KENYA has been commended by human rights organisations and supporters of persecuted minority groups for hosting the first ever albino beauty contest last week.

The event, which was dubbed “Beauty beyond Skin,” marked the 10th  year anniversary of the Albinism Society of Kenya whose objective is to create more awareness about the medical condition of albinos.

About 20 models exhibited the latest fashions to an enthusiastic audience at the Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi. Organisers said the models were kitted in outfits ranging from uniforms for waiters, policewomen, army officers, carpenters and air hostess in order to highlight that albinos are part of everyday society.

Kenya’s albino community has lived under the shadow of stigmatisation, largely through misinformed and prejudicial views about albinism. In the most extreme cases albinos have been killed for ritual purposes, with their body parts sold to people who believe that they can bring them luck in business or political office.

Although the spate of killings has been declining in recent years, more than 35 albinos had to be evacuated from the towns near the Kenya-Tanzania border in 2015 after an increase in ritual killings, which some commentators linked to politicians seeking to be elected.

Commenting after the show, Loyce Lihanda,  the overall winner of the female category said: “For so long albinos have been treated as half-humans because they were different. In turn this has affected our self-esteem and the ability to utilise and explore our skills and talents. We come from a mentality that we cannot achieve what ‘normal’ people can because we are different. Yet time has proven that we can excel in spheres unimagined, like the aviation fields.”

Isaac Mwaura, the first and only albino Member of Parliament said Kenyans need to change their mindsets about albinos.

“A time is coming when we will have people with albinism serving in the army and police force. We already have some in the National Youth Service, and this is a milestone in achieving inclusion despite the difference in skin colour,” Mwaru said.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government has revelled that it is setting up schemes to help albinos, including a 100-million Kenyan shilling annual allocation for sunscreen, special sunglasses and tax breaks. Preferential employment opportunities in government and free education in primary, secondary, undergraduate and postgraduate levels are also part of a package of measures to be implemented.

Photo of the pageant by Samaa TV