Statistics show that since 2014, more than 170 albinos have been attacked or killed in Malawi because of false beliefs that concoctions mixed with their body parts bring luck and wealth.
“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,” said Vasco.
Rights groups say the hiring of albino officers will help rebuild public confidence in the police, after some officers were connected to such attacks.
In June, the High Court in Blantyre sentenced police officer Chikondi Chileka and four others to 30 years imprisonment with hard labor, after finding them guilty of transacting in human tissue. The body parts came from MacDonald Masambuka, a man with albinism murdered in 2018.
Vasco and Mhlanga are also the first people with the rare genetic pigment disorder working in Malawi’s state security organization.
Young Mahamba is the president of the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi or APAM.
He said there was a change in policy after his association and other campaigners lobbied for police to hire albinos.
“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,” said Mhlanga.
However, a representative for Malawi Police Service, Peter Kalaya, said there was no change in policy. He said the problem was that people with albinism were not applying for police jobs.
“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,” said Kalaya.
He said police do not expect any special contribution from Vasco and Mhlanga toward combating attacks on albinos.
“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.
Kalaya encourages other people with albinism to apply for jobs in the police service, saying the service does not discriminate against anyone in terms of skin pigment disorders.