Tag Archives: superstition

“Traditional healers” and us. What it means when children are being murdered in Njombe

The Citizen front pages, Jan 30 and Feb 3, 2019

The tragedy is unspeakable, the acts incomprehensible: eleven children murdered in and around the town of Njombe in the space of a few weeks. There are, it is feared, likely to be more whose bodies have not yet been discovered.

Terror now grips the local community. Rumours swirl – more children taken, this businessman is involved, that politician. We can all, surely, understand how panic and fear can fuel a demand for revenge or justice that can all-too-easily boil over into mob-violence. The killing of several people suspected of involvement in the children’s deaths cannot be justified, but it can at least be understood.

Killing children for personal gain cannot. What greed or desperation can possibly motivate someone to do such a thing? What makes them think it will work?

I feel this personally. I lived in Njombe for several years, the names of people and places are familiar. Friends are telling me of their despair, of the sense of chaos. It hurts.

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White Shadow review (in the Guardian): a brutal, honest portrayal of Tanzanian albinism

Alias is the young albino boy who lives in fear of his life. Photograph: White Shadow /Pressshot

Alias is the young albino boy who lives in fear of his life. Photograph: White Shadow /Pressshot

This review was originally published by the (UK) Guardian Africa Network on March 19, 2015.

White Shadow, released this week in the UK tells the story of a teenage Tanzanian boy with albinism, Alias, who lives in constant fear of his life.

The film, by German director Noaz Deshe, tells a fictional story informed by the situation facing Tanzania’s albino population today.

At least 75 people with albinism have been killed in Tanzania since 2000, with many suffering violent attacks. A belief that albino body parts can be used to bring good fortune has been a key factor in fuelling the violence. Continue reading

Chart #37: Spiritual beliefs in sub-Saharan Africa – religion, superstition and attacks on people with albinism

These interactive charts draw on data I have used before – the 2010 Pew survey of religious beliefs in sub-Saharan Africa (see full report and data here – pdf). I post the data again here with more detail for you to explore – you can select what specific belief you wish to examine using the drop down menu.

It’s particularly interesting in the context of heightened attention on superstitious beliefs in Tanzania, following the recent spate of brutal attacks on people living with albinism. As I have posted before, attacks on people with albinism have been more common in Tanzania than elsewhere in Africa.


So what do the charts tell us?

I want to make one main point, which is this: in several areas of superstition / supernatural belief, Tanzania is way ahead of the rest of Africa.

According to this survey, 93% of Tanzanians believe in witchcraft, 80% that some people can cast spells, and 96% in evil spirits . In all three cases, Tanzania “leads” in these beliefs. In fact, compared to most of the surveyed countries, Tanzania “leads” by a long distance.

Second, several commentators have argued that if Tanzania was more god-fearing, attacks on people with albinism would not happen. But this data shows that Tanzanians’ beliefs in more respectable aspects of religious belief – such things as angels, heaven and hell – are very similar to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. It seems unlikely that the problem is that Tanzanians are not sufficiently religious. Beliefs in Islam and Christianity exist alongside very widely held beliefs in witchcraft, evil spirits and curses.

Finally, exactly the same points can be made about violent attacks on people accused of practising witchcraft – usually elderly women. Nipashe newspaper reported yesterday on four recent mob murders of people in their 80s in Dodoma and Mara regions. They were accused of using witchcraft to bring drought to their villages.

Translated excerpts from President Kikwete’s monthly address – on attacks against people with albinism

President Kikwete declined to receive the planned demonstration by the Tanzania Albinism Society (TAS) yesterday, which was then banned by the police. However, in his latest monthly address he spoke extensively on the topic. I have translated the key excerpts, which are pasted below. Continue reading

Tanzania Albinism Society calls for public demonstration on March 2 – #StopAlbinoKillings

stop albino killings

UPDATE – March 2, 2015, 11am EAT

Police in Dar es Salaam have banned the planned peaceful demonstration. … According to the letter issued by the police to TAS the reasons are:

1. Intelligence-based investigations found a possibility of an outbreak of violence which will cause a breach of the peace.

2. The Office of the President (State House) has not responded to the letter from TAS to show readiness of the President to receive the demonstration.

Recent information from the Office of the President is that another mechanism to meet President Kikwete will be arranged. 



UPDATE – March 1, 2015, 11pm EAT

It appears that the police have decided not to allow the Tanzania Albinism Society (TAS) to hold this proposed demonstration. I will update here with more details as soon as I have them.


Following the recent attacks on two young children with albinism, the latest in a long series of attacks, the Tanzania Albinism Society has called a public demonstration in Dar es Salaam on March 2. The following information is translated from the Facebook page of Zitto Kabwe, citing Mohammed Chanzi, deputy secretary of TAS. The original Swahili is pasted below.

Date of Demonstration: Monday March 2, 2015.

Meeting point: Ocean Road Hospital grounds (behind the hospital on the side facing the ocean, just off Barack Obama Drive).

Meeting time: 2pm

Recommended clothing: black clothes / black t-shirt

Main goal: To deliver a message to the President in connection with the sadness that has struck Tanzanians on the sudden increase of murders of people with albinism. It is our collective responsibility to stand up for and protect the rights and life of our fellows. The demonstration has been authorised by the Dar es Salaam Special Police Zone, and is a peaceful demonstration.

Invited participants: We beg for all community, government and non-governmental organisations, activists, those who like peace and human rights defenders to join us in this demonstration, from Ocean Road to Ikulu (State House), along Luthuli Road.

This is relevant to all of us in society, Tanzanians. Tell your colleagues and friends, come to join those who are fighting for the lives of others.

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“Elderly woman drops to earth while travelling in the air,” apparently

Mtanzania 310115

In Mtanzania today, a remarkable story, particularly when you note that this is a respectable newspaper, nothing like Sanian elderly woman apparently fell from the sky above Shinyanga.

The article doesn’t explain how she was “travelling through the air”, but it doesn’t need to: travelling by ‘ungo’ (flying basket) is a familiar concept in Tanzania. Fallen-from-the-sky stories appear fairly regularly in the press. Occasionally, they are told with some scepticism. But often, as in this case, they are told entirely at face value. Continue reading

It really is “nothing but witchcraft” in Sani newspaper

"Nothing but witchcraft" - Sani 24/1/15

“Uchawi Mtupu” (“Nothing but witchcraft”) – Sani 24/1/15

I spotted this newspaper headline last Saturday. “Urais Mwaka 2015: Uchawi Mtupu”, which roughly translates as “2015 Presidency: Nothing but witchcraft”, along with photos of five potential presidential candidates. Continue reading

Chart of the week #24: Attacks on people with albinism across Africa

Witchcraft-related attacks on people with albinism are big news in Tanzania, and have been for some years. Back in 2008, Vicky Ntetema, then working for the BBC, first went undercover to investigate, and then into hiding after receiving threats.

Vicky is now the Executive Director for Tanzania of Under the Same Sun, campaigning for the rights of people with albinism. They recently published a report on the number of reported attacks on people with albinism across Africa.

Below, I have turned the data from their report into a map and two charts: Continue reading

Healer kills his child because she had been born in breech position

Tanzania Daima published a story last week about a remarkably unpleasant event that allegedly took place in Mpanda district, in the west of Tanzania. The reaction the story has generated within Tanzania demonstrates that the events described are not a typical / common occurrence. Nevertheless, I think it illustrates some wider interesting points, so I have translated the story in full. And make a few quick points below the translated article.

The original article is legally problematic, in that it potentially prejudices a pending legal case, (as do the Police Commander’s remarks), but that’s not the point I want to make here. Nevertheless, to avoid repeating the problem, I have changed or obscured the names of key participants and other identifying details in the translation.

Healer kills his child because she had been born in breech position

Source: Tanzania Daima, 2/9/2014 

Walter Mguluchuma

A fourteen-month-old baby, Consolata George, has been killed by her father, George Lubanga “Chuiwe”, 27, apparently because she was born in the breech position. Continue reading