Feature Article of Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Columnist: Dartey, Doris Yaa

The promise of disability for national development

The recently held Paralympics in London laid bare the ridiculousness of tagging some individuals as disabled. Disabled in what sense? They flipped, turned, tossed – with strong arms, legs; they won medals – gold, silver, bronze! Seeing the amazing feats performed by these competitive athletes created many jaw-dropping moments across the world. Any time I’ve witnessed such spectacular feats, I’ve wondered: are they really disabled, or it is rather those of us who claim to be able-bodied who are disabled? I’ve never and can never perform a fraction of the awesome things many disabled people accomplish. I can’t climb stairs on clutches! I can’t walk into the toilet with my eyes shut, visionless.
If you should search your own heart, you might also admit that you as an individual do not really do amazing things and that you are probably just an average human being – normal. Unfortunately, for the most part, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census, a certain three per cent of our population (737,743) remain on the silent sticky edge of society as people who are disabled in one form or the other.
Regular readers of this column by now know that I’m touring the eastern half of Ghana to observe and report on issues associated with the December Elections. A fellow Columnist, Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, who writes for the Mirror newspaper, is touring the western half of the country. I’m currently in the Volta Region and have just had a humbling opportunity to bear witness to the aspirations of the disabled at close range.
I accompanied the staff of VOICE Ghana to some party constituency offices to present position papers, a memorandum of understanding and an agreement of some sort to political parties and aspiring parliamentarians who are contesting the December elections in the Kpetoe township. The agreement is couched like a promissory note with clear statements on what the disabled community requires of the political parties and aspiring parliamentarians if elected into office. Specifically, they require inclusiveness, and that development plans must have the needs of the disabled in focus. In effect, to borrow the parlance of revolutionary days Ghana, they ‘no go sit down’ make we cheat them every day. Yes, the traditionally voiceless in society must and are speaking out to stop the tendency of being ignored.
The stated demands of the disabled are in four thematic areas: health care, education, employment and community development projects. For instance, on education, the disabled request the MP to influence the appropriate authorities ‘to pass a bye-law to make basic education totally free for children with disabilities so that they no longer pay PTA dues and other charges…’ On community development projects, they demand that the rights and needs of persons with disabilities are considered ‘when planning/implementing community development projects such as community WC toilets, bore-holes, etc.’
VOICE Ghana is an NGO located in Ho that seeks to support people with disabilities to support themselves. STAR-Ghana is supporting a number of this NGO’s initiatives to bring up the issues of the disabled in the area to the fore. For reasons I cannot fathom, the Volta Region ranks highest in the number of people living with some form of disability in Ghana (4.3 per cent).
It’s true that the current national concern seems to be about peaceful elections. But then, there are people who will have a hard time voting this December because voting centres are not even accessible to them. One woman I met explained how in both the 2008 National Elections and the 2010 District Assembly elections, she had to walk away after standing in a queue for a couple of hours, waiting her turn to vote. She was effectively ignored although she has a visible physical disability. She wonders if she can vote this year and not be deprived of her civic rights as an adult citizen with voting rights.
Politicians must sign Promissory Notes:
This innovative idea of making politicians sign promissory notes has obvious utility benefits. The intent behind this tactic is that since ‘book no lie’, once the aspirants and their party representatives have signed the paper, they can be held accountable if they flout their own promises should they win the elections. During our rounds, we didn’t get anyone to sign the document; they asked for a week or so to study it before signing. This brilliant idea is against the sad backdrop of mountains of unfulfilled promises of politicians across party lines and throughout the country.
Two weeks ago, I reported on the deprived village of Porpornya, depicting electricity poles that were dumped by the roadside just before the 2008 elections with a promise to wire up the community for electricity. Since the gentleman won that election and went to Parliament, the village folks alleged that he has not even stopped by or passed through the town. Those electricity poles are waiting to be erected to snatch the village out of pre-colonial darkness into 55-year old post-Independent Ghana.
The perception of unimpressive performance and frustration with politicians go deep and wide. So it’s probably time for various communities to adopt the promissory note tactic. It will go like this: when politicians enter a town, community, district or constituency to hold a rally at which venue they normally vomit out promises, the citizenry should appoint recorders to capture all the promises. In either typed or handwritten format, they should chase down the promisor with the statement and demand for him/her to sign. The ‘promisee’ (the community, town, village) will keep the promissory note and wait…..
When the election results are announced, the ‘promisees’ will pull out the promissory note of the winning promisor, and wait, and keep track – to cash the promise! Periodically (e.g. annually), the ‘promisees’ will assess progress of fulfilment. With the facts in hand, the community will summon the promisor for a durbar/meeting to discuss progress made, disappointments and satisfaction chalked, as well as challenges encountered and then map out the various ways forward.
As a country, we keep talking about enhancing transparency and accountability in our national life. If villages, towns, districts and constituencies demand the signing of promissory notes by politicians, it will be an act of promoting accountability and deepening our democracy. Once a politician says s/he will do something, you record it and play it back to him/her at a future date and demand the fulfilment of the promise. Once politicians know that we the electorate are not just passive but active citizens, they will begin to sit up. After all, good citizenship is about being alert and reminding those we bestow our powers to through the casting of votes, of what they promised us they will do. Idle citizenship gives room to be taken for granted and weakens the act of governance.
You see, people living with disabilities are showing us the way forward as a country. So who are you to assert that they are disabled? Next time you look down on the disabled, remember that no one is perfect. Everyone has one form of disability or the other. What are yours? Find the strength in your own disability and use it to make the world a much better place than you found it.

Doris Yaa Dartey

The WatchWoman Column
September 29, 2012