E. Africa's first MP with albinism dispels myths
Mr Salum Khalfani Bar'wani, who won the southern Tanzania Lindi Town constituency.
By JOY WANJA
Posted Tuesday, December 7 2010 at 21:00
East Africa should eliminate the demand for body parts of people with albinism as the best way of tackling attacks against them.
Targeting middlemen who peddle the parts will not work as long as the market exists, the region's first elected Member of Parliament with albinism says.
Mr Salum Khalfani Bar'wani, who visited Kenya recently said knowledge will be key to the fight against the superstitious ways of East Africans that leads to the killings.
Mr Khalfani, who was elected in Tanzania's recent General Election, said he intended to use his term in Parliament to push for policies that will see persons with the pigmentation defect integrate in society.
The illicit trade in body parts, he says, is being fuelled by black magic and witchcraft. This is what the region must fight through awareness campaigns, he says.
Tanzania has enacted harsh laws to stop the trade. A number of people have been arrested and jailed for long periods but the attacks continue. A Kenyan who crossed the border with a friend with the condition recently, intending to sell him to the black magicians was jailed for 16 years.
Mr Khalfani, the last born in a family of five, says growing up with albinism in the rural setting was a traumatic experience given that few bothered to develop an interest in the genetic condition and so he was ostracised. Now he wants to use his high profile position to change all that.
"My parents took me to school like my other siblings knowing one day I would educate the society on albinism," he says.
However, he is quick to clear a misconception that he was elected on sympathy votes. "I was voted in because my people believed in me first as a leader."
Mr Khalfani won the Lindi Town constituency seat in southern Tanzania, beating a ruling party candidate who had held it for 15 years.
He says his family loved him unconditionally as a boy, but he was mistreated by his schoolmates because he looked different.
Mr Khalfani says his siblings did not treat him any different, even though he was the only one with albinism.
But the reception was not so rosy beyond the family fence. "Friends refused to play with me. They mocked and ridiculed me," he told the Nation at the Nairobi Safari Club before he gave a public lecture.
He went to Mingoyo Primary School. However, due to the low vision that comes with albinism, he could hardly read the blackboard and pleas to his teacher to re-position him went unheard.
This could have cost him what he believes was a chance to join a good secondary school. But this did not deter him from succeeding in life and he got a place at Mkonge Secondary School.
Unfortunately, he could not proceed with education due to lack of fees and was thus forced to engage in farming on his parents' farm.
His sojourn into politics began when Tanzania adopted multi-party democracy in 1992.
"There was freedom to join any party and the thirst to find one that considered persons with special needs drove me to the Civic United Front Party," he says.
Their slogan, Haki Sawa Kwa Wote (Equal Rights for All), was a platform to highlight the needs of persons with disabilities, he adds.
He won the parliamentary seat on the second attempt.
He is married to Fatuma and is a father to seven-year old Shuweikha, whom he named after his mother.
"She was a source of inspiration and she believed in me when all others in the society thought I would amount to nothing," Mr Khalfani says.
Away from the political realm, Mr Khalfani delights in reading political journals from across the globe and following keenly on laws and regulations passed in favour of persons with disabilities in a bid to accept them as able people in the society.
Daily Nation:*- News*|E. Africa