our women to be free from intimidation and their dignity to be preserved as they participate in politics.