Africa doesn’t exist, part 2. The stigmatization of people affected by albinism in Uganda
Africa does not exist. Take a look at the newspapers today, listen to the news: it just doesn’t exist. Just as its immense diversity does not exist, what makes each African country unique and so different from another. But we still refuse to recognize Africa, its diversity, its potential, its dreams. As if we were frightened of it and wanted to dismiss the idea that this continent may one day rise up and look us in the eye.
We asked Brynn Crawford, a student at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, while carrying out her internship in Human Rights at the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento – Italy, to summarize as much as possible 3 “faces” of our Africa, with the intention of making them available to a wider public. This is the second one.
Background. Albinism is an inherited condition that is characterized by little or no production of the pigment melanin. The type and amount of melanin produced in a person’s body is responsible for determining the color of their skin, hair, and eyes. Melanin also serves as a protective pigment that guards the body against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Those living with albinism, especially in areas close to the equator, are at an increased risk of suffering from the harmful effects of the sun. Due to the lack of protective pigment in the eyes, those living with albinism suffer from severe vision problems such as involuntary nystagmus, photophobia, poor depth perception, strabismus (squint), poor visual acuity, and refractive errors. Additionally, people with albinism are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer, particularly if they live in areas close to the equator. In 2012 a study of 64 skin cancer patients with albinism was conducted at a hospital in Tanzania. The researchers found that 84 percent of the individuals in the study were under 40 years of age and 8 percent were between 11 and 20 years of age.
The dangers. There is another side of albinism that is talked about far less frequently, and that is the social stigma around the condition that is prevalent in certain parts of the world. In African countries people with albinism are met with fear and suspicion because their physical appearance is so different from their family and neighbors. In many African countries people with albinism live in constant fear for their lives, as it is believed that their body parts have magical powers that are used in witchcraft rituals. Witch doctors continue to perpetuate this narrative around albinism by taking advantage of superstitious beliefs, and the lack of widely disseminated credible information about the causes of the condition. Additionally, witch doctors’ prey on the country’s large, impoverished population, taking advantage of the length’s individuals will go to ensure they can provide for their families. According to data from the United Nations, prices on the black market for albino body parts can range from $2,000 (€ 1,640) for a limb to $75,000 (€ 61,508) for a whole body.
The main targets for attacks on people with albinism are often children; It is a traditional belief that the more innocent a victim is, the more potent their body part will be for witchcraft ritual. Many of these attacks are not documented or reported, making it very difficult to determine the frequency with which these heinous acts are committed. The charity, Under the Same Sun, who work to provide education and public awareness on albinism in Africa, has compiled a list of reported attacks and killings of persons with albinism in 30 African countries. These countries include Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland (Eswatini), Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Across the 30 countries, Under the Same Sun reported that there was a total of 622 incidents – 407 reported attacks and 216 reported killings, however due to lack of data and proper documentation it is likely that the actual number of incidents is much higher. According to the available data, it was determined that the most dangerous country in Africa for persons living with albinism was Tanzania. Data collected by Under the Same Sun stated that there was a total of 200 reported incidents against persons with albinism in the country alone. These included 77 killings, 94 survivors, 25 grave desecrations, 3 asylum cases, and 1 missing person.
Uganda: there come hope. In Uganda, where the Fondazione Cariello Corbino has its third African project, there are many conflicting beliefs surrounding individuals with albinism. In Uganda, as well as other African countries, it is widely believed that individuals with albinism are ghosts or spiritual beings sent as a curse upon their families for some wrongdoing. Because of this stigma people with albinism face a myriad of struggles and discrimination that follow them through every stage of their lives. Children with albinism in Uganda are often denied the opportunity to attend school and receive an education. Many times, these children come from poor families that do not feel it is worth it to spend the money to educate a child with albinism. This is either because the family chooses to hide their child away or they do not believe a person living with albinism can ever be successful. When a child with albinism in Uganda makes it into a classroom, they face another set of challenges. Children with albinism are subject to bullying and discrimination from classmates and teachers alike. Additionally, children with albinism are often denied much-needed learning accommodations, such as being able to sit closer to the front of the classroom. With these educational barriers in place, many students with albinism do not make it to studying at the university level. Researchers from the University of Birmingham interviewed a woman with albinism who was able to attend and graduate from university. She said despite all her hard work and academic success that she is unable to get a job. She attributed this to the deeply ingrained belief in Ugandan society that people with albinism cannot accomplish anything of merit. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination in employment is not a singular occurrence. Those who can get jobs, particularly women, are often subject to harassment by colleagues and employers in the workplace, as well as low pay. Due to widespread employment discrimination within Uganda, people with albinism are often forced to create their own forms of work to support themselves and provide for their families. However, there is discrimination that exists in this employment sector as well; with many people in the country being unwilling to purchase products that a person with albinism as they believe they are cursed. This discrimination in all types of employment often leaves people with albinism living in very poor situations.
To help combat the deep-rooted stigma around albinism that exists within Uganda and to empower those who are disenfranchised, the Fondazione Cariello Corbino (FCC) has teamed up with a Ugandan NGO Women and Children with Albinism in Uganda (WACWAU). Together the FCC and WACWAU work to raise funds to support the Mama Mzungu Natural Soap Company. Mama Mzungu is owned and operated by women who are living with or who have children or family members that are affected by albinism. The goal of the company is to provide safety, meaningful employment, and economic empowerment to these affected women and their families in Uganda. The funds raised by the FCC help to provide the company with the necessary skills, resources, and technology needed to run a successful business. To learn more about Mama Mzungu or to purchase their products please click here: https://www.mamamzungu.co/
 Albinism.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 7 Apr. 2018,
 Mabula J.B., Chalya P.L., Mchembe M.D., Jaka H., Giiti G., Rambau P et al. (2012) Skin cancers among Albinos at a University teaching hospital in Northwestern Tanzania: a retrospective review of 64 cases. BMC Dermatology.
 “Ending Albino Persecution in Africa | Africa Renewal.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/december-2017-march-2018/ending-albino-persecution-africa.
 Under The Same Sun. “Reported Attacks of Persons with Albinism”
 Under The Same Sun. “Reported Attacks of Persons with Albinism”
 Bradbury-Jones, C, Ogik, P, Betts, J, Taylor, J & Lund, P 2018, ‘Beliefs about people with albinism in Uganda: A qualitative study using the Common-Sense Model’, PLoS ONE, vol. 13, no. 10, e0205774. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205774)