With its evening gowns, celebrity judges and tears of joy, the beauty pageant in Kenya’s capital was like others elsewhere, except for one thing – all 20 contestants who strutted, sashayed and swaggered down the catwalk had albinism.
In the world’s first contest of its kind, 10 men and 10 women competed in the Mr and Miss Albinism Kenya pageant this month in Nairobi. Its motto was “Beauty Beyond the Skin”.
The competition, which drew a crowd of about 1,000 including Deputy President William Ruto, was designed to celebrate people with albinism – who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes – and challenge stigma and persecution.
“Even when I was dating, it was difficult for girls to say I’m handsome,” said Isaac Mwaura, Kenya’s first parliamentarian with albinism and founder of the Albinism Society of Kenya, which organized the pageant.
“I knew I was handsome (but) people with albinism are seen as not beautiful, as not good-looking, and that has an effect on their self esteem,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
People with albinism are frequently shunned, attacked and even killed across Africa. In many countries, their body parts are believed to bring wealth and good luck and are prized in witchcraft for use in charms and magical potions.
Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting up to one in 15,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa.
Witch doctors are willing to pay as much as $75,000 for a full set of albino limbs for use in black magic, according to the Red Cross.
Attacks on albinos in Africa rose at the end of last year, linked to a growing demand from political hopefuls seeking good fortune in the run-up to elections in several countries, according to the U.N.’s first human rights expert on albinism.