NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US: Building a Disability Movement in East Africa

Close-up Of A Hands Protecting Disabled Handicap Icon


Mike O’maera- EAPN

There are over a billion people in the world living with various disabilities.

Persons with disabilities have had to battle against biased assumptions, harmful stereotypes, and irrational fears for many centuries. The stigmatization of disability resulted in the social and economic marginalization of persons with disabilities, and like many other oppressed minorities, left people with disabilities in a severe state of impoverishment for centuries.

The disability movement is the collective voice of persons with disabilities and has kept emphasizing, the phrase “Nothing about Us without Us”.  The slogan reinforces the need to ensure their inclusion in the mainstream life of society.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) that came into force in 2008, is the first legally binding UN treaty to clearly set out the obligations on states to avoid discrimination against disabled people in all its forms and to create a society in which disabled people can fully participate.

The entry of philanthropy into the disability sector in Tanzania and Uganda gains its credence from this treaty.  Facilitated by the East Africa Philanthropy Network (EAPN) and other partners advocacy has focused on raising the levels of traditional and non-traditional support in lieu of pumping in more resources to achieve their goals.  

Over the last two years, the movement has established links with the private sector and other vibrant funders working groups in both Tanzania and Uganda that bring together all funders in the sector.  The donors’ roundtables have been vital in coalescing the voices of the funders so as to advocate for the work they are doing in the sector. This has resulted in the elimination of duplications in program work and supported in reorganizing the sector for better results in working towards inclusion.

The disabled person’s organizations (DPOs), have equally grown in capacity and gained skills that are meaningful in dealing with programmatic work.  They have also matured in their approach to partnerships and collaboration.

The history of the Disabled Persons Organisation (DPOS)’s is much shorter in comparison with the history of service providers. DPOs emerged as a result of a felt need to react to the type of services offered by service providers or organizations for persons with disabilities that was fueled by increased awareness as a result of formal education.

A major concern was the absence of persons with disabilities in the running and management of the service organizations and therefore failure to be consulted about their own welfare. This development gave rise to disability groups in which people shared their experiences and this has led to the modern disability movement of organizations of persons with disabilities.

Philanthropy has supported the growth of DPO’s at grassroots levels that have taken the form of national associations and community-based groups formed and managed by persons with disabilities to advocate and to pressure for services and participation in life at various levels. They have continued to press for both services and recognition of persons with disabilities and have been very important in raising awareness.

The movement also played a major role in advocating for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the post-COVID-19 development agenda discussions.  The proposals on disability inclusion are one of the most successful ones among all groups.

The disability sector has been gearing for continued engagement with the private sector with the overall goal of raising the well-being of persons with disabilities. There are plans to bring on board the private sector into incubation programs to support persons living with disabilities to enable them to serve in the manufacturing sector among others industries.

The movement recognizes that the push for inclusion will require all stakeholders to push governments in the region to honor their commitments to the CRPD but also to drive legislative reform to enhance inclusion.  

The future belongs to an all-inclusive society where all persons are given equal opportunities.

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