Robin Hammond Documents the Brutal Treatment of Africans with Mental Illness

Robin_Hammond_PhotographyAbdi Rahman Shukri Ali, 26, has lived in a locked tin shack for two years. He stays with his family in Dadaab in Eastern Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp, where Somalis fleeing conflict and famine have sought safety. Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya. June, 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

Abandoned by governments, forgotten by the aid community, neglected and abused by entire societies. Africans with mental illness in regions in crisis are resigned to the dark corners of churches, chained to rusted hospital beds, locked away to live behind the bars of filthy prisons.

Some have suffered trauma leading to illness. Others were born with mental disability. In countries where infrastructure has collapsed and mental health professionals have fled, treatment is often the same – a life in chains.

After 12 years of documenting human rights issues I’ve never come across a greater assault on human dignity. These people are unseen and therefore their suffering ignored. This project is being produced in the hope that no longer will ignorance be able to be used as an excuse for inaction.—Robin Hammond

Known for his work documenting human rights and development issues around the world, photographer Robin Hammond has undertaken a long term project documenting the lives of the mentally ill in Africa, a project he calls Condemned. Hammond has traveled extensively throughout African countries in crisis—to the war devastated areas of Congo, South Sudan, Mogadishu and Uganda, to refugee camps in Somalia and Dadaab, and to Nigeria where he explored corrupt facilities for the mentally ill. The work is powerful, raw, heart wrenching. Condemned unveils neglect, abuse and the stripping away of human liberty, while delivering an impact only a photograph could.

Hammond is the winner of the 2013 FotoEvidence Book Award. Currently based in Paris, he is represented by Panos Pictures.

Robin_Hammond_PhotographyAbandoned by their governments, forgotten by the aid community, neglected and abused by entire societies: A voiceless minority resigned to the dark forgotten corners of churches, chained to rusted hospital beds, living out their lives behind the bars of filthy prisons – Lives condemned to quiet misery… These are the mentally disabled living in Africa’s regions in crisis. Severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away in Juba Central Prison for years on end. The new nation of South Sudan faces a tremendous challenge to build a modern country capable of caring for all of its citizens. Juba, Sudan. January 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

Robin_Hammond_PhotographyThis 14 year old boy has been tied up for six years. His mother refuses to have him admitted to Gulu Hospital which is only two kilometers away. Gulu, Northern Uganda. April 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

Robin_Hammond_PhotographyDue to insufficient staff numbers, family members are encouraged to stay with patients at Brothers of Charity Sante Mental. This relative would often beat, tie up and drag the patient when she did not obey his instructions. Goma, The Democratic Republic of Congo. June 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

Robin_Hammond_PhotographyNative Doctor Lekwe Deezia claims to heal mental illness through the power of prayer and traditional herbal medicines. While receiving treatment, which can sometimes take months, his patients are chained to trees in his courtyard. One cries and says he is beaten regularly, and about how cold he gets and that he is attacked by mosquitos every night. His body is covered in bites. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

Robin_Hammond_PhotographyReverend Apostle S.B.Esanwi, Doctor of Divinity, treats people with mental illness with prayer and traditional medicines which usually consist of roots and leaves crushed in water. He claims to have cured hundreds of patients. Many stay for months in his compound. Some are chained throughout their time there. The oil industry that has brought billions of dollars into the Nigerian economy has arguably been a disaster for the Delta region from where it is extracted. Corruption, mass inequality and violence have plagued the region ever since the discovery of the resource. In a society that cannot trust corrupt Government organizations, churches have become a sanctuary from the perceived wickedness and greed of the modern culture. In regions where both fortune and sickness are attributed to the spirit world, mental illness is considered a curse. Spiritual remedies are often sought, and chains regularly used as restraints. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

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