The Tanzania Albinism Society (TAS) in Bukombe District has called for more inclusion of people with disabilities as a way to increase their contribution to national development and participation in decision-making.
People with disabilities need greater political space at various decision-making levels to guarantee their development and that of the nation in general, according to the TAS Chairperson in Bukombe District, Geita Region, Idda Saka James. However, they face limitations and challenges in this endeavour.
James said people with disabilities are still generally stigmatised and excluded from the political space despite some progress having been made over the years.
“More representation of people with disabilities at the National Assembly and local levels is needed so that people with disabilities can exercise their rights and fully participate in decision-making processes. There is Special Seats representation of people with disabilities at the national level. However, more representation is needed at the district level, hence our work in increasing representation and changing negative community perceptions of people with disabilities,” she said.
Ms. James added that during the 2020 General Election, there were six well educated people with disabilities who contested councillorship positions, but none was nominated due to entrenched stigma.
“We had six candidates who contested councillorship. Four were men and two were women, but none went beyond the vetting process,” she said.
She added that lack of representation at the district councillorship level has denied people with disabilities a number of opportunities.
“People with disabilities must be represented among leaders, and in decision-making bodies by people who fully understand our lives and the challenges we face,” she said. “I therefore appeal to the government to expand political opportunities and put in place a good political system that will enable people with disabilities to be represented at all decision-making bodies right from the National Assembly down to the grassroots level – the district councils.”
Commenting on the achievements of their social inclusion interventions, through collaboration with Foundation for Civil Society (FCS), she said that since FCS began supporting their interventions, the general public has started to understand and appreciate the rights of people with disabilities, and people with albinism in particular.
She said before their interventions, for instance, Bukombe District Council had no budget for people with disabilities, especially for items that are essential to people with albinism, but in 2019/20 the district set aside TZS 4 million for various items, including protective gear.
From the 10 percent of the total budget being set aside by the district council for people with disabilities, women and youth, Bukombe District Council provided people with disabilities with two percent, which benefited eight groups. As a result of calls for more participation of people with disabilities, during the 2020 General Election, a total of ten people with disabilities contested through various political parties. Four were women and six were men.
Furthermore, Ms. James added that, as a result of advocacy, two children with disabilities are being educated for free at St Pio School. They are now in Standard Three. Through awareness campaigns, TAS Bukombe has managed to free Theresia Shinji (4), who had been hidden by her parents. St Pio has also built a house for her, and donated equipment for people with disabilities.
“Through our interventions, decision-making bodies have started to understand the rights of people with disabilities, and some are being accepted to contest to various positions in political parties, although they are not winning yet,” she said.
TAS Bukombe’s close partnership with government
TAS Bukombe District Coordinator, Emmanuel Samson said since the project was launched, there has been trust and close collaboration between TAS and the government.
“The government and the district council have confirmed that we are working hard. When we start a project, we usually invite district leaders to launch it. The advocacy campaign and election projects were officiated by the district commissioner himself,” he said.
He commended FCS for supporting the project, saying it has united people with disabilities, the general public and district officials from the village level.
Bukombe District Welfare Officer, Kasege Frank said TAS has successfully implemented the project in five wards in the district.
Throughout the project, TAS has collaborated with district authorities to create awareness and educate the general public on their rights, and encourage them to shun superstitious beliefs and stigma.
“During the project, we involved traditional healers, religious leaders such as pastors and sheikhs, elders and famous people on the rights of people with disabilities,” he said.
Citing an example, Frank said in Katome Ward, the project managed to reveal a small child, Theresia Shinji, who had been hidden because of stigma. She has now been freed, and lives with her parents in a new house build by St Pio.
“The project has helped wards in Bukombe District to set aside budgets for people with albinism, and ensure that all buildings being constructed from now on are People with disabilities friendly,” he said.
The project has helped in enacting by-laws meant to protect people with disabilities, and the rights and security of people with albinism in particular.
Frank said the project has created awareness on the importance of participating in political elections, and to vote and be voted for.
Since the project was launched, people with disabilities, including those with albinism, have become freer than ever before. The project also involved campaigns against albino killings, their rights and security, and election participation for people with disabilities.
Social Inclusion of people with disabilities
Theresia’s father, Shinji Mgema, a resident of Maganzo Bukombe, said before TAS’ intervention, he locked her daughter in their house, fearing for her safety. They now live in a secure environment, and the girl plays with her age-mates without any worry.
“When we joined TAS, we were educated and sensitised, and the government came in to ensure that the child is safe and lives happily,” he said
Mgema appealed to the government and other stakeholders to support his daughter and enable her go to school. Theresia has since been enrolled in nursery school.
Bukombe District Commissioner Said Nkumba said projects implemented by FCS, TAS and Tanzania League of the Blind (TLB) have the full support of the people of Bukombe and the government.
He said the district has been involved in every project, with funds from FCS being channelled to local organisations, adding that he has been personally participating in the launch of projects.
“During the launch of projects and training or awareness creation, TAS has been involving other marginalised groups as well,” he said.
Nkumba added that TAS has played a key role in sensitising and encouraging people with disabilities and the general public at large to participate in the 2020 General Election.
“The campaigns and seminars have helped very much to sensitise people on the importance of various socio-economic projects such as water projects, and have even encouraged people to adopt and build a culture of giving,” he said.
Mr. Nkumba appealed to political players to expand political space for people with disabilities so that more of them can participate.