Donatilla Kanimba Mukandera knows the hardships of people with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa. The director of the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) reports that her country neither has an official sign language, nor a generally accepted Braille alphabet. Many parents depend on “residential centres” for their children with disabilities, but the children do not get any education there. Nor are they able to walk two or three kilometres to the next school. Mukandera demands: “If you talk about education for all, make it happen for everyone.” She lost her eyesight due to an illness at the age of five.
Social inclusion of people with handicaps is not a new challenge. Nonetheless, the government of Rwanda does not yet pursue coherent policies in order to improve their situation, says Mukandera. Many government papers mention inclusion, but implementation remains poor. The financial support Rwanda’s government affords in response to the challenge is not sufficient to allow people with disabilities to take their fate into their own hands.
Disabilities are often a consequence of poverty. They result, for instance, from health-care facilities failing to cure an illness or treating injuries incompetently. On the other hand, disabilities tend to make poverty worse as people cannot find work and have to be taken care of by relatives. The caregivers are mostly women.
Mukandera wants the collective mindset of Rwandans to change. So far, people with impairments are considered a burden. To modify that perception, the disabled need to be empowered to develop their individual capacities and make full use of them. Education is essential.
Olaf Guttzeit, who works for Boehringer Ingelheim, a pharmaceuticals manufacturer, knows this kind of mental barrier exists in Germany too. He is working on joint strategies with other German companies in various sectors to ensure that persons with disabilities are integrated into the workforce. He resents the common German attitude of only considering people’s shortcomings. It would be much more productive to acknowledge the specific potential of persons with disabilities, he says.
Rainer Brockhaus of CBM, a non-governmental organisation that is committed to improving the lives of persons with disabilities internationally, regrets that the latest proposal for the list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that will follow up on the MDGs, does not mention the special needs of his target group (see next page). These needs must be taken into account, he insists, particularly with regard to education, health care and disaster prevention. He also calls for “distinct indicators” to measure the progress in a better way. A recent CBM survey in Germany showed that 88 % of Germans want development policy to specifically support the disabled.
Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) agrees, as Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, the BMZ’s parliamentary state secretary, pointed out during an event hosted by CBM in Berlin in December. Moreover, the Charter for the Future that guides BMZ action states that disability issues should be on the SDG agenda. This issue is uncontroversial. Uwe Kekeritz, who is a member of the Bundestag for the Green Party, which is part of the opposition, considers it a long-standing “conceptual mistake” that disability was not made a concern for every programme and project funded by the BMZ previously.
Donatilla Kanimba Mukandera from Rwanda would like to see countries like Germany to show more commitment. She says it is crucial to make inclusion a goal of every Rwandan policy, to jointly draft implementation strategies and to establish mechanisms that empower people with disabilities to live self-determined lives. In her eyes, policymakers around the world have an obligation “to create and enforce the necessary legal environment”.