Why People with Disabilities in Tanzania Deserve Economic Empowerment

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Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (TOMRIC Agency) - August 21, 2000

Giti Masule says people with disabilities in Tanzania often feel totally excluded from the mainstream. He has recently taken over as the new program manager for Action of Disability and Development (ADD). The Organization is based in the Mwanza Region in northern Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

It works in partnership with organizations for people with disabilities, and lobbies government and other agencies to include people with disabilities in mainstream activities. As an example of how people with disabilities are excluded, Mr. Masule mentions health prevention messages. ADD is an international organization, based in Britain, which includes staff members with many years' experience working in less-developed countries. ADD's staff members draw on their many experiences to tackle one of the main issues facing people with disabilities: the attitude of people with disabilities themselves, far more than their actual impairment. "The experience in Tanzania is especially difficult", says Mr. Masule. During the 1970s and 1980s, people with disabilities were made to feel that everything would be provided.

According to Mr. Masule, that dependency will take time to break. "The problem might be people with disabilities themselves", he says, "always expecting to receive, not using their own resources. Perhaps that same premise has led them to press for their rights. This time, they want more representation in the post-election parliament. Through representation, they believe that their problems, especially their deteriorating socio-economic status, could be improved. In the last month, people with disabilities, through their representatives, expressed their anxiety as to whether the on-going screening of parliamentary aspirants, would provide them with enough chances of being represented in the next parliament".

However, these worries come at a time of seemingly endless crises and conflicts inside their organization, known as the Disabled Association of Tanzania (UWATA). In fact, these frequent crises have been occurring for some time, are widely reported in the media, and are now well-known to the general public. There have been accusations against the UWATA leadership of embezzlement of funds, but the most common complaint from members is that the organization fails in its role as a lobbyist to the government for the demands and rights of the disability community. Headline catching behavior, like overthrowing the leadership, sending them to court, etc., at the office of the umbrella organization, located in Buguruni in Dar Es Salaam, does not seem to bring about any improvement in the bad situation that most members of the disability community in Tanzania find themselves in. This is probably why many members feel that increased representation in the House would help people with disabilities to publicize and press for their demands. Their need for representation also comes at a time when their efforts to press the government to address their problems, especially the Ministry of Labor and Youth Development, seem to have run up against a brick wall. The on-going tug-of-war between them and the city fathers over business plots also seems to be going nowhere fast. Observers believe that increased representation in parliament is likely to help many people with disabilities towards a better life. It is really only in parliament that the whole question of a meaningful "policy" for people with disabilities can be addressed.

However, skeptics may ask "Policy for what?" Others feel that there must be a clear, known policy for creating an enabling environment for people with disabilities to earn a living. The policy must also include provisions for the right kind of special education, available all over this vast country, which will impart those skills to people with disabilities so that they can gainfully involve themselves in either distribution or production. One such skill which immediately springs to mind is entrepreneurship, which once acquired by a person with disabilities can enable him, or her, to quite successfully compete with those of us lucky enough to be able-bodied. It should also be remembered that the problems of people with disabilities, caused by this lack of any meaningful policy, start very early on in their lives. A few months ago, over 2,000 people with disabilities met in Dar Es Salaam for a lunch at the invitation of the IPP Company. It was at that particular time when the first lady, Mama Mkapa, revealed that there were about three million people with disabilities in Tanzania, many of them being children. What this actually means is that 10 per cent of the whole Tanzanian population are officially classified as disabled, although, as we all know, there are many kinds and degrees of disability. The grim news is that many of them are on the streets in a desperate hunt for their daily bread. It was established that a number of primary schools and colleges, which were built for people with disabilities in various parts of the country, were not operational. For example, the Secretary General of the Tanzania League for the Blind, Emmauel Simpungwe, says that in 1988 there were 240,000 children with disabilities of school-going age, but only 3,452 were in primary school. He says the situation in higher learning institutions was much worse. Tanzania has 135 primary and 10 secondary schools which admit people with disabilities, but studies indicate that most of them lack the necessary facilities, especially teaching equipment. The situation is just as pathetic at the higher levels of education, especially in vocational colleges that were initially designed for people with disabilities. The technical college for people with disabilities, in the Tanga region of northern Tanzania, was closed about five years ago due to financial constraints. The situation forced them to close it down, and students were ordered to vacate until further notice.

It is not even known where they ended up, but it is convincing that many of them, through no fault of their own, have ended up as professional beggars.

Similar institutions have been closed down due to financial constraints.

The bitter truth is that people with disabilities face a number of problems, especially in Tanzania Mainland, although in Zanzibar their situation would seem to be better. If one visits the offices for people with disabilities there, one will notice the difference. There, the disability organization is for equipping its members economically. Called the Disabled Association of Zanzibar (UWZ), their organization is a centre for members to be taught the skills of entrepreneurship, and not just a lobbying centre which is what the UWATA headquarters seems to be. UWZ is there to design feasible projects for people with disabilities, and keep on with the work of opening technical and production centres for developing specific skills and launching their own projects. In fact, they are far ahead compared to their counterparts in mainland Tanzania. The question is: who is to blame for this disparity? Explaining a dilemma facing the world's disability community, the International Labor Organization (ILO), says employment prospects for workers with disabilities are limited by initial barriers that they may have faced as children and young adults in acquiring a good basic education, vocational skills training, or higher education.

From its experience, ILO says that in most developing countries, vocational rehabilitation services are either non-existent, or found only in urban centres. Even where they are provided, they are often under-funded and ineffective in preparing people with disabilities for work. It says, however, that many developing countries are implementing community-based rehabilitation programs, which include skill acquisition by youth with disabilities through the organization of apprenticeships with local artisans and craftsmen in their home areas. Another strategy, which our policy-makers should not ignore, is the emphasis on vocational training. Qualified individuals with disabilities could be given job placement and technical support aimed at integrating them into the work place. In other words, for Tanzania, reviving vocational training for people with disabilities is a MUST, while disability organizations should prepare members for involvement in production.

The disability community in Tanzania is estimated at 3,000,000 people. That is equivalent to the entire population of our capital city, Dar Es Salaam.

For how long can Tanzania afford to neglect this large, needy segment of her community, most of whom, with the necessary help, can be easily made into productive, self-reliant citizens?

Copyright © 2000 TOMRIC Agency.

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