Overcoming the Stigma of Albinism

Image: Vlad Sokhin

Oculocutaneous albinism is a recessive genetic condition that causes a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, and affects as many as 1 in 1400 people in sub-Saharan Africa. The absence of the pigment melanin means that people with albinism face an increased risk of skin cancer and are visually impaired.

People with albinism are disproportionately affected by poverty and face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination on the grounds of disability and colour. They are often excluded from education and employment, and disabled by poverty, poor healthcare and social security structures.

The visibility of albinism in Africa has inspired myths and beliefs that can lead to discrimination, in turn limiting the potential of people with albinism to be accepted in and contribute to their communities.

At the most extreme, these beliefs are manipulated for economic gain, resulting in ritual attacks that violate their human rights. Since 2006, more than 600 attacks, including over 200 killings, have been recorded in 27 sub-Saharan African countries by the NGO Under the Same Sun, although many attacks go unreported.

In Cameroon, several local organisations are working to advocate for people with albinism, including the Association pour la Promotion des Albinos au Cameroun (Association for the promotion of people with albinism in Cameroon) and the Association des Femmes Albinos de Cameroun (Association of Albino Women of Cameroon).

Equally, writers such as Nsah Mala are working to change attitudes towards people with albinism in Cameroon through their creative writing. These extracts are taken from his children’s story, Andolo, l’albinos talentueux (2020).

Andolo, the Talented Albino, by Nsah Mala

 

In Mbesa, so many years ago, a special boy 

Was born; and to their village he brought joy. 

With different gifts, many people visited the child. 

When they admired him, his parents both smiled. 

The boy had a unique colour – he was albino. 

Named Mbi, his mates later called him Andolo.

 

Without learning, he built bamboo and wooden cupboards. 

In the cities, his talent made him appear on billboards, 

With beautiful furniture which attracted many tourists 

To their village, where they also met carvers and florists. 

But with Andolo many tourists snapped photographs. 

Afterwards, some sent him many gifts and telegraphs.

 

Link to English Text on Publisher’s website: Andolo, the Talented Albino 

 

Il était une fois un garçon pas comme les autres.
Un bébé albinos venait de naître dans un village appelé
Mbesa. Plusieurs personnes vinrent le voir et lui
apportèrent de nombreux cadeaux et ses parents étaient
très heureux. On l’admirait beaucoup, car le petit garçon
avait une couleur de peau unique. Son nom était Mbi,
mais ses amis préféraient l’appeler Andolo.

 

Andolo avait un immense talent. Sans l’avoir appris
dans une école, il savait construire des armoires en bambou
et en bois. Il devint alors populaire. En ville, on affichait ses
photos sur de nombreux panneaux publicitaires. C’est ainsi
que de nombreux touristes quittaient la ville pour venir
admirer son travail au village. Il y avait aussi des fleuristes
et des sculpteurs dans son village. Les touristes étaient
impressionnés et ne manquaient pas de se photographier
avec lui. Certains lui envoyaient même des cadeaux
et des télégraphes par la suite.

 

Link to French Text on Publisher’s website: Andolo, l’albinos talentueux (French)