PWDs applaud Justice Minister on disability

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It all appeared like he had staged comedy show, yet he was critically articulating issues affecting persons with disabilities. His audience kept laughing to their ribs. The Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Gen Kahinda Otafire was once again at his best displaying public speaking frolics.

I bet you; this gentle man knows pretty well when and how to apply his choice of diction depending on the situation. On August 29, at a public lecture on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) held at Imperial Royale Hotel, the out spoken army general gave a thrilling display that endeared every one including the sceptics, as he pointed out the insensitivities the community often tosses at the persons with disabilities in all measures.

It turned out that Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum (visually impaired), a Professor of law at the University of Sydney, Austria, the main speaker at the public lecture was not provided with a microphone- stand— forcing professor’s assistant to stand holding out a microphone all through his (professors) presentation.

The theme of the public lecture was: ‘CRPD in a developing country opportunities and Challenges for domestication.’ This oversight, did not go well with the minister. “Should I appreciate the hotel for being insensitive to the Professor, blame them or just pity them!” said a jovial minister as he discussed professor’s presentation.

Underscoring issues raised by the professor in his presentation such as disability insensitive laws and policies, limited access to services among other barriers to the full realisation of PWDs potential as enshrined in international instruments, Otafire said the challenge of domesticating the CRPD lay in the leaders’ lack of mental stability needed to address disability issues. “Why would PWDs become refugees, if their leaders are not mentally ill?” he asked.

His argument points out critical insights as we attempt to understand why PWDs continue living as second class citizens in their own countries despite the existence of both local and international legal instruments. The most obvious of all the many reasons that could explain the scenario is non prioritisation of the interests of the people they serve-including those of persons with disabilities. Often, it is difficult to achieve any results where issues are not prioritised.

It is therefore, obvious that it may as well be difficult to address concerns of persons with disabilities unless they properly put in plans both for government and other development partners such as civil society. From the minister’s assertion, it is clear that a myriad of interventions are required from the government and other stakeholders in ensuring that PWDs realise their potential as well as address what the minister terms as ‘mental illness.’

His (Otafire’s) reference by implications, could mean that the negative community attitudes and lack of knowledge regarding disability issues by the leadership central in policy formulation and decision making process, are real. Secondly, the fact that many stakeholders are still insensitive to the needs of PWDs is a clear indicator that we are yet to live to expectations of the international instruments such as UNCRPD that require state parties to sensitise the community on matters of disability.

It would also be interpreted to mean the laxity among the leadership in fighting corruption— a vice that keeps entrenching PWDs in abject poverty as well as frustrates government efforts in promoting the rights of PWDs —continues to bite. The minister rightly notes it when he said we should collectively reject graft. According to the minister, persons with disabilities should not settle for less than equal enjoyments of human rights.

To walk –the- talk, the minister pledged his support to the disability movement. He pledged to join the struggle by first setting up a disability desk at his ministry to scrutinise all the Bills and Laws at their initial development—this would ensure that all the policies and laws —are disability sensitive.

The disability movement has received this information with great enthusiasm and is keen to see the promises come to pass. Many times pledges such as this have only remained politically motivated. None-the-less we have faith that his promise will disprove that notion. And for this, the minister surely deserves an applause for drumming up such tremendous support to the cause.

Equally, Hon. Suleiman Madada, State Minister for the Elderly and Disability was very appreciative of the gesture exhibited by Hon. Kahinda as well as Professor McCallum for reminding government of her obligations. Of all, what Madada said; what struck me most was his swift action to instruct the Director Social Protection at the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MOGLSD) to take note of the Otafire’s pledge and see how it could be followed up for results.

If only, we could have all ministers act swiftly on matters concerning PWDs as Hon Kahinda and Madada did, probably the disability movement would have a reason to smile. On this note, I would like to once more salute the General.

The writer  Joseph Malinga  is a Communications Manager at NUDIPU

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