**Update: The Tanzanian government did indeed act swiftly in this case; a court sentenced Mutei to 17 years in jail and a fine of $50,000 after he pleaded guilty to human trafficking. Whether this will deter other traffickers remains to be seen.
As soon as I saw this headline in my Google reader this morning, I felt sick to my stomach. According to the BBC, a Kenyan citizen, Nathan Mutei, was arrested in a sting operation conducted by Tanzanian police for trying to sell another man. The police were pretending to be businessmen interested in buying albino body parts, which are highly prized in Tanzania for their alleged healing properties.
People with albinism, a condition characterized by complete or partial lack of color in the skin, hair and eyes, are under constant threat in Tanzania from people like Mutei, who see them as a business opportunity. And indeed, the human trafficking of people with albinism is very lucrative – police say they struck a deal equivalent to more than $250,000 for the 20-year-old man.
An article from 2008 sketches out the plight of people living with albinism in Tanzania in more detail. At the time of the article’s publication, 25 albinos had been killed in the past year, a figure that can only have grown since then. People with albinism have gone into hiding, fearing stories like that of Nyerere Rutahiro, who was attacked and mutilated while eating dinner with his family.
Albinism affects about 1 person in every 20,000, and the Albino Association of Tanzania says that although 4,000 albinos are officially registered in the country, they believe the actual number could be as high as 173,000. I can only imagine that the racism that these people must experience is severe, if others can dehumanize them to the extent where they can be sold for body parts. However, there was no mention of this in the BBC articles.
The Tanzanian government has promised to take action, but they have been slow in bringing these cases to trial. Hopefully Nathan Mutei’s actions will be a catalyst for ending this appalling practice and bringing the people who would traffic in human body parts to justice.
Photo from Flickr.