The often forgotten Paralympic Games hardly stirs up the same level of excitement as the Olympics, and to some African spectators, it is laughable because those with a disability are often undermined in the continent.
There have long been issues concerning lack of respect for Africa’s disabled population. In urban areas, many are marginalised in society and seen as a nuisance, often being excluded from education and work opportunities. In the worst case scenarios, especially in rural areas, those born with any physical abnormality, even able-bodied albinos, can be ostracised and accused of witchcraft or being cursed. Some are even disowned and left to fend for themselves.
Last year Sight Savers revealed that one in three children out of school across the world have a disability. Figures from UNESCO suggest that about 23 million disabled children are not being educated. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed to be reached by 2015, is that all children will have primary education, but if a large fraction of the world’s children, which are disabled, continue to be discriminated and deprived, this goal will become unachievable.
While many are born with disabilities- whether physical or mental, many of Africa’s disabled population are victims of diseases such as those that cause blindness and polio, the crippling disease which sometimes leaves it’s victims with paralysis. Moreover, there is often lack of proper health care for such victims. In 2003, the Northern Nigerian state of Kano opposed a polio immunisation programme, claiming it was a Western plot to make people infertile, leading many more into becoming affected by the disease.
Most of Africa’s able-bodied inhabitants struggle to make ends meet and suffer the consequences of extreme poverty. It can be argued that, unfortunately, that means the disabled people of Africa are the world’s most disadvantaged, facing discrimination and little support along with the plight brought on by poverty. Begging for alms often ends up being the best way of surviving for the all-too-forgotten community.
Speaking about the Sierra Leonean organisations he chose to assist after a gruesome civil war, Former British High Commisioner to the country, Peter Penfold, said that he selected mainly the disabled because he ‘felt that although life was tough for everyone in the aftermath of the 11 year rebel war, it was doubly so for those who were disabled in any way.’
For years, African governments have not sufficiently promoted the rights of the disabled but there have been some improvements in recent years. In 2006 Ghana’s parliament passed the National Disability Act and after taking office in January 2009, the late John Atta Mills initiated a series of face-to-face discussions with people with disabilities, which led to the establishment of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities. The country also decided to incorporate disability issues into the national budget and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.This month Sierra Leone’s Commissioner of the National Commission for Persons with Disability, Fredrick Kamara, promised to work tirelessly to promote the interests of those with disabilities in the country. In 2011, the Government of Sierra Leone ratified the Disability Act, along with Togo and since the beginning of this month, Liberia.
Coming back to the Paralympic Games, Botswana’s Olympic Committee has said that it was unable to raise 3.5m kwacha (£6000) to participate. It leaves many with the question of whether more efforts would have been made to raise the money that was lacking, if it was for another international competition that was not aimed at the disabled. It is worth noting that economic limitations are indeed a problem in most African countries and there are perhaps more urgent needs for the continent. A prime example of the lack of facilities the countries are able to provide comes in the case of Congolese Paralympian Dedeline Mibamba Kimbata, who first saw a racing wheelchair just weeks before competing, after it was donated to her. At the opposite, Britain has pumped £50million into disabled athletes over the last four years. The country’s support stretches beyond the Paralympics- there are now 66 step-free Underground stations and 8,500 buses one can access in a wheelchair. This is a massive contrast to the situation many of Africa’s disabled people face daily, with little adaptable facilities.
It is hoped that the performance of Africa’s Paralympic stars will raise more appreciation and consideration for the demographic. The shock win of Botswana’s Tshotlego Morama in the 2008 Paralympics, with the world record time of 55.99sec in the women’s 400m T46 sprint, proved that anything is possible at the Games and perhaps drew attention from the governments towards disabled persons.
The care that the continent’s governments are currently expressing through the ratification of the UN conventions is indeed a great advancement and has been well received by the disabled communities. It is hoped that the ratification of such conventions are with the genuine interest to eradicate the discrimination and lack of respect the disabled community in Africa have faced for years, and not with the aim of conforming with the rest of the world.
Picture credit: www.moroccoworldnews.com