BY ELLEN WULFHORST
“The Boy from Geita” follows the story of an albino child attacked for his body parts, which are highly prized by witch doctors, and the help he got from a Canada-registered charity, Under the Same Sun, which advocates for people with albinism.
The film’s release in New York coincides with a warning by a U.N. human rights expert that attacks on albinos in Africa are on the rise ahead of elections as political hopefuls fuel the trade in body parts used in spells claiming to bring luck.
Tanzania will go to the polls on Oct. 25.
Attacks on albino people, whose body parts can fetch up to $75,000 (48,568 pounds) according to the Red Cross, have been reported in six countries in southern and east Africa since August, U.N. expert Ikponwosa Ero said.
In “The Boy from Geita” much of the blame is placed on ignorance among Tanzanians for believing albinos – who lack pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes – are ghosts who bring bad luck and their body parts hold special powers.
Vicky Ntetema, an official with Under the Same Sun, accuses Tanzania of lacking the “political will” to end the attacks in the film that was screened at the United Nations on Thursday.
Tuvako Monongi, Tanzania’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, had harsh words for the film ahead of the screening, saying it contained “exaggerations, drama and blatant disregard of the positive measures we are taking as a country.”
He said since 2006 about 139 people have been arrested on suspicion of attacking people with albinism and, of those, 15 have been convicted, and 13 face the death penalty.
U.N. figures estimated 75 albinos, including children, have been killed in Tanzania since 2000 with many others attacked and their limbs hacked off.
Earlier this year Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete vowed to stamp out the practice he said brought shame to his east African nation, imposing a ban on witch doctors, which Monongi said had led to almost 200 arrests.
“What is so objectionable about this documentary … is that it advances a notion, a misconception, that you have people out there swimming in a pool of ignorance and waiting for some form of help from some foreigners,” Monongi told a news conference.
“As a country, we are making broad-based interventions, driven by the conviction that the tragedy facing our fellow citizens is both inhuman and a crime,” he added.
Monongi said he had not seen the film but based his opinions on its trailer, statements by the director, and briefings from people who had watched it. He did not stay for the screening and was not available to comment afterward.
In the film, none of the suspected attackers of the boy, or of a woman who lost both arms, has been brought to justice.
Film director Vic Sarin said he tried repeatedly to talk to members of the Tanzanian government but had been rebuffed.
“I did make every effort to be as honest as possible and give everyone a platform,” said Sarin.
Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400.