Respect Us! Give Us Opportunity, Not Charity – Gaston Kwa

Fighting HIV/AIDS and other diseases like malaria is one the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) voted by the United Nation’s in the year 2000. Given that this fight seems to be slowing down and that more than 5% of Cameroonians are living with HIV/AIDS-60% of which are women and 40% falling in the youths category-there is a cause for concern on the strategy to be used for the achievement of MDGs.

Conscious that handicapped persons are also celebrated in December and given that living with HIV/AIDS is more and more considered a handicapped. This article is going to dwell on the inclusion of the handicapped in the achievement of MDGs.

Concerning the non-achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by most countries of the global south, much has been said and so much more left unsaid. But if there is one thing that has so often been ignored by policy makers, politicians and all those in charge of implementing policies that will lead to a timely  achievement of MDGs, it the absence of human rights in these goals. The non-inclusion of human rights in the MDGs means the exclusion of handicapped persons, indigenous people, and other minority groups in their achievement.

Given that handicapped persons constitute 10% of Cameroon’s population and are among the poorest people in the country, it is evident that talking of poverty, the fight against hunger, improvement of maternal health care and reduction of infant mortality child is pretentious if nothing is done to the more than 85% of these handicapped persons aged14-64 years who are jobless and the other 15% of them who are confined to shoe mending, shoe shinning and other informal sector activities.

Also, talking about achieving universal access to education without paying particular attention to the fact that less than 5% of handicapped children in Cameroon can afford to

go to school with only 2% of these handicapped children completing secondary school, is wishful thinking.  What about the  ever increasing number of albino children who because of their sight defect and the inability of their parents to buy them glasses drop out daily from school?

The government of Cameroon recruited 25000 certificate holders in 2011 under a special recruitment scheme. But none of them was an handicapped person and as if this was not enough, a good number of handicapped persons were sent away from public schools because they could not afford to pay the required fees.This despite the fact that they are officially exempt from the payment of school fees in public schools in Cameroon. To protest against the above acts, the handicapped organized a protest march in front of the prime minister’s office in October 2011 but were violently dispersed by the police and military forces.

Can we say of a country whose government carries out such horrible acts against its own very population, even if it achieves all the MDGs, that it is developed? Can MDGs be achieved if the strategy to achieve them is not inclusive? Can the achievement of MDGs, as they are now, lead to sustainable development?

My answer to the above questions is ‘NO’. Because I am intimately convinced that, unless inclusive and people-centered, no development plan can produce any sustainable results. It is high time for our government and civil society to listen to and amplify the voices of the handicapped so that they are heard and acted upon by policy making and implementing structures because like all poor people, “they long to belong to, and participate in their communities on equal footing with others. Most of all, they do not want charity. They want opportunity”, as former world bank President James Wolfehnson once put it.  Anything short of this will make the achievement of MDGs in Cameroon, even by 2035, a far-fetched dream.

How can one expect a country like Cameroon to achieve the MDGs related to literacy, health, and economic empowerment when it does not take the handicapped into consideration when designing and constructing public buildings and other infrastructure like roads, hospitals, universities, and schools?

How can one expect Cameroon to be democratic,united,and emerging by 2025,as exposed in its vision 2035,when more 10% of its population(handicapped persons) are disenfranchised due to their non-consideration when designing and producing electoral material(especially ballots) and situating polling stations(Most being inaccessible to the handicapped)?

Realizing that the above is impossible without respect for human rights, we, at the Education 4Development Foundation (E4DF) have made human rights the 9th MDG and therefore one of the elements of our advocacy and awareness creation campaign on a participative,timely, and inclusive achievement of MDGs in our community. Through our MDGs participative achievement programme, we reached out to more than 1000 pupils and students in 2011 and look forward to reaching out to a greater number in 2012.

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