Author Archives: Adam Bemma

A modern day Mother Teresa: Tanzania’s Sister Martha

Martha Mganga

By Adam Bemma

ARUSHA, Tanzania – Meet Martha Mganga. She’s a 50-year-old Tanzanian woman with albinism.

She’s not afraid to use the term “albino” when referring to herself and others living with this condition. Albinism is defined as a rare, non-contagious, genetically-inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world.

As the first born out of three albino children (seven children in total, four being non-albino) Mganga’s father abused her psychologically. She recounts in vivid detail how residents in her village blamed her for everything that went wrong, from bad harvests to seasonal weather changes, believing she was a curse upon them.

This lead her to contemplate suicide, as Mganga couldn’t bear the mental anguish anymore.

“When I was a teenager I tried killing myself several times,” she said. “I threw myself into a river because I didn’t want to be a burden on my family. But God had another plan for me and I washed up on the shore, alive.”

For almost 30 years, Mganga has worked with albino children to educate and empower. She teaches these kids, and family members, about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.

People with albinism lack pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all albinos are visually impaired. They may also have a shortened life span due to lung disease or life-threatening skin cancers, states the UN.

Mganga, single-handedly, runs a non-profit organization called Albino Peacemakers. She works alongside established non-governmental organizations; Under the Same Sun and Tanzania Albino Society, to help provide sunscreen, sunglasses and hats to albinos across the country.

According to the UN, in Tanzania, and throughout East Africa, albinism is prevalent, with estimates of one in 2,000 people being affected by the condition.

So far this year, attacks against albinos have increased dramatically in Tanzania. In 2008, BBC Swahili bureau chief Vicky Ntetema exposed to the world how albinos were murdered and graves robbed for body parts, to be used for witchcraft purposes.

Ntetema’s investigative stories caused an international outcry, one which continues to this day.

Mganga says Ntetema’s journalism gave her reason to branch out and begin work as a peacemaker in regions of the country where albinos are seriously threatened, like the area around Tanzania’s second largest city: Mwanza.

“I often visit Mwanza and villages close to Lake Victoria to give talks to Tanzanians about how albinos are ordinary people just like you and me,” she said. “There’s still a stigma associated with being albino. One that leads ignorant and uneducated people to carry out horrendous acts.”

Martha on phone

A recent upsurge in violence against albinos made the UN condemn the violence, with four attacks in a period of sixteen days, three of those being albino children. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay is urging the Tanzanian government to bring those responsible to justice.

“I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks which are committed in particularly horrifying circumstances which have involved dismembering people, including children while they are still alive,” Pillay said.

The UN human rights chief states that successful prosecutions are extremely rare in Tanzania. Out of the 72 murders of people with albinism documented since 2000, only five cases are reported to have resulted in successful prosecutions.

“Apart from physically protecting people with albinism, the government needs to take a much stronger and more pro-active approach to education and awareness-raising campaigns to combat the stigma attached to albinism,” Pillay said.

Mganga just returned to Arusha, her home since leaving the village she grew up in, after spending National Albinism Day in Tanzania raising awareness and trying to battle the discrimination faced by albinos in the country.

Close friends of Mganga refer to her candidly as “Sister Martha” and liken her work to that of Mother Teresa, due to her religious devotion and dedication to society’s less fortunate.

Indigenous art and culture in Arusha

Anna Kombe at ACAA gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Adam Bemma

Located inside the historical Arusha Declaration Museum, near the Uhuru monument, there’s a small workspace for Tanzanian artists and students. The ACAA – Arts and Cultural Association of Arusha – provides studio and gallery space for indigenous artists from Arusha and other nearby regions in Tanzania. Featuring the voices of Seth Kenguru, a renowned painter; Anna Kombe, an artist from Kilimanjaro; and Emanuel Samson, a performance artist from Arusha.

young student artist at ACAA gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[ca_audio url=”http://speakjhr.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/ACCA.mp3″ width=”400″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player” autoplay=”false”]

For photos of the ACAA click here

World Press Freedom Day in Tanzania

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Every May 3, journalists, activists and media organizations in developing countries around the world acknowledge the importance of World Press Freedom Day. This year, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom.

Most don’t celebrate it publicly, or even give reporters the day off work. But deep down there’s a respect for those operating as media professionals in hostile environments.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) state in their most recent report that 70 journalists were killed last year and 232 journalists are currently imprisoned. This is the highest number of journalists in jail on record, states the report.

Over the last year in Tanzania, several journalists have been violently attacked. Just a few weeks ago, the chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) was brutally assaulted outside his home. Last September, a television reporter was killed by police covering a political opposition party demonstration.

According to the CPJ, Tanzania was the seventh deadliest country for journalists in 2012. These unfortunate events have led many Tanzanians to believe the media is being threatened by government forces in the lead up to the 2015 elections.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2013 Press Freedom Index indicates Tanzania dropped 36 points since the previous year, from 34 to 70 (out of 179 countries). This in a year of unprecedented economic growth for the East African nation.

One of the many reasons for this drop is due to President Jikaya Kikwete’s decision to shut down a Swahili language newspaper. Tanzania’s information minister deemed MwanaHalisi too critical and ceased its publication under the guise of the 1976 Newspaper Act.

The directive states the weekly investigative newspaper published news that was false and seditious:

The government has decided to close down the production of Mwanahalisi for an unknown period according to the Newspaper Act of 1976, clause 25(i). The clause will be in effect from July 30th, 2012 based on the government notice 258 published on the government newspaper produced in Dar es Salaam on 27th July, 2012.”

Press freedom activists and media scholars in Tanzania are calling on the Kikwete government to lift the ban on MwanaHalisi, and to abolish this repressive media law. There’s also been a strong push for media reformsto be included in a new constitution.

Back in 2008, MwanaHalisi was banned for reporting on a plot to unseat President Kikwete in the elections. The newspaper’s dedication to investigative journalism has made it a prime target of the Kikwete government. Since then several members of the organization have been attacked in their own newsroom by thugs.

Media reform activist Henry Maina, director of Article 19 East Africa, writes that the ban on MwanaHalisi violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Maina cites Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

From May 3 to 5, 2013, journalists, press freedom activists and media organizations from all over East Africa will meet in Arusha, Tanzania at Naura Springs Hotel for a conference to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The theme of this year’s event is “Safer and better working environment for journalists in East Africa” and will highlight the need for media reforms all over the continent, with a focus on Tanzania, a country where many journalists still operate in fear of reprisals.