Tanzania bans witch doctors to halt albino murders

Witchcraft blamed for brutal murders of albinos

Tanzania has banned witch doctors in an attempt to halt the increasing attacks on albino people who are murdered for black magic purposes.

The move follows mounting pressure on the government to deal with the problem and comes after the latest incident in which a four-year girl was kidnapped by an armed gang in the northern Mwanza region in late December. Police subsequently arrested 15 men in connection with the abduction, including the father. It is feared that the child has been murdered.

Witch doctors in parts of Tanzania, a deeply superstitious country, pay up to $75,000 for body parts of albinos which they use in spells and charms, claiming they bring good luck and wealth. Albinism is a congenital condition, characterised by a deficiency of melanin pigmentation in skin, hair and eyes, which protects from the sun's ultraviolet rays, and it affects an estimated one Tanzanian in 1,400.

Following a spate of killings in 2009, the government began placing young albinos in children's homes in an effort to defend them from being abducted and hacked to death. Despite this, attacks on albinos have risen steadily since then, many of whom have had their limbs hacked off by machete-weilding gangs.

The growing number of attacks recently saw the United Nations urge Tanzania to increase its efforts to protect albinos, more than 70 of whom have been killed in the past decade for witchcraft purposes.

The new nationwide ban on witch doctors, which grants police powers to arrest and prosecute, will be overseen by a national task force comprising police officers and members of the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS), a group established in 1978. The task force also has the power to review previous court cases of albino attacks and killings.

The operation will initially concentrate on five regions identified as most at risk for albinos, including Mwanza, Tabora, Shinyanga, Simiyu and Geita – many of them rural areas around Lake Victoria – before being expanded to other parts of the country at a later date.

Although Islam and Christianity are Tanzania's main religions, a survey in 2010 found that 93 per cent of people still believe in witchcraft.