African music legend Salif Keita has called for people with albinism to be protected, as Tanzania begins campaigning for general elections with fears growing over a rise in witchcraft attacks.
“It is completely unacceptable for humans to sacrifice other human beings, it comes from ignorance,” the Malian musician, himself an albino, told AFP in an interview during a visit to East Africa.
“Albinos are born, they grow up just like everyone else. It is unacceptable to attack them.”
Rights groups have warned of the risk of a rise in attacks against albinos in Tanzania, which has just begun campaigning for general and presidential elections on October 25.
Some politicians have been accused of buying albino body parts for witchcraft and lucky charms.
At least 76 albinos in Tanzania have been murdered since 2000, with their dismembered body parts selling for around $600 and entire bodies fetching $75 000, according to United Nations experts.
Dozens more have survived having parts of their bodies hacked off.
Keita said he hoped that by speaking out, and by playing his world-acclaimed music, he could send a message to stop the attacks, which often target children.
“When people hear me on the microphone and see me on the camera, that has an impact, because I show that I am a complete human being, just like everyone else,” Keita said.
“Just like every human, albinos need to be loved, and seen as normal people.”
‘Black people with white skin’
Keita was speaking in the Kenyan capital where he is to play a concert to raise money for a music foundation for a Nairobi slum, as part of Kenya’s Safaricom Jazz Festival.
His Afro-pop music, nominated for several world music awards, fuses both African and Western styles.
“I am proud to be an albino and I am proud to be who I am,” added Keita, who runs a campaign to support people with albinism.
“I work to promote acceptance and understanding of people with albinism.”
Outgoing Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said in March that attacks against people with albinism were “disgusting and a big embarrassment for the nation”.
But the problem is not confined to Tanzania alone.
Kenyan lawmaker Isaac Mwaura, who also has albinism, said Tanzanian gangs have carried out abductions in Kenya, and he looks after two children he rescued from attempted kidnappers.
“Africa has had a long history of racial discrimination, but we work to stop that,” said the MP as he met Keita.
“Albinos are black people with white skin.”
Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes.
As well as discrimination, associated risks include skin cancer – expensive sun creams are often difficult to obtain – as well as eyesight problems.