Two Malawian nationals recently became the country’s first police officers with albinism after they graduated from a police training school in the southeastern African nation.
According to VOA, rights groups say their recruitment should have an impact on the clamp down on attacks on Malawians with the rare genetic pigment disorder. They added that it should also bring back police confidence after some officers were implicated in such crimes.
Police constables Hamid Vasco and Brenda Mhlanga were among new recruits who graduated on Friday after undergoing training for six months. They officially became officers with the Malawi Police Service on Monday.
Vasco, 25, said he applied for enlistment because he wanted to help end attacks on Malawians with albinism. Since 2014, there have been more than 160 recorded attacks including over 20 murders, according to Amnesty International.
Among some peoples of Africa, especially in the central, eastern, and southern parts of the continent, albinos are perceived to possess magical powers.
Body parts of albinos are sought by killers who are directed by spiritualists to either ingest these parts or secretly keep them. If one does this, the belief is that any sort of material or spiritual desire will be fulfilled.
“So, this gave me the [opportunity] to apply to be a police officer so that I can work hand in hand with my fellow officers on issues of investigating the cases and crimes concerning the killing and abduction of persons with albinism,” Vasco said.
Rights groups also said the recruitment of the two officers will help improve the public’s trust in the police after some officers were linked to attacks on albinos. In June, a Malawian police officer and four other individuals were convicted of transacting in human tissue and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Their case was linked to the body harvesting of an albino man who was killed in 2018.
Young Mahamba, who is the president of the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) told VOA that there was a policy amendment after the organization and other campaigners advocated for the recruitment of albinos into Malawi’s police service.
“APAM as an organization, and all other stakeholders, we have been advocating for people to understand albinism and to know that albinism is not a limit. So, we have seen positive development. For example, we have seen a person with albinism [for the first time] being a member of parliament. This shows that the attitude is changing, and we will gear up,” Mahamba said.
But a representative for Malawi Police Service, Peter Kalaya, denied any policy change. He said the reason why the Malawi police service had not had an albino on the force was that people with the rare genetic pigment disorder weren’t applying to be enlisted.
“There is no specific change of policy because we have the requirements which each and every person who wants to join the police service must be satisfied. And these two managed to meet those conditions and they even managed to succeed in both physical and classroom training,” Kalaya said, adding that the recruitment of Vasco and Mhlanga won’t have any special impact on their efforts toward clamping down albino attacks.
“Their coming will of course add something because having them in the service might be a message to those people who perpetrate these acts. For example, sending a message to perpetrators that ‘Okay, these people they can also be police officers, they can also carry guns.’ But in terms of efforts at investigating, prosecuting or following up on cases to do with attacks and killings of people with albinism, we were capable, and we are still capable,” he said.