DAR ES SALAAM: Tanzania is stepping up security for people with albinism ahead of the country's elections on Sunday after a 35-year-old albino man was attacked by a machete-wielding gang who tried to hack off his ear.
The United Nations warned early this year that 2015, as an election year, could be a dangerous in Tanzania for albinos whose body parts are prized in witchcraft for charms and spells thought to bring wealth and good luck.
At least five albinos have been attacked since the east African nation launched its election campaign on August 23, according to the Tanzania Albino Society, which fears aspiring politicians are turning to black magic ahead of the vote.
In the latest attack this week Mohamed Said of Mkuranga, a town about 68 km (42 miles) south of Dar es Salaam, was attacked at his home, suffering serious head and right ear injuries.
"Three men wearing balaclavas broke into my home and attacked me with machete. I tried to defend myself but they overpowered me," Said told reporters at Mkuranga District hospital where he is receiving treatment.
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"They tied a piece of cloth around my neck and put another one into my mouth to stop me from raising alarm. They ran away with a piece of flesh from my head."
Jaffary Ibrahim, the Coast Regional Police Commander, said police were hunting the attackers and would work to ensure safety of people with albinism ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Tanzania's ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is facing its toughest election test in more than 50 years in power as it seeks to fend off a presidential bid by former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa who has vowed to create jobs for the poor.
"It's a pity that people with albinism are still being targeted in these vicious attacks. We will not rest until all those behind the attacks are brought to justice," Ibrahim told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
At least 75 albinos, who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, have been killed in Tanzania since 2000, according to U.N. figures, with many others attacked and their limbs hacked off.
Tanzania imposed a ban on witch doctors earlier this year to try to stop the lucrative trade in albino body parts.
Witch doctors will pay as much as $75,000 for a full set of albino body parts, according to a Red Cross report.
Kondo Seif, a spokesman for a Canadian non-profit defending albinos, Under The Same Sun, said as the election drew close people with albinism were increasingly worried for their safety.
"We feel threatened. As a result we are forced to live in hiding like refugees in our own country," Seif, an albino, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The government hasn't done enough to guarantee our safety and security."
Albinism is a congenital disorder which affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400.
Works Minister John Magufuli, one of the leading contenders to replace outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete who has served a maximum of two five-year terms, this week denounced the attacks on albinos as a "national shame".
"It is silly for a fisherman to think that he will catch huge amount of fish by having parts of an albino's body," Magufuli said.