Fighting for Land and Shade | Land Portal

Razina is different.  Unlike most people in Madagascar, his skin is pale.  His hair is blonde and his eyes are a light shade of pink.  Razina has albinism.

He became aware of just how different he was at a very early age.  When he arrived at school for the first time, all the other children teased and harassed him.  The bullying continued throughout his time at school.  “They treated me as less than human, like a dog,” he recalls.

Gradually, Razina realised it wasn’t only children that were prejudiced against him.  Everyone from neighbours to total strangers were terrified by his appearance.  They called him matoatoa (ghost).  Strangers would cross the road to avoid him, while others would shout abuse or spit at him in disgust.

As in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, people with albinism in Madagascar are stigmatised and socially excluded.  Their presence is often considered a curse on the family, or even the entire community.  People with albinism are feared.  Fear breeds hatred, which leads to discrimination and violence.

Born into prejudice

Razina’s parents struggled to accept having a child with albinism.  When he was born with the unmistakable fair skin, hair and eyes that distinguish those with albinism, they argued bitterly about who was responsible for the genetically inherited condition.  They did not know that both parents must carry the gene responsible for albinism.  Razina’s three older sisters were all born without albinism, which heightened his parents' confusion and suspicions.

The couple’s deep prejudices eventually led them to reject their infant son.  They arranged for him to be adopted.  When their next child, a boy they named Bera, was also born with albinism, the couple had to reluctantly accept their genetic inheritance.  Razina rejoined the family alongside his sisters and baby brother.

Land is life-saving

The family lived together on a large plot of land in the Fitovinany region, south-eastern Madagascar.  The rice and vegetables they grew on their twelve acres was enough to feed the whole family.  It even generated a surplus that they sold in the local market.

The land was so large that many relatives were also invited to farm small plots.  As the boys grew up, their mother’s family were kind and caring towards Razina and Bera.  Their father’s relatives were much more hostile, however.  They were frequently violent towards the boys and discriminated against them at every turn, throughout their childhood.

The climate in south-eastern Madagascar is typically hot and dry.  Exposure to the sun is particularly dangerous for people with albinism.  The condition means they are unable to produce sufficient quantities of melanin, leaving their skin highly vulnerable to skin damage and various forms of cancer.  Razina and Bera were protected from over-exposure to the sun, both at home and at school, where they found shelter and safety in the shade.

Denial of customary rights

When his father died in 2001, as the eldest son, Razina stood to inherit the family’s land as is the custom and the law in Madagascar.  Owning the land would mean he and his brother could avoid toiling in the burning sun as subsistence farmers.  They could lease plots of land, to generate an income, and hire workers to tend the remaining acres.  Razina and Bera would be freed to continue their education and pursue professions that would keep them in the life-saving shade.

Ignoring both customary practice and the law itself, Razina's paternal relatives refused to acknowledge his legal ownership of the land.  He has no doubt this was because of his albinism.  “As the oldest boy in the family, it is my right to inherit the land according to our customs,” Razina says, “but because of my albinism, I am not considered a real person”.  The relatives gradually began to encroach further and further onto the land, building houses and cultivating new areas.

Razina was determined to fight for his land, his birthright.  He took the case to court and won.  The judge ordered bailiffs to evict the squatting family members.  When his relatives appealed the judgement, the Court of Appeal again found in Razina’s favour and reaffirmed his legal inheritance.  And yet, nothing happened.  No bailiffs came and no evictions took place.

Corruption on the land

Today, Razina’s relatives still occupy the land illegally.  They continue to cultivate, construct buildings, and deny access to the rightful owners.  Razina claims his relatives even falsified court documents – reversing the decision in their favour – which he believes were obtained by bribing court officials.

Local police officers have directly threatened Razina and attempted to coerce him into signing over his land title.  Everyone from the Mayor and District Chief, through to civil servants from the land registry, lawyers and other members of the judiciary, are all suspected of corruption and discriminatory practices to alienate Razina from his land.   He has even been prevented from speaking during dialogues to resolve the conflict, simply because of his albinism.

Fear and fury

Razina is angry and scared.  He is learning to control the anger he’s harboured since childhood.  In the past, he would react violently when strangers abused him and spat in his face.  The feelings of anger and frustration remain, but he’s trying to harness his emotions to overcome a system and culture that is working tirelessly against him and his brother.

Fear is harder to control.  The kidnapping and murder of people with albinism is increasing rapidly across the country; fuelled, in part, by the widely-held belief that albinism is the result of sorcery and evil magic.  Body parts of people with albinism are traded for high prices and used in ritual practices that were unknown on the island until recently.  The estimated 8,000 people living with albinism in Madagascar are all in constant danger of being murdered and dismembered, unprotected, as they are, by a society that views them as less than human; as a curse.

Burning determination

Without land and the income it can provide, Razina and Bera must endure the blazing sun each and every day.  They are forced to toil outside – as carpenters and bricklayers – just to provide for their small families.  They must risk the skin cancers that kill an estimated 90% of people with albinism in Africa, before the age of 30.

“It’s very difficult to work in the burning sun, but I have no choice because I have a family to feed.  I wear long clothes but my skin still burns.  It’s agony every time I get burnt and whenever somebody touches me.”

The toxic combination of discrimination and corruption has left Razina and Bera angry, scared, and vulnerable to great dangers.  Unless and until the local administration and judiciary uphold their responsibilities to enforce the court orders, and protect all citizens equally, both men will remain in the gravest danger.

Razina remains determined to take back his land.  He has taken his case to the High Court in Antananarivo and is awaiting a date for the hearing.  “We are the same as other people,” he says, “and we just want to be treated equally”.

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Razina’s story shows how discrimination can make people even more vulnerable and exposed to corruption.  This finding, as well as the myriad ways in which discrimination and corruption interact to deprive individuals and communities of their land rights, is explored in a new report by Transparency International and the Equal Rights Trust: This Beautiful Land.  You can download the report here.

Names and other details have been changed in this story to protect the identities of those involved, at their request.  We are grateful to ‘Razina’ for sharing his story.  We would also like to thank the Association des Albinos de Madagascar for their support and guidance in preparing this article.  Our thanks to colleagues from Transparency International Madagascar, in particular Ketakandriana Rafitoson and Vatsy Ambinina Rakotonarivo for their important contributions.

Related content: 
Library Resource
Corruption, Discrimination and Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa

Corruption, Discrimination and Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa

Informes e investigaciones
Abril, 2024
África, África subsahariana, Kenya, Uganda, Sudáfrica

In 2021, Transparency International and the Equal Rights Trust published Defying Exclusion: Stories and Insights on the Links between Discrimination and Corruption. Bringing together a diverse group of case studies from across the globe, it documented and illustrated the mutually reinforcing links – the vicious cycle – between discrimination and corruption. Defying Exclusion marked the first attempt to systematically explore the phenomena we termed “discriminatory corruption”.

Event
Land Corruption in Africa
23 Abril 2024
África
Kenya
África austral
Global
Organizers: 
Land Portal Foundation
Transparency International

This webinar will explore this intersection with stories from across the continent. Speakers will show how corruption undermines land equity programs designed to address the concentration of wealth and inequality in the land sector in South Africa, and how corruption exacerbates the historical marginalization of the Nubian community in Kenya, among other examples. Speakers will also explore how governments and civil society can effectively respond to the research findings, with a focus on policies and campaigns that promote accountability and information transparency in land governance. 

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