Month: July 2012

Implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), Robert Nkwangu Tells African Leaders

Q. Can you kindly introduce yourself and tell us what you do

My names are Robert Nkwangu. I am a Ugandan male. I am a graduate with a Masters in Social Sector Planning and Management. I engage in social research and project planning and management for social development projects. I am currently a youth worker and besides that, I am a disability activist and an advocate for an all-inclusive society – a society where everyone achieves equal opportunities regardless of status physically, socially, politically or economically. I have worked with and for a number of mainstream civil society organisations locally and internationally.

Q. How did you get involved in advocating for people with disabilities?

It was when I joined the University for my Bachelor’s degree that I realised the challenges my colleagues / students with disabilities (PWDs) face. I saw PWDs struggling to enter tall buildings with no lifts / ramps to attend lectures; I saw blind students being discriminated by the non-disabled, and deaf people without sign language interpreters during lectures. I then decided to take up arms to advocate for the rights of these people. The starting point was when I was elected Speaker for students with disabilities at the university. Since then, I have been involved in disability work in different organisations and in different capacities. And I guess you know very well, that I am a person who cannot keep silent on issues which have to do with disability even within the AYP.

Q. What are the peculiar challenges young people with disabilities face in Africa as compared to their counterparts in other countries?

In general, I would say the challenges are many and PWDs face similar challenges, however, the level of development implies that young people with disabilities (YWDs) in Africa are not in position to enjoy better facilities / resources compared to their counterparts in developed countries. For instance, technological advancement in developed countries makes it easier for the deaf to communicate in sign language on their phones (TTY technology). They also have translations / captions on television broadcast information which is not the case in Africa. Assistive devices such as high quality hearing aids for the deaf, electronically controlled wheelchairs, writing boards for people with celebral palsy, computer technologies for the blind are all limited in Africa.

There are limited facilities in Africa to support education for YWDs and as such, the illiteracy rate is very high compared to other countries. Medical facilities to treat, care for and prevent possible disability are also scarce / limited. And the poor livelihoods of many YWDs imply that they cannot afford the few available services / facilities.

More so, African cultural beliefs and perspectives intensify the negative attitudes towards YWDs. They are seen as outcasts, a curse and branded beasts of burden. Albinos are hunted and offered as sacrifices in witchcraft; people with epilepsy are believed to have “spirits” as well as those with mental disabilities. This translates into stigma and discrimination.

Q. What one policy can Governments in Africa adopt to better the lot of people with disabilities?

This is a very good question technical wise. Thanks. For your information, in 2006, the UN adopted a comprehensive Law – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Even though, there are a number of domestic legislations in different African countries in favour of PWDs, I believe that the UNCRPD if implemented / domesticated in these countries will be a major step towards promoting the rights and freedoms of Africa’s PWDs. The convention reaffirms that all PWDs have fundamental rights and aims to protect and ensure full enjoyment of these rights and promote respect for their inherent dignity. Article 29 of the convention for example talks about participation in political and public life on an equal basis with others and requires countries to take appropriate measures to ensure that PWDs exercise their right to freedom of expression and opinion. I do therefore wish to reiterate that the UNCRPD and its optional protocol if adopted by governments in Africa will aid in the mission for realisation of the universal rights of all people.

Q. Have you faced or experienced any discrimination in the course of your work?

Hhmmn, you want my employers to note this? Ok. Yes, why not? To be honest, I have experienced it and I believe every PWD has faced some sort of discrimination in his / her life history. But personally, I am used to it. And as an empowered YWD, take it or leave it, I tell you, those who know me, cannot dare try to challenge me when it comes to issues of equality and non-discrimination, or I can spit fire – my armour being the available human rights instruments / legislations. My view however is that we should value diversity and people should be looked at based on their abilities and not disability. The struggle continues.

Q. Do you think that the AYP provides equal opportunity for everyone including those from minority or vulnerable groups?

Hooray…, thanks for this question. Tricky as it is, I would say Yes, I believe the AYP considers equality and non-discrimination as one of her values. However, believe me you, this could not have been possible without my availability in the AYP and a few individuals who have been supportive / partners in advocacy and lobbying to ensure equal opportunities for the disadvantaged groups in the AYP. Maybe we could agree here that equal opportunities cannot be achieved or realized without the minorities / vulnerable groups being able to express / speak for themselves.

Q. Where do you see AYP over the next five years?

Well, I believe with commitment, transparency and team work amongst members, the AYP will be a strengthened, well known and influential platform for lobbying and advocacy for Africa’s youth – the world over. This will be possible if we are creative and innovative in our approach to work compared to the other youth groups. Whatever challenge arises, our motto should remain – never give up.