Sixty-Five “Witch Doctors” Arrested in Tanzania in Connection to Recent Killings
Police have arrested 65 “witch doctors” suspected of involvement in recent ritualistic killings of children in various parts of Tanzania. Inspector General of Police Simon Sirro told reporters that 45 witch doctors from Simiyu (in the northern part of the country) and 20 more from Njombe (in the southwest) are being held in interrogation “over the spate of heinous killings.”
The events in question, which resulted in the deaths of 10 children, have unfolded in a number of installments over the last couple of months. In December of last year, a number of children were reported missing in Njombe district. Following a months-long search operation in the area, the bodies of 10 children were discovered in late January. The children ranged in age from two to nine years old; most of the bodies were mutilated. “So far, we have found 10 bodies, and most of their private parts and teeth had been removed,” said Tanzania’s deputy health minister Faustine Ndugulile.
Due to the state in which the bodies were found, authorities have concluded that witchcraft was involved. Ndugulile said the murders must have been “linked to witchcraft practices because that is the trend for such crimes, where herbalists ask people to get these human parts for money rituals.”
Though authorities do not believe it to be true for this case, killings of this sort are usually linked to “albino killings,” which are strikingly prevalent in Tanzania and other countries in the region like Malawi. According to Ikponwosa Ero, the UN Human Rights Council’s expert on albinism, an estimated 10,000 Malawi albinos face “‘extinction’ if they continue to be killed and harvested for body parts that are used in witchcraft ceremonies.”
A shockingly similar issue exists in Tanzania.
According to Amnesty International, “people with albinism are being targeted for their body parts by those who believe that they contain magical powers and bring good luck.” And if it doesn’t bring good luck, it can certainly bring wealth. According to a 2009 report by the International Federation of the Red Cross, a senior Tanzanian police officer said that the body of a person with albinism could be worth as much as US $75,000.
According to the NGO, Under the Same Sun, there have been 151 recorded killings and attacks on people with albinism in Tanzania since 2006. There have also been numerous reports of albino remains being robbed from graveyards.
As a result of the dangerous situation in which albinos find themselves, the Tanzanian government has established a number of “temporary holding shelters” designed to protect and educate children with albinism. Unofficial estimates put the number of children in these institutions at around 1000. While this separation has caused the number of physical attacks on albinos to decline, the sentiments that fuel the obsession persist.
According to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, about 93% of Tanzanians reported a belief in witchcraft. More than 100,000 witch doctors are registered with the government’s Traditional and Alternative Health Practice Council, and millions more are not registered.
Due to the widespread belief in the capabilities of witch doctors across Tanzania, especially in rural areas, there has been little desire to persecute them. In light of recent killings, like those of the 10 children from Njombe district, this has started to change.
In fact, in 2015, the Tanzanian government announced a nationwide ban on witch doctors as part of efforts to prevent attacks of this sort.
In 2019, police in Tanzania are not only cracking down on witch doctors but also more “traditional doctors” in order to be as thorough as possible.
“I have ordered that every traditional doctor, both registered and unregistered, must be interrogated and inspected,” said Sirro in a statement last week. “And those who will be identified as criminals, then the law will take its course.”