By David Nangosi
The Government of Uganda (GOU) has adopted a series of National Development Programs with a vision of transforming the economy from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country within 30 years.
This vision has been implemented through 5 year National Development Plan (NDP) I 2010/11-2014/15 (NDP I), and the process of developing NDPII is underway.
Since 2010, Uganda has been implementing the NDP I under the theme Growth, Employment and Social-Economic Transformation for Prosperity. The GOU under the leadership of the National Planning Authority (NPA) is now developing NDP II whose theme is “Strengthening Uganda’s competitiveness for wealth creation, Inclusive Growth and Employment”.
The NDP II priority areas include; Agriculture, Tourism, Infrastructure and Human Capital Development. These sectors have a great multiplier effect that aimed at propelling Uganda to middle income country in the next 5 years. The question therefore is - Will this address poverty levels among PWDs in Uganda?
Poor people are more likely to become disabled and disabled people are more likely to become poor. In a multitude of studies, the World Bank indicates that 15 to 20 percent of the poorest individuals in developing countries comprise of People with Disabilities (PWDs).
Judith Heumann, the World’s Bank’s first advisor for international disability rights indicated that of the 650 million people living with disabilities today, eighty percent live in developing countries. The problem of poverty in Uganda is rampant but acute among PWDs and their families.
Most PWDs are poverty stricken in rural areas where economic opportunities are limited with many hardly affording decent shelter, clothing and medical care. While not all PWDs are poor, in low income countries, PWDs are over represented among the poorest.
They are neglected, discriminated against and excluded from the mainstream development initiatives. They find it hard to access health, education, housing and livelihood opportunities. This results in isolation, greater poverty and even premature death.
Sekandi Deus a coordinator of cerebral palsy project at the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) in an interview notes that “poverty isolates and hides PWDs from others in society. The costs of medical treatment, physical rehabilitation and purchase of assistive devices are expensive to the local PWDs and hence contributing to the poverty cycle”.
Uganda being a predominantly agricultural economy, the livelihood of PWDs is largely dependent on agriculture practiced by caregivers. Few PWDs with moderate disability participate in agriculture and petty trade.
A few PWDs in urban centers earn a living through begging on the streets or they are involved in petty trade like shoe repair and shoe shining, tailoring, beading, knitting, carpentry and joinery, inter-alia. The agricultural sector being the source of income is susceptible to weather, climatic changes and fluctuations in produce prices.
Hence income from this source is irregular and unpredictable. It’s a government policy to include PWDs and other marginalized groups of people in mainstream development programs such as Poverty Eradication Plan (PEAP). This policy however is on paper than in practice as PWDs continue to be excluded from the mainstream development processes. Is the government too pre-occupied with general mainstream challenges to dedicate resources to implement the policy?
Poverty among PWDs is attributed to the disability unfriendly development programs at national and district levels, high illiteracy rates, limited employment opportunities in the formal sector for the educated PWDs, lack of opportunities and access to productive assets like land, livestock, loan services, improved seeds, improved networks, high dependence burden, limited access to information regarding economic opportunities, passivity and lack of assertiveness among PWDs and lack of capital to invest in income generating ventures.
Sekandi emphasizes that; “poverty comes as a result of low self-esteem and lack of knowledge of the available opportunities. He says that PWDs have a lot of potential within them and can as well be successful if they believe in themselves that they can initiate something that can benefit them and the society at large and should avoid depending on others. They can be wealthy creators and job creators”.
But why are PWDs ignorant of their rights? Dr. Wilson W. Muwanguzi in a book entitled; ‘If Africa is rich, why is Africa Poor?’ - asserts that “anything that makes one ignorant of their rights is nothing but poverty”. The poorest are typically marginalized from society and have little representation or voice in public and political debates making it even harder to escape poverty.
The poorer you are, the more rights are robbed off from you and this is so common to PWDs.Research by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) indicates that 10,000 individuals with disabilities die each day as a result of extreme poverty.
This shows that the connection between disability and poverty is so problematic and worse more so in developing countries like Uganda.
Poverty causes disabilities and can further lead to secondary disabilities for those individuals who are already disabled as a result of poor living conditions, health endangering employment, malnutrition, poor access to health care and education opportunities.
The connection between disability and poverty can be broken. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is the eradication of poverty and hunger, a goal that cannot be achieved without taking into consideration a group of people that is so disproportionately represented among the world’s people.
The focus on poverty reduction strategies is now a unique change to rethink and rewrite the agenda for PWDs in Uganda. For PWDs to benefit from the several mainstream development programs and projects in Uganda, It is critical that their issues are clearly articulated and mainstreamed in the NDP II priority areas.
The writer is a lawyer and a disability rights activist