AT the recent Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)’ week in Dodoma, the question on how Tanzania can successfully get disability on the 2025 development agenda was vivid and it came out so powerfully that it was prudently discussed and carefully deliberated on.
From what I heard, no one can make a clear and simple conclusion that the platforms provided for the agenda did come up with final resolutions, but encouragingly enough, at least the issue was declared critical and that it does not only remain imperative and significant, but should become an agenda for, and in almost every person with good will for the disabled population.
But why any discussion surrounding disability brings hot output and sentimental observations?
Well, the answer is simple and clear. No one can refute the fact that people living with disabilities encounter greater poverty than their counterparts with none, across a variety of dimensions, including lower educational attainment, less access to employment and greater health related expenditure.
Unfortunately, although the general public is concerned about rights of persons with disabilities, sadly common ideas and initiatives which would most help in achieving disability social inclusion seems not strong and vibrant among many stakeholders.
This is why there is still a lot of remarks and interpretations suggesting that disability social inclusion should now focus on policy action, a stronger evidencebase initiative, mechanisms for directly influencing political will and consultation with people living with disabilities, as well as aggregating disability with other vulnerable groups.
As to whether this will work, is a matter of waiting to see what will happen. Other people have suggested that lack of research in the area and poor coordination between key stakeholders continues to hamper disability inclusion in most African countries.
And I am concerned about inclusion, because it is not enough to keep classifying people living with disability as the largest minority group with a greater likelihood of falling into extreme poverty.
I am of the opinion that whoever is interested in ensuring the need for presence, should seek to include the fact that people living with disabilities are frequently forgotten in mainstream policymaking.
Likewise, talking about inclusion without emphasising the concern that people living with disabilities face stigma and discrimination in their communities is but an exclusion of highest level.
Similarly, talking about inclusion without raising the alarm that people living with disabilities are often denied their basic rights such as food, education, employment and access to health services, is but a serious elimination in itself.
And I use the term “social inclusion” purposely because it is more than a common perception of integration in that it also includes the requirement of reasonable accommodation for the personal needs of the person with disability.
In my view, people living with disabilities must become part of the development agenda. There shall be no success if the general public does not listen to the voices of stakeholders in the social inclusion initiatives especially civil society, particularly those of marginalised groups. We should not be tempted to believe that all is bad though. No.
We must not forget to cherish all recognition efforts of disability issues by governments. Let us revere and give credit to those countries which have manifested significant and exemplary strides manifested in their efforts to ensure social inclusion.
I commend those governments which have recognised the importance of bringing people living with disabilities and their organisations into the national development process.
While in some parts of the continent people living with disabilities continue to be disproportionately represented, we congratulate those who have gone far by ensuring parliamentary representation of people with disabilities.
We should cheer those who have done so in many ways. Some are diligently promoting it in areas such as those of creation of national disability umbrella bodies to increase disability activism, formation of disability specific legislation, including reference of disability in their Constitutions.
Others have increased, in the Primary and Secondary school enrolment of children with disabilities. This is good news. But on the other hand, there is bad news.
Let us stand firm and continue vigorously to fight the war on exclusion. The fight must continue because we are still faced with serious challenges. In my view for example, no one can disprove the fact that we are still faced with issues such as those of negative attitudes towards people living with disabilities.
Sadly, some stakeholders have not at all considered lack of capacity among people living with disabilities and their organisations as critical, and others have not deliberated on lack of human and financial capacity of the bodies in charge of disability, and lack of policy implementation as something precarious.
Put it simply we are still faced with many problems including having people who exclude people with disabilities in the designing and implementation of development programmes.
But more seriously is the fact that we still experience very limited political will from some policymakers. It is sad that we still have people who do not see disability as a crosscutting issue, and a rights-based issue.
This, among other things, has led to lack of coordination among and between stakeholders working in the disability field. Similarly, it has led to disability research not being prioritised and this has quite hampered selfrepresentation and visibility of people living with disabilities. So, back to my agenda of today.
Let us seek to remember people with disabilities in all we do. It is Margaret Meade whose wisdom can warm up todays, she says - If we are to achieve a richer culture, we must weave one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
It is not time to allow situations where disable people continue to be marginalised in both local and national development processes.
This we stand for because we know that marginalisation has a serious negative impact as it contributes to the high rates of chronic poverty among people with disabilities.
This is contrary to the desire for high quality livelihood for all Africans and especially Tanzanians. William E. Lightbourne’s appeal suits as final word for my article today, he says - hold my hand and walk with me.
We must break the back of social inequity; we must empower every individual living with a disability to live with dignity in an inclusive society.
- The author, Dr Alfred Sebahene, is Ag. Head of Department of Corruption Studies, Lecturer, Researcher, and Social Issues Analyst at St John’s University of Tanzania, Dodoma. Email address: arsebahene2@ yahoo.co.uk alfredsebahene@gmail. com Mobile: 0767 233 997.