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An unimaginable cruelty: Fate of People With Albinism and Elephants

Published: Sunday 2 December 2012
“It is imperative to see cruelty to animals in the light of the wider human pathology of cruelty – those who will not protect animals are less likely to protect other humans.”

For years now there has been unremitting torture and killing of people with Albinism in Tanzania. Babies, children and adults have been killed and mutilated, their limbs often hacked off, and their organs cut out. The belief is that once harvested from a population with a genetic mutation - People with Albinism - the organs magically confer other humans some new powers. It is a false tale perpetuated by witch doctors in a practice that politicians and the powers that be in Tanzania turn a blind eye to. Or they in fact play an active role in a macabre trade of humans and human body parts that has been growing during these last few decades.

In the past much of the evil practice was limited to remote and rural parts of Tanzania, but today human body parts are increasingly being transported farther afield - to other African destinations. An underground human trafficking and human body parts transportation has been growing into a lucrative enterprise. There have been sporadic reports of kidnappings and murder of people with albinism in East Africa, but all in all there has been very little publicity regarding this perfidious practice. Unfortunately many authorities prefer not to acknowledge that a practice as primitive, as evil and inhumane as this takes place within their country’s borders.

 However one regards it, people with albinism in Tanzania live in real terror everyday – they never know when the sharp machete blade will fall on their neck or some other part of their body. I recount this here because a year ago I witnessed the kidnap and disappearance of a three-year-old child with albinism. The fate of this child, certainly a victim of trans-border human trafficking, haunts me constantly, no matter how hard I try to drown and forget it.

I also recount this Tanzanian tragedy to highlight yet another catastrophe that is taking place there and to a lesser extent in Kenya. The systematic decimation of elephant herds all across Tanzania and Kenya where elephants are hunted, killed and their tusks transported to China and other Asian ivory markets.    

The numbers of elephants killed in Tanzania is staggering and the silence from Tanzanian authorities deafening. They are killed with every manner of weapons: by men with high powered guns, by men from army helicopters as well as less sophisticated methods by barefoot poachers. From 2009 -2010, Tanzania followed by Kenya was the leading exporter of ivory to Asia. Decimation of wild life in Africa doesn’t seem to much matter to the Asian mind. 37% of all elephant tusks seized by authorities were from Tanzania. Recently Hong Kong authorities seized 4 tons’ worth of ivory hidden in containers from East Africa – presumably from Tanzania.

The trade in both elephants and body parts of people with albinism is fueled by: cold inhumanity, quick profits and corruption. The lifeblood of much that is destructive in Africa is corruption. In Tanzania as elsewhere in Africa corruption is the one roadblock to development and progress. The result is the suffering of human beings, elephants and other wild life. Corrupt officials, men with guns who destroy the animal kingdom have no conscience. A national treasure, be it human or in the wild, means little to them. The lure is always a quick profit. They are of course as always supported and encouraged by large numbers of traders in Africa, Asia and other places.

I am of course not equating the murder of children with Albinism to the hacking away of elephants’ tusks. Whatever one feels and thinks of elephants, we must always remember they are animals. That said, we, as members of the human race, must always be reminded that the earth belongs to all of Nature’s creation. The disappearance of other species merely hastens our own end. We need animals and other wild creatures for our survival.

There is also a fascinating intersection between cruelty to animals and cruelty to other humans. Individuals and groups of people who are cruel to, and incapable of protecting innocent animals have been shown to have a propensity to be cruel to their own kin and to other human beings. That is certainly true of people in regions of Tanzania where the two - the hunting and killing of people with albinism as well as the extermination of herds of elephants - occur.

Like bison in North America, it is likely that the Tanzanian elephant will be wiped out. They are killing thirty elephants a day and with a total of 70,000 animals in the Tanzanian sanctuaries, they will all be dead in less than five years at the rate they are being killed. There is recognition by enlightened international authorities that the killing of elephants must be slowed down. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against the killing of elephants and other wild life, promising US government’s support to combat this destructive practice. One hopes that despite a busy national and international agenda of the Obama administration, stopping human trafficking – across African countries, as well as saving African elephant herds can be one of them.

 Human compassion and mercy are never limited to one subject alone. Love and compassion encompass many and much: from people with albinism, to lepers and the motherless. And we must never forget our brothers: the elephant, lion, whale, and python - fellow travelers on this amazing vessel we call the earth.

I have talked to many Tanzanians of good will and intelligence about the fate of their People with Albinism. Many lament what happens to these folks who are victims of a false note in the human genetic orchestra. Indeed most Tanzanians are wonderful people, full of kindness and mercy. But like other Africans they seem incapable of raising their voices to fight the scandalous behavior of witch doctors, and the evil of political corruption. They are incapable of placing themselves between victims of human depravity and the men who would tear innocents from limb to limb.

 Foreign agencies that go to Africa must engender to fire up and raise the anger of those Africans who are willing to listen against these injustices. We must convert their anger to motion, their conscience to seeking justice for the innocent. This is particularly true for the people with Albinism who are attacked and murdered for no other reason than that they do not have the Melanin their kin have.

It is imperative to see cruelty to animals in the light of the wider human pathology of cruelty – those who will not protect animals are less likely to protect other humans. If we are to save the vulnerable in Africa – both humans and wild animals – we have to somehow bring out the seed of human charity, compassion and love that lives in many human hearts. Cruelty to elephants can never be considered as isolated. It goes hand in hand with the murder and mutilation of certain vulnerable human beings. We are not quite human if we don’t fight for the survival of both.   

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