Sunday August 25, 2019

The Traditional Healers of Malawi Deny Link to Albino Killings

The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days

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Albino toddlers killed for witchcraft. Image source: seeker.com
  • Traditional healers, known locally as herbalists, say they will challenge the ruling
  • In Malawi, it is common to consult herbalists for ailments such as mental illness, epilepsy and impotence
  • The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days

The high court in Malawi has banned so-called witch doctors in a bid to reduce demand for albino body parts. Malawi’s albino association has praised the ruling, but traditional healers have vowed to fight it, saying they are not involved in magic or murder.

The high court’s ruling last week stemmed from a complaint filed by three residents of the city of Mzuzu in northern Malawi. One of them said she paid a witch doctor a lot of money after he promised a charm that would make her ex-lover take her back.

At least 20 of the 60 albinos who fled their homes in rural areas to seek protection in and around the eastern Burundian town of Ruyigi are still living under police guard in improvised shelters. Ten men implicated in the trade in albino body parts for use as talismans are currently in the town’s central prison awaiting trial. As in its near neighbour, Tanzania’s Kigoma region, the Burundi Red Cross (BRC) Ruyigi branch played a lead role in coordinating the spontaneous local humanitarian response to the albino emergency last year, providing food, mosquito nets, clothes, building materials for toilets and moral support to the shelters. The BRC is now seeking external support for a broader operation to help reintegrate albinos into mainstream society and reduce their acute vulnerability to hunters, skin cancer, and educational and social marginalization. The picture shows Marie Niyukuri and her albino son, Ephreim, 7, who has an albino sister and eight black siblings. A suspected albino-hunter last year rode his bike straight at Ephreim in an apparent attempt to fake a road accident and make off with the boy’s body. But Ephreim was pulled back by his non-albino friends, and his attacker narrowly escaped being lynched on the spot by vigilant neighbours, jumpy since a small albino boy was snatched and killed in the neighbouring district. Image source: thecircular.org
At least 20 of the 60 albinos who fled their homes in rural areas to seek protection in and around the eastern Burundian town of Ruyigi are still living under police guard in improvised shelters. Image source: thecircular.org

“One of the clients was complaining that the source of the deaths of albinos in the country is these witch doctors because what they do is that they prescribe body parts of albinos, like bones,” said George Kadzipatike, the lawyer for the complainants.

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Those false claims have led to an alarming uptick in attacks on albinos in Malawi in the past two years.

The judge issued an injunction against what he called “witch doctors, traditional healers, charm sellers, fortune tellers and magicians,” and ads for their services.

The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days.

Herbalists’ response

Traditional healers, known locally as herbalists, say they will challenge the ruling. They say they are not involved in magic or the trafficking of albino body parts.

“To us, it is unfair because there is no way we can combine human body [parts] and something which is going to be consumed,” said Robins Zaniko, the general secretary for the International Traditional Medicine Council of Malawi. “Because what we mainly give out to people is traditional medicine, which is consumable. We give people [medicine] to drink, to eat so that they can be cured from their various diseases.”

Albinistic girl in New Guinea. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Albinistic girl in New Guinea. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

He says no herbalist has been among those arrested in connection with recent albino killings.

Timothy Mtambo, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, says banning all herbalists is not the answer.

“You can’t say we are banning everyone,” he said. “I would say we should have found mechanisms to make sure that we deal with those that are suspected and prove that [they] are responsible, rather than making a decision which is wholesale.”

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In Malawi, it is common to consult herbalists for ailments such as mental illness, epilepsy and impotence.

“There are times when we go to the hospitals [and] they tell us that there is no medication, so we instead go to the herbalists,” said Mbayani resident Enock Chigalu.

At least 18 people with albinism have been killed since November 2014, and five more are missing, according to an Amnesty International report released this month. Amnesty says police have not done enough to investigate the crimes, and the punishments doled out are too lenient. (VOA)

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  • AJ Krish

    Every nation has their own indigenous art of healing. Calling them witch doctors and accusing them of crimes is absurd .Further, banning them is crossing the line.Rather than finding the culprits,they took the easy way out by blaming these herbal doctors.Truly sad.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    I feel this is correct. Banning these quacks would result in people getting the right treatment by qualified doctors. There are numerous cases where casualties are caused as they are not experienced. plus, these doctors do not have any kind of knowledge about the syndromes, the side effects, the allergies, etc about the disease.

  • Paras Vashisth

    For any patient , a doctor is not lesser than God but exceptions are always there.
    It effects the faith and feelings of people to the doctors.

  • sahil nandwani

    After seeing the problem of Malawi, I feel that the people should be mentally aware,that they should take treatments from the qualified doctors rather than the witch doctors.

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  • AJ Krish

    Every nation has their own indigenous art of healing. Calling them witch doctors and accusing them of crimes is absurd .Further, banning them is crossing the line.Rather than finding the culprits,they took the easy way out by blaming these herbal doctors.Truly sad.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    I feel this is correct. Banning these quacks would result in people getting the right treatment by qualified doctors. There are numerous cases where casualties are caused as they are not experienced. plus, these doctors do not have any kind of knowledge about the syndromes, the side effects, the allergies, etc about the disease.

  • Paras Vashisth

    For any patient , a doctor is not lesser than God but exceptions are always there.
    It effects the faith and feelings of people to the doctors.

  • sahil nandwani

    After seeing the problem of Malawi, I feel that the people should be mentally aware,that they should take treatments from the qualified doctors rather than the witch doctors.

Next Story

Empty Nets as Malawi Sapped by Overfishing and Climate Change

But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll

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Malawi, Overfishing, Climate Change
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Economy & Business Empty Nets as Overfishing and Climate Change Sap Lake Malawi By Agence France-Presse July 22, 2019 04:00 PM FILE - In this aerial view, fishing boats are seen on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village on May 20, 2019 in Senga, Malawi. FILE - In this aerial view, fishing boats are seen on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village on May 20, 2019 in Senga, Malawi. VOA

On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedar wood boat carrying its haul.

The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay.

But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll.

Hundreds of local traders gather each morning and afternoon at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest body of freshwater.

Malawi, Overfishing, Climate Change
On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedar wood boat carrying its haul. Pixabay

“We were hoping to catch a half-boat full or maybe a quarter-boat … but I’m afraid the fish are dwindling in numbers,” port manager Alfred Banda told AFP staring wearily at the small catch as it was dragged onto the sand.

“Before, we used to catch a full boat but now we are struggling,” he said, adding that a full boat would earn a team of between six and 12 fishermen about $300.

Bordering three countries — Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique — Lake Malawi stretches across more than 29,000 square kilometers (11,200 square miles) with over 1,000 species of fish.

The 14,000 people living at Senga Bay depend on the lake for food and for their livelihood.

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“Seven years ago there was lots more fish than today. In 2019 it is different, there’s no fish in the water,” trader Katrina Male, a 40-year-old mother of six, told AFP as she stalked the nets of newly brought in fish seeking the best deal.

“The fish nowadays are more expensive, because they are becoming scarce,” Male said. “Some children have stopped going to school because their parents can’t find the money.”

‘No alternative to fishing’

For both locals and climate experts, declining fish numbers reflect a combination of environmental change and overfishing that augurs ill for the future.

Malawi, Overfishing, Climate Change
The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay. VOA

The World Bank ranks Malawi among the top 10 at-risk countries in Africa to climate change, with cyclones and floods among the major threats.

Senga community leader John White Said says increasing gale force winds and torrential rains have made it harder for fishermen on the lake.

“Our men can’t catch fish because of wind which is much stronger than before,” he said, adding that the rains are increasingly unpredictable on the lake.

“The rain before would not destroy houses and nature but now it comes with full power, destroying everything and that affects the water as well.”

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According to USAID, the number of rainfalls incidents in the aid-dependent country is likely to decrease — but each rainfall will be more intense, leading to droughts and floods.

The threat was highlighted in March when Malawi was hit by torrential rains from Cyclone Idai, killing 59 people. The storm also cut a swathe through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving nearly 1,000 dead.

On top of the environmental impact, the number of fishermen in Senga had doubled in the last 10 years due to the lack of other jobs, Said said.

“There is no alternative to fishing.”

One of the few to benefit is 38-year-old boat owner Salim Jackson, who rents out his two vessels.
“I got into fishing 13 years ago because I had no other option, I never went to school. But it has brought me good money,” he said.

‘Unsustainable fishing practices’

By sunset, the balls of fishing net lay stretched out on the beach and both buyers and fishermen negotiate prices.

Traders take their purchases in buckets to makeshift reed tables to be dried, smoked, fried or boiled in preparation for the market.

“Declining fish catches are mainly due to unsustainable fishing practices,” said Sosten Chiotha, a Malawian environmental science professor who works for the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) action group.

“Overfishing is a challenge in Lake Malawi [but] there are efforts on co-management and closed seasons to ensure that the fishery recovers.”

Chiotha added that climate change was hitting Malawi with “increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the major ecosystems including lakes.”

That leaves Malawi’s agriculture-based economy sharply vulnerable to climatic events and entrenched poverty heightens pressure on the environment.

Wearing a black silk thawb robe and white kufi cap, Said stands tall on Senga beach, surveying the scene around him.

“I’m worried,” he said. “In Malawi most people depend on fishing financially and as a cheap food source.
“The men have to cast their nets further and further away from the beach.” (VOA)