Tanzania elects albino to parliament

Last week I talked about the dangers of believing superstitions, and confusing superstition with culture. I also illustrated the specific plight of albino people, who are particularly targeted with violence for the supposed magical properties of their limbs. Of course, albinos have no magical properties – albinism is a single-gene mutation affecting pigmentation. But that doesn’t stop people from kidnapping and maiming albinos.

Tanzania has taken one small step toward correcting this practice:

An albino has been elected as an MP in Tanzania for the first time. “This win is a victory not only for me but also for all the albinos in this country,” Salum Khalfani Bar’wani, from the opposition Cuf party, told the BBC. “My joy has no end,” he told the BBC Swahili Service. “The people of Lindi have used their wisdom and have appreciated clearly that albinos are capable. I am so touched that this is the first time in the electoral history of this country for an albino to be elected by the people in a popular contest to be their representative in parliament – and not through sympathy votes or decisions.”

This is a great feed-forward mechanism that could have real positive effects. An albino MP is a recognizable, prominent public figure that challenges the commonly-held narrative around albinos. A greater level of awareness about albinism can start to take hold in the public consciousness. Of course such a shift will take a long time, so strong is the staying power of superstitious beliefs. However, the fact that Mr. Bar’wani was popularly elected suggests to me that such a shift has already began.

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  1. says

    I hate to be the cynic, but do you know the context of his election? Could any part of it be, in fact, due to the superstition that he possesses some kind of supernatural power?

  2. says

    Considering that they’re not thought to be “lucky” so much as “good as medicine”, I’d say no. But it’s certainly possible that he was elected because he’s albino rather than despite that fact.

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