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Making a case for albinos

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With Mabvuto Banda:

Senseless killings and attacks targeting people with albinism happening in our country are being fuelled by systemic failures in Malawi’s criminal justice system which leaves members of this vulnerable group at the mercy of criminal gangs.

Since November 2014, at least 21 people with albinism have been killed while seven more have reported crimes such as attempted murder or abduction. Albinism is a rare non-contagious, genetic condition present at birth that results in absence of pigmentation in the eyes, skin and hair.

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It is estimated that between 7000-10000 people live with albinism in Malawi. Several reports from authorities that I have read say erroneous beliefs and superstitions have put the safety and lives of people with albinism at risk, including from killings, abductions, and mutilations. Societal attitudes about albinism are not changing, and people with albinism continue to be at risk of attacks with some children being abducted and sold by family members.

Of course from the legal point of view authorities have tried their best to put in stronger legislation since 2016, including reforms to the Penal Code and the Anatomy Act, to tackle attacks against people with albinism, but in recent years there has been an alarming resurgence of killings and attacks against this vulnerable group.

Let us look at the a few incidences that have happened to our friends in recent times to appreciate the pain. On 28 February 2017, Mercy Zainabu Banda, a 31-year-old woman with albinism was found murdered in Lilongwe with her hand, right breast and hair removed.

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On 10 January 2017, 19-year-old Madalitso Pensulo was killed after he was invited for When you look at the electoral process in the hard light of logic, you see the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) running a highly distributed, incredibly robust system of checks and balances that’s almost impossible to undermine owing to its complexity and transparency.

But it’s also vastly redundant: a case in point is the over 700 voter certificates from the central region being found in Mangochi this week, which is voter fraud. Without prejudging whether the 2019 contest will be clean or not, it’s therefore important to ask how the election might be rigged, and how this could be stopped.

There may be no plans afoot to rig the elections, but in matters of such great importance it’s better to be safe than sorry. So how can the process be safeguarded? When it comes to the risk of the vote being inflated, the answer is straightforward: international election monitors need to overcome their risk aversion and ensure that the region is thoroughly covered.

Deploying a parallel vote tabulation based on a sample of polling stations would also make it possible to tell whether turnout is artificially high. The solution to the fiddling of election figures is also straightforward, although it will require political will. If the electoral commission agrees to accept the constituency level results as final – unless there are exceptional cases that would require a full and transparent investigation – domestic observers and the different political parties will be able to record all of the results as they are announced, and use these to ensure that the national total adds up.

That leaves the more tricky issues of fake polling streams and the breakdown of election technology. It is IN simple words I will define tempting to think that the solution to a breakdown is a technical one – that if the electoral commission learns from its previous mistakes it will be possible to ensure that the system works.

But if the threat to the electoral process is political rather than logistical, better preparations will not help. It is therefore important for every party to deploy a full set of trained party agents not just in every polling station but also in every polling stream. This will ensure that the manual process cannot be abused even if the technology fails, and it will enable any fake polling streams to be identified and reported.

This conclusion is probably not one that the parties themselves will want to hear because it involves a lot of hard work and money. But it is the only thing that will guarantee that the outcome of the election represents the will of the people.

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