Africa's shame: Killed for 'spreading' Ebola; witchdoctors ban over albino murders; and failed resurrection

These are the stories that make for discouraging reading, and speak to the grip of unscientific beliefs that still grip many parts of the continent.

IT has been a mixture of bewildering, embarrassing, and distressful days few in parts of Africa over the interplay of superstition, witchcraft, and ignorance.

Nowhere did this manifest itself in a most deadly fashion than in Guinea. Two men were killed and their bodies burned by an angry mob in Guinea convinced that the victims infected a local with Ebola, in the latest violence spurred by the deadly disease, police said Wednesday.

Residents of the western village of Dar-es-Salaam attacked a group of three police officers and their driver who stopped there Saturday while on their way to a funeral.

During their visit, one in the group gave a sedative to a local healer who was suffering from an undescribed illness. After the healer died his wife called for help from locals, who responded violently, Guinea police Commissioner Boubacar Kasse told AFP.

The villagers grabbed machetes and clubs and beat the victims to death before setting their bodies and vehicle on fire, Kasse said.

He added that at least one local shouted: “You came from Conakry (Guinea’s capital) to spread Ebola to our village.”

The other police officers survived the attack and were recovering in hospital.

Violent reactions to Ebola are frequent in Guinea, especially in the south, where tensions are high between local groups and the central government.

The most violent incident came in September 2014 in the southwestern village of Womey when eight members of an Ebola prevention campaign were killed by locals. During the violence residents screamed the disease was a “white conspiracy.”

Killing albinos in Tanzania

In Tanzania, the government has banned witchdoctors to try and stem a surge in murders of albinos, whose body parts are sold for witchcraft, officials said Wednesday.

The ban follows the kidnapping last month of a four-year-old girl by men armed with machetes, who took her from her home in the northern Mwanza region. Police have since arrested 15 people, including the girl’s father and two uncles, but she remains missing. 

“These so-called witches bear responsibility for the attacks against albinos,” interior ministry spokesman Isaac Nantanga told AFP Wednesday. 

At least 74 albinos have been murdered in the east African country since 2000, according to United Nations experts. After a spike in killings in 2009, the government placed youngsters with albinism in children’s homes to protect them. Albino body parts sell for around $600 in Tanzania, with an entire corpse fetching $75,000, a fortune in the impoverished country.

As well as the ban, the government has launched an education campaign to end the killings. “We are keen on addressing the issue of abductions and killings of people with albinism once and for all,” Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe said. 

However, the ban does not cover traditional healers who use herbs to help the sick. Chikawe said the government and the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS) agreed on Tuesday to form a task force for conducting special operations against the kidnap, abduction and murder of albinos. “We are against those who cheat people (telling them) that they will be rich by possessing charms, as well as fortune tellers and those distributing talismans,” Chikawe said. “People should also be repeatedly told that the only way of becoming rich is through hard work and not possessing charms.”  

A hereditary genetic condition which causes an absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, albinism affects one Tanzanian in 1,400, experts say. 

In the West, it affects just one person in 20,000. 

Cross-border raids 

In August, a UN rights expert warned that attacks against albinos were increasing as Tanzania’s October 2015 national elections loomed, encouraging political campaigners to turn to witchdoctors for good luck. The Malian singer Salif Keita, himself an albino, has led an international campaign against the trade hoping to change attitudes.

Tanzania’s Daily News newspaper, in an editorial earlier this month, condemned the “disgusting” trade and said it had brought “shame to the nation”. The attackers “stalk unsuspecting people with albinism, pounce on them, hack off their body parts and run away with them.”

Teams will launch the education campaign this month in Tanzania’s northern regions of Geita, Mwanza, Simiyu, Shinyanga and Tabora, areas notorious for attacks, abductions and killings of albinos. 

Mwanza region TAS chairman Alfred Kapole welcomed the decision but said it needed to be applied countrywide to ensure success. “It needs people from all parts of the country to get maximum cooperation,” he told AFP, complaining that discrimination was still rampant in the east African country. “Politicians are giving us lip service… they are not serious,” he added. 

Albino Kenyan MP Isaac Mwaura said Tanzanian gangs were even crossing into neighbouring Kenya to carry out abductions. “You can clearly see people in politics going for these concoctions. People will kill people with albinism in return for what they believe is this good fortune, and that is totally wrong,” he told the BBC. 

“This problem has now become a regional problem because of Tanzania not having taken strong measures to curb it.” Mwaura, who said he had to provide protection to two Kenyan albino children in border regions with Tanzania, said the ban was “a step in the right direction, although it may not be enough.”

Kenya’s failed resurrection

The “Ebola lynching” in Guinea, and the increased problem of the hunting and killing of killing of people with albinism in Tanzania, come against the backdrop of a bizarre event of a failed resurrection in Kenya last week.

Furious Kenyan villagers said they wasted a day waiting for a “witchdoctor” to bring a corpse back to life after he failed because he was too “tired”, a report said last Friday.
Scores of villagers in Kenya’s southeastern Kwale district turned up singing and dancing to see the “miracle”, Kenya’s The Star newspaper reported. 

“We have never experienced this and want to see it first hand,” village elder Ndaro Kokota said before the witchdoctor Samuel Kanundu began his work. Kanundu had boasted he had already brought five people back to life, and told the scores of villagers on Thursday that he would resurrect the man who died in October 2013 “by sunset”. 

But villagers grew angry when nothing happened and Kanundu asked the crowd to wait as he was “tired.” “Tell us the truth,” the crowd shouted, according to the newspaper. “You should not be wasting our time here the whole day.” 

However, the dead man’s family said they believed the resurrection had been complicated by the fact the man had been “killed by a witch who hid his body” beneath a banana tree, the report added.

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