Hargeisa, 12 July 2009 – Dissatisfied with donors’ unwillingness to promote disabled people’s rights in their dealings with Kenyan organisations, Phitalis Were Masakhwe calls on international funders to show greater scrutiny when it comes giving financial assistance. From women’s rights to promoting multi-party democracy, carrot-and-stick policies have been central in forcing Kenya to reform, Were Masakhwe notes, arguing that they should occupy an equally central role in cementing equality for disabled people.
In the early 1990s it took the intervention of the international community to break Kenya’s one-party authoritarianism and open the door for plural politics and enhanced respect for human rights in the country. The powerful networks of Kenya’s development partners forced the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi to reform and expand the democratic space. It was reform or no development assistance, period! That is the power and leverage development partners can bring to struggling economies like ours.
A couple of years back, phrases like ‘gender mainstreaming’ didn’t mean anything to the government and even NGOs’ leadership in Kenya – not until the donors flexed their muscles. Child rights, human rights, democracy and the environment are just some of the globally accepted themes and values that were ‘forced’ on our government and civil society. Today neither government nor civil society organisations can submit a bid to say the US’ USAID (United States Agency for International Development), the UK’s DfID (Department for International Development), Sweden’s SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) or Canada’s CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) without evidently reflecting gender concerns. Certainly no donor that I know of will disburse money to either a government or NGO programme if that support will promote or perpetuate child abuse.
And where those seeking donor funding ignore those universally agreed agendas, donors reject these proposals or they are sent back for review to reflect these concerns. The inclusion of doctrines like gender parity is not therefore a matter of choice for anybody; it is a matter of life and death! Amazingly, I have not come across a donor that has rejected a request for funding on the grounds that it has not included disability concerns or not shown the extend to which the proposed project will impact on children, women and men with disabilities. Why? The majority of these same donors have fancy statements on disability equality on their websites and foreign policy pronouncements! It is high time donors walked the walk on the principle of disability equality in their interaction with governments, UN agencies and civil society in general.
The British, Swedish, German, Italian, Japanese or US governments for instance cannot allow inaccessible public transport on their highways. They can’t allow discrimination in education and employment opportunities with regard to the disabled! How then can they give their cooperation, funding and technical assistance to countries like Kenya to be used exclusively or to perpetuate inequality and marginalisation? Shouldn’t their friendship with countries like Kenya include spreading the gospel of disability inclusion and equality as it is done in their own countries? Shouldn’t it include broadening human rights and governance to include all the disabled?
Through acts of omission and commission, Kenya has not yet created nor maintained decent conditions for those with disabilities.
Reflect on free primary education, healthcare, HIV/AIDS, social protection and related poverty eradication schemes, human rights, judicial, institutional and constitutional reforms including infrastructure developments which are heavily subsidised by donors. How accessible and inclusive are these programmes?
Do the donors bother to make sure that they are inclusive and accessible to all, including the disabled? If not, why not place conditionalities that will force the disability agenda onto and within those programmes? Why apply conditionalities thinly and exclusively?
Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly deals with this issue:
‘States Parties recognize the importance of international cooperation and its promotion, in support of national efforts for the realization of the purpose and objectives of the present convention, and will undertake appropriate and effective measures in this regard, between and among States and, as appropriate, in partnership with relevant international and regional organizations and civil society, in particular organizations of persons with disabilities.’
This should be applied through ensuring that international cooperation, including international development programmes, is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities. This can be done by supporting capacity-building, including through the exchange and sharing of information, experiences, training programmes and best practices. Others approaches should include facilitating cooperation in research and access to scientific and technical knowledge and providing, as appropriate, technical and economic assistance, including by facilitating access to and sharing of accessible and assistive technologies, and through the transfer of technologies.
A quick walk into the offices of any of the major development partners in Kenya will find desks and advisors on virtually everything under the sun, except disability! How can that be tolerated in this era and age when disability affects more than 3 million Kenyans?
The carrot-and-stick policy by donors has helped reform Kenya. It has helped lift women out of obscurity to cabinet boardrooms. It can surely and firmly apply to give the disabled greater visibility and consideration in the country’s socio-economic and political landscape.
Development partners in Kenya must be part of the solution to the problems bedevilling the disabled population and not part of the problem as their current silence and lack of tangible actions seems to suggest.
The time to practice disability equality in international cooperation with Kenya is now.