History was made last week when Overstone Kondowe took his place as Malawi’s first-ever member of parliament (MP) living with albinism. Kondowe, previously the president’s special advisor on persons with albinism and disabilities, joined the parliamentary race in order to push for legislation to protect people living with albinism in Malawi.
“I understand that those who are not supporting the cause are doing so because of lack of awareness, so I will make sure I lobby more members of parliament to have awareness as well as have the spirit to put us at the centre of development," Kondowe said. "I would make sure that the plans and budgets have something speaking to the needs and wants of persons with albinism and as well as those with disabilities."
This is a major win for the more than 130,000 people living with albinism in Malawi who are especially vulnerable to killings and abductions. According to Action on Albinism, 161 attacks on people living with albinism in Malawi have been recorded since 2014.
Overstone Kondowe, an albino activist was sworn in to Malawi's parliament on Thursday, a first in a country where people with albinism have suffered discrimination and killings.— Hamza Mohamed (@Hamza_Africa) November 9, 2021
Kondowe won a by-election last month in central Malawi, a milestone after years of victimisation. pic.twitter.com/VFeRQLCMJB
These attacks stem from both widespread stigma and the belief that their body parts, which sell for high prices, contain magical powers and can be used in witchcraft. While there have been some laws put in place to help stop the attacks, Kondowe says that more can be done to protect people with albinism.
“As a country, we’ve conducted six investigations and these investigations have failed to nail down the market," he said. "I can say that we’re still on the right track because we have not given up but still continue with the investigations. It’s a criminal syndicate and it’s a hidden market and is difficult. We need more expertise, time, and support from communities and investigators to track. There is going to be a time that we’re going to make a breakthrough."
According to Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa, one of the more recent cases involved a 12-year-old Malawian girl living with albinism who survived an attempted kidnapping in February, just three days after three people were arrested in connection to the murder of Saidi Futon Dayton, another citizen living with albinism.
“People with albinism are simply not safe in Malawi, whether in their homes or on the street," Mwananyanda said. "These attacks are fuelled by a culture of impunity which has been gone on for past related crimes. Malawian authorities must swiftly move to bring suspected perpetrators of these latest crimes to justice in fair trials."
The Executive Director of the Association of Persons with Albinism, Menard Zacharia, has also called on the Malawian government to intensify their investigations to cases of attacks and discrimination against people living with albinism.
“The government of Malawi has an obligation under domestic and international human rights law to protect people with albinism and ensure justice to the victims of the attacks and killings,” he told Amnesty International.
Kondowe, the former president of the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi, said that he hopes his win sets a precedent in his home country and pledged to continue to fight for the rights of people living with albinism.
"Let me assure them that I will do to the maximum of my potential to make sure that we should also have programs, like what South Africa put in place," he said. "I am ready to do that. And I have also demonstrated my ability to do so when I was acting outside the system. Now that I am in the centre of the system, I am sure change is coming, not tomorrow, but today.”