Black and White: The voice of people with albinism in Tanzania

By Elias Mhegera – Our correspondent speaks to the people who have been hunted for reasons beyond their control as victims of superstition to find out what they think about the watershed moment of 2010 in Tanzanian politics.

There is a saying in politics that there is no black and white. But some sections of our unequal society are forever lost in the shadows of the grey areas in politics. The albinos caught in their physical difference in a persecuting society need clearer support. Give us our rights in black and white, The Express was told.

The secretary general of the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS) Ms. Ziada Nsembo said that there is a long way to go before people with disability will get equitable representation in this country.

Nsembo who was accompanied by other TAS administrative staffs said political parties have failed them in many ways including sidelining albinos in the nomination process, and even in the parties’ policies and political agenda.

Supporting her colleague were Joseph Masasi, the TAS vice chairman and Abdallah Omar the association’s treasurer, who said that what political parties did was just an indication that the community at large is not taking demands from people with albinism seriously.

“Parties do represent some political communities, as long as there is no party which has taken us seriously it is an indication that people with albinism are not taken seriously by the whole Tanzanian community in general,” said Masasi.

Looking back at the history of the association Nsembo said that since 1978 the association had presented their application for registration but it took two years for their association to be registered.

It was only after the killings of the albinos particularly in the Lake Region that the issue has been taken seriously to an extent she said.

She says that representation of albinos should be increased in order to strengthen their voice in decision making bodies.

A student with albinism, Mathew Michael (26), said that discrimination exists even in educational institutions.

For instance classrooms do not have facilities for albinos to be shaded from light as their eyes needs special care, apart from the fact that they fear being hunted like animals, he said.

“More representation would help to strengthen the voice for the albinos in various circles, be it in the Parliament or town councils. We need to have a special constituency for people with disabilities,” he said.

Nsembo reminded that out of nine albinos contestants only two have gone through the party’s preliminary polls in the council category.

It is the one and only Al-Shaimar Kwegyir who has been voted for in the special seats category form Muheza constituency, she was formerly an MP from the ten appointees of the president category.

TAS treasurer Abdallah Omar was of the idea that it would have been much better if the albinos co-coordinating bodies were acting under a single umbrella body making it a special pressure group.

He mentioned that other bodies are dealing with the albinos’ protection issues but that they act unilaterally. Under the Same Sun-Tanzania (UTSS), Good Hope Foundation and Afro Albino Society are a few of the organizations in Tanzania fighting for Albino rights.

The UTSS management said that they are supposed to adhere to donors’ regulations which require them to work unilaterally for auditing and other logistic purposes, however they leave doors open for other organizations if they want to work with them.

Although The Express failed to get the other two representative bodies but the implication was there is no unity even among the human rights defenders body of the albinos.

Good news is however that the TAS management appreciated the fact that it was the UTSS which sponsored its internal election with more than Tsh. 100 millions.

It was the UTSS again which sponsored the Albino Revolutionary Cultural Troup with over a million shillings during the National Albino Day this year which was commemorated in Iringa on 4 May.

In an attempt to garner support for albinos, TAS country chairperson Ernest Kimaya had contested in Korogwe rural constituency where he came 14th out of the 17 contestants.

Other contestants are from the Civic United Front (CUF) Seif Kondo for Kisarawe constituency and Salum Baruani for Lindi Urban.

According to one commentator from the albino society who did not want his name to appear in print, there is a general apathy from the non-disabled community in nominating disabled people including albinos.

He says that there is a fear that once a party has nominated an albino it will have less chances of their candidate being elected during the general election.

Omar insists that the disabled should be given priority in allocation of business areas like the Machinga Complex in order to reduce their dependence on donors and the non disabled people.

Moreover he claims that if the health sector was to allocate enough funds then the albinos will get treatment from early childhood in order to avoid cancer.

For the common albino man on the street however, the appeal was simpler, “give us our rights in black and white so that we cannot ever again be persecuted, so that I can go out at night fearless,” said John Msingi, an albino man residing in Kariakoo.