By Emmanuel Sackey
According to a late 2008 BBC news report, Albinos in Tanzania, Rwanda and neighboring countries have been living in great fear. This situation has been attributed to the killing of some of their colleagues, apparently for ritual purposes.
Tanzania’s Albino Society was reported to have accused the government of turning a blind eye to the killing of their members, after four consecutive deaths. In response to the events in the country where there are more than 8,000 registered albinos, members of the European Parliament have condemned the killings and pledged to support local efforts to protect the albinos.
Misconception of Albinism
According to Richard King and Gail Summers, the word “albinism” refers to a group of inherited conditions. The authors maintain that people with albinism have little or no pigment in the eyes, skin, and hair (or in some cases in the eyes alone). They have inherited from their parents an altered copy of a gene that does not work correctly. The altered gene does not allow the body to make the usual amounts of a pigment called melanin.
King and Summers estimates that approximately one in 17,000 people have one of the types of albinism. About 18,000 people in the United States are affected. Albinism affects people from all races. King and Summers also maintains that, “parents of most children with albinism have normal hair and eye color for their ethnic background, and do not have a family history of albinism”.
Several myths have been associated with albinism. Some of the misperceptions are universal while others are held in specific localities. In Ghana, some of the unscientific notions about albinism is that, it comes about as a result of premature birth. Others assume that albinos do not “attend the call of nature” on Fridays. A more interesting myth is that albinos do not die but vanish. But in Most parts of Africa, it is believed that the bodies of albinos are good for ritual purposes. The major reason for the killing of albinos sprang from the latter belief. “Even a teacher a teacher in the northern town of Arusha has been arrested for killing his own child, who was an albino” (BBC: December 2008).
As indicated earlier, contrary to popular notions of albinism, the problem basically results from lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair, eyes and the skin of affected persons
Human right concerns
Since the mystification of albinism is a universal phenomenon, stigmatization against albinos should be regarded as an international human right problem. The problem is however pervasive in Africa, owing partly to ignorance. In Ghana, the society of Albinos (SOAG) has also condemned the events in Tanzania and Rwanda. Even such an occurrence has never been reported.
The leader of (SOAG), Mr John Tuuyawanah, has stressed that members of the wider society make albinos feel unwanted. In an interview with the “Mirror,” Mr Tuuyawanah noted that, “the public misbehavior towards us is tantamount to racism”.
Among other concerns, he pointed out that albinos lack equal opportunities in the sphere of employment, marriage and access to health services. Mr Tuuyawanah further pointed out that in the case of Ghana, only the government of General Kutu Acheampong (1972-1978) tried to address the concerns of albinos. The SOAG president expresses the frustration that his group has sent petitions to the current government on four occasions without any response. He criticized the government and the social welfare department for relegating their concerns.
The solution to ritual murders of persons with physical abnormalities such as hunchbacks and albinos could be addressed through the strict enforcement of deterring legislations. Such law already exists in the criminal codes and human rights laws of almost every state. What is required now is the strict implementation of such laws. But prevention has always proved better than cure. For this reason it is better to find ways of disabusing the mind of people of the various myths which prompt the negative reactions from the members of wider society. This would certainly require a vigorous public campaign or awareness, primarily aim at demystifying the esoteric notions about the physique of albinos.
The general public, especially those in traditional communities should be made to understand that albinism is a ubiquitous problem caused by natural conditions. Efforts must also be made to reach the association of traditional healers. This is possible because in many parts of Africa, such diviners and healers now have recognized unions. The Association of Albinos could be supported to carry out their advocacy and public awareness program. The expertise of scientists (dermatologists and opticians), who could better explain the biochemical process that results in albinism and its effects, could be sought in such endeavors. The media could also provide a platform on which the campaign could be launched. The local chiefs and the custodians of traditions in the various societies could also be sensitized to support such efforts.
Enough of the Job Discrimination—–PWDS
A section of persons with disabilities who are unemployed were at the offices of the newly created National Council on Disability to have an interface with the chairman on their plight. They took turns to narrate how after acquiring various educational qualifications, they have had to be moving from office to office in search of jobs to no avail.
Festus Agbenyezi is a blind graduate of the University of Ghana. Whilst at the university, he was instrumental in getting the authorities to make available, Assistive Technology Laboratory of some 20 computers for use by disabled students. Upon his graduation in 2006, he was taken on at the same centre as an ICT Instructor for his National Service. He was however not retained after the one year period of National Service elapsed. He has since remained jobless.
Robert Amegashie a well built physically challenged graduated from the University of Cape Coast in 2007 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree but has since remained jobless. “Meanwhile I have been blessed with two sets of twins, including my first born, making five,” he tells yours truly whilst rushing out of his file a well kept picture of five beautiful looking children. His children’s school fees have been a headache for him. They are always sacked for school fees, he says. But he does not even feel dignified to be depending on the benevolence of friends and family these days.
Alem Mumuni is a disabled cyclist. He participated in an international cycling competition in Niger recently and won gold in Ghana’s name. He said he was yet to get someone to formally accept the prize and pat him on the back for a job well done. He spoke very passionately about how in spite of their disabilities, sports could have been used to wean some of them off the enfeebling hands of poverty.
After listening to several of the affecting stories, the Chairman of the National Council on Disability Mr. Andrews Okaikoi identified very much with the concerns raised since as a disabled person himself, he had had to rely solely on his own initiative for employment over the years.
He however assured members of the disabled community that the council is putting plans in place to address some of the most nagging challenges it. He therefore called on the various groupings of the disabled community to come together so as to be able to present a united front is seeking redress to their challenges.
In an interview with Public Agenda, Mr. Okaikoi said funding remains the number one challenge facing the council even in these early days of its establishment. Budgetary allocations made in the 2009 budget for the running of the council includes Ghc18,000 for administration, GHc25,000 for services, GHc55000 for investment and GHc444,000 for staff salaries. He agrees that more funds have to be made available to the council if it is to ensure an effective implementation of the ambitious provisions in the Disability Act. But not even a penny of the 2009 allocation has been released to the council yet, he says. “I have been running the office from my pocket so far,” he noted.
“The Disability Act of 2006, Act 715 says that “A person with disability shall not be deprived of the right to live with that person’s family or the right to participate in social, political, economic, creative or recreational activities.” Quoting from the above, the Executive Director of the Centre for Employment of Persons with Disability (CEPD) Alexander Kojo Tetteh said economic participation, for him, stood out since without it persons with disability stand the risk of losing their dignity in society. “Employment for persons with disability has become a hard nut to crack; this is making us lose our dignity and status in society. It is difficult to have food on the table, and that explains the multiplying of disabled beggars on our streets day by day.” Mr Tetteh appealed to government, corporate Ghana, churches and individuals to consider employing persons with disability in their workforce. “We can contribute significantly to corporate and national development, if given the opportunity.”
“According to the WHO, there are more than 600 million disabled persons in the world, of which approximately 80 % live in low-income countries. In most developing countries, including Ghana, disabled persons constitute an impoverished marginalized group, characterized by lack of access to public health, education, and other social services that would ideally support and protect people with disabilities. Economically as well as in social terms, disabled persons in developing countries are classified among the poorest of the poor.
People with disabilities in Ghana are often regarded as unproductive and incapable of contributing in a positive way to society, and rather seen as constituting an economic burden on the family and the society at large, which leaves them in a vicious cycle of poverty. In developing countries there are rarely strong disability movements actively working to improve the living conditions for people living with disabilities. Disabled persons are often only weakly represented in civil society and Ghana is no exception.”
Credit: Public Agenda