A newly-elected member of parliament in the East African nation of Tanzania may be targeted for death because of his skin color; Salum Khalfan Barwany is an albino.

According to a Reuters news piece:

Salum Barwany said he feared a threat from an unknown group that he says has been tracking his movements since he was elected MP for the Lindi urban constituency in southern Tanzania on October 31. “We have received information from good Samaritans that five people, some with military training, have been secretly pursuing me since I was elected an MP,” the member of the opposition Civic United Front party said. “I have reported the matter to the police in [the capital of] Dar-es-Salaam and I hope they will take the necessary action.”

Mr. Barwany has reason to be concerned; dozens of African albinos have been murdered in recent years. In fact, as previously reported here on Discovery News,

murders and mutilations in Africa over the past two years has led a Canadian businessman, Peter Ash, to form a foundation called Under the Same Sun, which helps protect albinos from attacks and discrimination.

Throughout much of Africa belief in magic and witchcraft is common, and black magic is considered part of everyday life. In the East African countries of Tanzania and Burundi, at least fifty albinos were murdered for their body parts in 2008, according to the Red Cross. An albino’s arms, fingers, genitals, ears, and blood are highly prized on the black market, believed to bestow magical powers.

The belief and practice of using body parts for magical ritual or benefit is called muti. Muti murders are particularly brutal, with knives and machetes used to cut and hack off limbs, breasts, and other body parts from their living victims. The Red Cross claims that up to 10,000 African albinos live in hiding, fearful of being attacked for their body parts.

It is not clear if the threat against Salum Khalfan Barwany is credible, nor if it is related to his albinism. If it is, it would follow a certain twisted logic. Since Barwany was elected to a position of some power and influence, anyone seeking to dismember him may assume that his body parts would be more powerful than those from an albino of lesser social stature.

If a member of Tanzania’s government can be targeted, people in rural areas (and who have a lower social profile) are likely in even more danger. This horrible murder and mutilation of innocent people is a powerful reminder of the dangers of believing in superstition and witchcraft.