African Disability Forum formally registered, boosting disability rights on the continent

Mar 31, 2017

For the first time ever, Africa now has its own legally recognized umbrella grouping of organisations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) to ensure that decisions concerning disabled people are taken with and by persons with disabilities, their families and their organizations at pan- African, sub-regional, national and local levels.

The African Disability Forum (ADF) was formally registered on 15 March 2017 by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The ADF is a broad representative continental membership platform which brings together continental, sub-regional and national organisations of persons with disabilities. Currently the ADF has member organisations in 34 African countries.

“This is an important initiative,” said Ethiopia’s State Minister for Political Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Her Excellency Hirut Zemene. “Ethiopia is committed to collaborating on improving the rights of people living with disabilities.” The Minister emphasized that disabled people do not need sympathy but equal rights.

State Minister Zemene signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for registration together with Interim ADF Coordinator at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Berhanu Tefera. The MOU permits ADF to open its headquarters office in the country’s capital Addis Ababa and to operate from Ethiopia.

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly states that people who are vulnerable must be empowered,” said Ozonnia Ojielo, Governance and Peacebuilding Regional Cluster Director of UNDP Africa.

“Those whose needs are reflected in the Agenda include all children, youth, persons with disabilities, of whom more than 80 percent live in poverty. We strongly believe the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must be in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to deliver effectively on the ‘Leaving No One Behind” agenda.”

The SDGs reference issues of disability across several Goals such as education, employment, reducing inequalities, inclusive cities, and disaggregation of data by disability.

CRPD, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CPRD), is a legally binding international human right treaty which addresses the rights of persons with disability. The Convention outlines specific steps to be taken by States Parties, including the implementation of laws and administrative measures, to ensure the enjoyment of these rights and to promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities.

Until the registration of the ADF, Africa was the only region of the world without its own legally recognized umbrella grouping of organisations of persons with disabilities.

While the ADF was officially launched in 2014 it has been operating from within the UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa that supported its establishment and initial activities through a grant provided by the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD). Its registration transitions the ADF from a UNDP initiative to a legal entity.

According to the World Report on Disability (WHO/World Bank, 2011), there are some 1 billion persons with disabilities in the world, with 80 percent living in developing countries constituting at least 15 percent of any country’s population. 

Poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, exploitation, marginalization and exclusion characterize the lives of most people with disabilities, especially women and girls, in Africa.

The rights of children, youth and adults with disabilities are routinely violated or ignored in most African countries where people with disabilities have little access to mainstream services and opportunities available to their non-disabled peers. 

For this reason, people with disabilities have created DPOs at national and local levels in virtually every African country, to promote their rights, and to gain access to basic services and opportunities. DPOs are essentially important in ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

Many of these DPOs have benefitted from international donor as well as UN and government support and have achieved significant successes in terms of national legislation prohibiting discrimination, as well as through projects providing education, skills training and employment, especially self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Yet most national and local DPOs remain weak organizationally and lack capacity to advocate effectively for disability rights and for further access to mainstream service delivery and inclusion in mainstream development projects.

For this reason, ADF focuses its attention on strengthening its DPO members, while unifying and amplifying the voice of African PWDs both regionally and internationally, particularly through ADF membership in the International Disability Alliance (IDA). The IDA is an alliance of organisations of persons with disabilities and advocates at the UN for a more inclusive global environment for persons with disabilities and their organisations. It supports organisations of persons with disabilities worldwide to take part in UN and international human rights processes, and use international accountability mechanisms.