Dagnachew B. Wakene is a researcher from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, specialising in studies of inclusive development, human rights and law. As a person with disability, Dagnachew currently works as a part-time Research Associate at World Enabled – a disability and youth focused initiative based in Berkeley, California. He is also a Board Member and Youth Representative at the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (SADPD), as well as an active participant in ongoing regional and global deliberations on the ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda,’ representing the cause of inclusive development and continent.
The term impoverished is often used to describe all groups of society that are victims of poverty. How do impoverished persons with disabilities experience poverty differently or in comparison to persons without disability?
Needless to say, numerous studies over the past decade or two have increasingly reported an alarming rate of disability among individuals living in poverty, affirming the peculiar bi-directional/vicious link between poverty and disability. One is both the cause and consequence of the other such that poverty causes disabilities (through, for instance, poor living conditions, health endangering employment, malnutrition, poor access to healthcare and education opportunities etc.);while disability, on the other hand, results in severe poverty. This means that the most pressing issue faced globally by persons with disabilities is not their specific disability but their lack of equitable access to education, employment, health care and the social and legal support systems. The World Disability Report (2011) stated, in no ambiguous terms, that persons with disabilities comprise 15 to 20 percent of the poorest individuals in developing countries and are often relegated to the margins of society, where they are a perceived as being a 'burden', instead of potential and capable contributors to family and national economic activities.
What are the prospects for disabled children living in Africa and what are the attitudes shared by society towards them?
Africa has one of the largest populations of children with disabilities in the world. Their plight is one of a hidden existence characterized by a series of exclusions from social services, inaccessible infrastructure as well as abuse and neglect. It is asserted, more often than not, that the primary causes of these menaces are, inter alia, inadequate laws and policies, negative and pejorative attitudes, household poverty (e.g. disability-induced poverty, explained above), and inadequate public services that cater for these highly vulnerable groups of children. With this understanding, various, and yet limited endeavours are taking place throughout Africa involving governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), grassroots communities, children with disabilities and their families themselves. Inevitable are approaches comprised of a steadfast commitment and political will, asserting that, with proper support in place, children with disabilities in Africa can be active contributors to the community.
To what extent have African leaders been focused on improving the conditions for disabled persons in the past five years, and what critical issues faced by disabled persons need to be prioritised within future development frameworks?
As implied above, the vast majority of Africans with disabilities are excluded from socio-economic and political participation, virtually guaranteeing that they live as the poorest of the poor. School enrolment for the disabled is estimated at no more than 5-10 percent and as many as 70-80 percent of working age people with disabilities are unemployed.
African governments, jointly as an African Union and in their respective jurisdictions, have manifested some efforts aimed at addressing disability. A cornerstone development furthering the equalization of opportunities of persons with disabilities in Africa was the coming into force, in May 2008, of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – a result of a collective global effort, in which various African countries, CSOs and Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs) had participated. Furthermore, pressures exerted by national and continental DPOs have contributed to the proclamation of the first African Decade of Disabled Persons (2000-2009) at the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government meeting held in Lomé in July 2000. Consequently, the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (SADPD) was established two years later and launched in 2004 with its headquarters based in South Africa. With an aim of promoting awareness and commitment to full participation, equality and empowerment of persons with disabilities in Africa, the Decade has recently been extended to 2019 by virtue of the new Continental Plan of Action (CPOA) promulgated last year in 2012. A process of finalizing the African Disability Protocol (ADP) is also well underway, among several other related activities of framing disability policy and legal structures in the continent.
Nonetheless, given the extent and enormity of challenges that persons with disabilities in Africa routinely undergo, the aforementioned endeavors are simply far from adequate. Coupled with targeting evidence-based and pragmatic intervention programs, there is indeed a need for more research in Africa on topics such as disability patterns, the link between poverty and disability, inclusive development themes etc. Very little disability-focused research has been carried out hitherto.
How much has the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) promoted change at the national and local levels within African states towards the betterment of disabled persons in impoverished situations?
Not much! This is primarily because the MDGs have visibly fallen short of including disability in their package of goals and aspirations. Neither the 8 Goals, nor the 21 Targets and 60 Indicators thereof, have expressly mentioned the estimated one billion people with disabilities (PWDs), 80 percent of who live in developing economies. This major shortcoming has in turn diminished the impact of the MDGs on the betterment of the lives and contributions of persons with disabilities at local, national and regional levels in Africa.
Both my organization and I strongly believe, therefore, that whatever follows the MDGs will need to move beyond a list of non-binding, non-disability inclusive, broad objectives; and that any targets agreed are better linked to binding international bi- tri- and multilateral agreements. In my view, the post-2015 agenda needs to contain all of the existing MDGs, but place increased emphasis on:
- The ratification, domestication and monitoring of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in all countries.
- Greater inclusion of disability in the government's national development plans, the MDGs and the wider implementation of the CRPD.
- Empowering persons with disabilities and strengthening their capacity and involvement in development work, democracy and human rights work.
- The development, support and financial investment of small-scale enterprises, agriculture and related agribusinesses, ensuring the producers retain as much of the value chain of products as possible/feasible; and, of course,
- Increased government accountability alongside efforts to uproot corruption.
How is the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities engaging in the Post- 2015 Development Agenda?
Since the advent of the Post-2015 Agenda, some encouraging and progressive strides have been witnessed, making an irrefutable case for disability inclusion in on-going/upcoming development deliberations and backed by tenets of the CRPD. The Secretariat of African Decade for Persons with Disabilities (SADPD) has been playing a pivotal role through influencing, facilitating and catalysing these on-going deliberations on behalf of the African disability movement, in close collaboration with Member Organizations, key regional and international agencies such as the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Task Teams, governments and several development partners.
On top of ensuring that the entire programs and projects at the SADPD are concomitant with our main objective in the Post-2015 engagements (i.e. putting forth disability inclusion as a cross-cutting theme in all mainstream development affairs of Africa), we are also active participants of certain international forums that are vital in this process. A notable instance of such forums is the UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, set up by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on July 2012. The SADPD is one of the twelve Executive Committee Members of 'Beyond2015' - a global campaign bringing together more than 570 civil society organisations in over 95 countries around the world with a primary goal of influencing the creation of a Post-2015 development framework that succeeds the current MDGs.