Columnists Features

At 50, Zambia should reflect on plight of disabled

NOAH MANDA
WITH Zambia celebrating 50 years of its independence, the big question remains: what should a nation be at 50?
Can a country be held to the same standards expected of a 50-year-old individual: a little smoother around the edges, but with a maturity malleable still for decades of lessons ahead?
Or do the normal trappings of age apply, and are we mired in a mid-life crisis?
As the country pushes past the half-century mark, it’s time to take stock of our collective wealth of experience and examine our progress as a people and as a nation.
However, Zambia has succeeded in cultivating a tenacious society, and I believe that the great demand for change will mark a significant period in the country’s development.
We are a resilient nation.
The way forward is a sound education, and a commitment to conversations with one another.
A new collective dialogue is already happening.
If we don that thinking cap daily; it will counter the growing distance from ideals outlined in institutional structures that shaped the nation such as our constitution and the statement of the federation on the formation of Zambia.
Our hopes lie with individuals and groups who inspire forms of awareness and cognisance which transcends our politics and those who create a more autonomous society in spite of what our political direction may be.
If we can get our act together, we are unstoppable as a nation.
At the heart of everything, we are a beautiful people.
And truth be told, there is no standard answer to what a 50-year-old nation should be or look like.
As Zambia inherited a reasonable amount of development from her colonial past and enjoyed success factors such as abundant natural resources, I feel that many fundamentals of a healthy, functioning democracy should already be in place by now.
These include a working judiciary, a free media, a healthy political culture and public participation in decision-making and nation-building initiatives.
That is what one would expect of Zambia in its current state of progress and development.
However, repeated mistakes such as regressive statements by certain parties can be frustrating for those trying to improve Zambia.
Our country had in the past successfully generated a good economy and provided a strong infrastructure for the corporate commercial sector.
We have very healthy trade figures.
Private investment and private domestic investment should be encouraged to flourish, while the government should invest in sectors such as public education and health.
It all comes down to education. With good education, people can think for themselves and become a productive workforce.
I firmly believe that a robust, healthy economy is the ‘engine of a nation’ as the dwindling of personal income can serve as an incentive to work hard to create private wealth.
Tensions will wane if people are satisfied with their lot in life and have the means to social mobility and decent education and opportunities for their children.
But when there are not enough of these things, friction will arise between different sub-sections of our society.
But with my involvement in the activities of people with disabilities and older persons under the current government agency, I remain concerned about their struggles.
Many people with disabilities are ‘hidden’ at home or in institutions, which may prevent them from participating productively in society.
Equal employment and training opportunities should be extended to these citizens to integrate them into the mainstream workforce, and the government’s priority should be fulfilling their right to conducive facilities.
There are also national policies and programmes of action for persons with disabilities that must be strengthened.
Zambia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 and enacted the Persons with Disabilities Act 2012.
However, many barriers still prevent disabled persons from full and equal participation in our society.
So while Zambia has fared reasonably well in her first 50 years, it is clear that we still have a long way to go, especially with regard to disabled people across the pond.
The author is a disability rights activist and disabled person. You can reach him at caredisamedia@gmail.com




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