The situation of persons with disabilities in Zambia regarding inclusiveness in developmental agenda, political, social and economic sectors as compared to the Dr. Kaunda era and neighbour region is terrible. Successive administrations have overlooked that disability is not incapability… President Sata should understand that people with disabilities have been fighting for their inclusion at all levels of society and governance system.

The situation of persons with disabilities in Zambia regarding inclusiveness in developmental agenda, political, social and economic sectors as compared to the Dr. Kaunda era and neighbour region is terrible. Successive administrations have overlooked that disability is not incapability even if our society seems to believe that disabled people are a burden to society and themselves.

President Sata should understand that persons with disabilities far since 1959 have been fighting for their inclusion and mainstream at all levels of society and governance system. Regrettably, we persons with disabilities have not succeeded due to lack of political will among elected leaders pinned with environmental and legal barriers. What is even more disturbing to us persons with disabilities is the fact that even those interest groups (Youth and Women, HIV/AIDS) which were only born yesterday have received more respect, inclusion, recognition and attention that we persons with disabilities. What we only hear are empty political rhetoric. This is an affront frustrating to the integrity and intelligence of our heroes and to us, the young generation in disability movement.

Our political leaders are to be blamed for this exclusion and are liable to the current miserable plights of persons with disabilities in Zambia. We would expect that when important national issues are being discussed during important events, issues of disability would be part and parcel of the agenda. This is not the case. Speaking for myself as young disability rights activist, it would be helpful if President Sata demonstrated political leadership toward the issues and assure the power of persons with disabilities by immediately nominating two or three persons with disabilities in parliament and creating a disability advisory desk at the State House and stand alone Ministry of Disability. All we hear of are women fork appointments, how women should attain the SADC protocol on gender representation, traditional leaders, Youth programs, HIV/AIDs etc. Where are disability agendas for meaningful inclusion in developmental sectors?

If the supreme laws of our country and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are properly followed and interpreted by those who drive the system, persons with disabilities should not be where they are today in terms of political, social, economic exclusion. The only times when persons with disabilities receive due attention at all is when politicians are busy soliciting for votes in a coming election. The question that the ruling party, in particular the PF, should reflect and respond to is shall persons with disabilities be only important partners in development when elections are underway? Shouldn’t we be thought of even when no elections are coming? The ruling party should emulate countries like Uganda and South Africa which have realised that an inclusive society means, inter alia, having persons with disabilities in legislature, running important offices and participating as partners in inclusive developmental agendas.

The major reason why persons with disabilities have not made any impact in our country is because of the lack of political will among our leaders and the lack of our representation. The men and women who sit in our parliament are not disabled, and even with the best intentions these MPs cannot articulate disability issues in the same way that an MP with a disability would be able to do so. As a result, so many bills that are passed in our parliament that directly or indirectly affect persons with disabilities are translated into laws without the inputs of persons with disabilities. The currently disability bill before parliament should be rejected on the ground that it lacks broad consultations.  Only a privileged few were selected to contribute to the Draft Bill thereby raising fears of disfranchising to suit one side.  Article 4 of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires State Parties to promote the full realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities, without discrimination of any kind by adopting legislative, administrative and other measures to implement the rights contained in the CRPD; adopting legislative, administrative and other measures to abolish discrimination against persons with disabilities; protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programs; not engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the CRPD and ensuring that the public sector acts in conformity with the CRPD and taking measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability.

Therefore, the Youth with disabilities movement strongly recommends withholding the Disability Bill pending further review. Regression is not permitted.

The modern thinking of an inclusive society is to change of mindset and shift from the charity / medical approach to a human rights-based approach. Given the rate at which our lives as persons with disabilities are deteriorating, one may fear that soon persons with disabilities could go into nothingness. President Sata and his administration should realize that equality entails that persons with disabilities are equal to all citizens and have the full rights and potential as all others, including participation in the governance process. No amount of speechifying will help if, at the end, that rhetoric cannot put three meals on the table of marginalized persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities need to be closely consulted on all issues affecting us and be integrated into the government machinery so that we are part and parcel of value chain of government.

The challenges are on the shoulders of persons with disabilities to turn up in large numbers for the planned Hungry Walk Campaign scheduled on April 23rd – 26th, 2012 to press the President to establish a Ministry of Disability and Disability Advisory Desk at all levels of Executive branch of government. We should work together to remove these barriers to create a better tomorrow with a generation looking up with pride.


Featured Image Credit: Bread for the World via Compfight cc

Written by Musukwa Frank

Musukwa Frank, Publicity Secretary – African Youth with Disabilities Network and Executive Director of Zambia Deaf Youth and Women