New Somali Must Address Disability: Open Letter

Published on 9th October 2012

An open letter to President Hassan Sh. Mohamud: - The New Government and Disability subject in Somalia - A way ahead.

Your Excellency, Mr Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, President of Somali, we the SDDF, would like to share with you, and your government, a vital word on a vital subject.

Firstly, we would like to express our heartfelt congratulations following your recent groundbreaking election for the highest post of the nation. May Allah, the almighty, assist you to fulfil your stated goals – “The Pillars of Rebuilding” as you manifested on the first day of your presidency. We wish you to be a knight in a shining armour for the traumatised people of Somalia.

Secondly, this letter aims to draw your attention to one of the most adverse and multifaceted difficulty that faces your leadership, and subsequently offers what we feel is appropriate and workable advice which, if taken into account, will hopefully help to set your administration on the right path to handling one of the most imperative challenges before you and the nation – the severe inequality and poverty facing the disabled citizens of Somalia.

From the 1980s to the present day, the Somali people have experienced a terrible civil war which – like any prolonged conflict – has left a vast number of people injured, and having disabilities of various scales. There is no inclusive, nationwide primary data to measure the true magnitude of this problem, leaving many victims of war unaccounted for.

Some partial, non-inclusive primary and secondary data collected and held by some UN agencies and other non-governmental organizations can be used as a benchmark to estimate, or at least envisage the extent of the predicament. For example, according to the UNHCR 2010 report, in Mogadishu alone, more than seven and a half thousand persons reported gun related injuries, and it is certain that a significant amount of these victims will have a sustained disability as a result. If that is the case in only one city for a period of 12 months, this paints a gloomy picture of the potential number of people who live with permanent physical disability. Another report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Swedish International Development Aid (SIDA) estimates that up to 15% of the Somali population are physically disabled. We must however, bear in mind that these figures do not include mentally disabled people, or the pastoral rural communities – who alone comprise 50% of the Somali population. Had they been included, the figure would  be far more than the 15% highlighted by the WHO and SIDA.

Despite this high level of disability, Somalia does not have, and has never had, accessible public services for disabled people. For instance, according to the SIDA (2011) study, 75% of all public buildings in Somalia are not designed to include accessibility for wheelchair users, and there are no public transportation facilities with wheelchair access.

Schools throughout the country do not accept the majority of disabled children, and if they do, the schools are not compelled to provide additional assistance. Furthermore, Somalia is far behind in its participation with international conventions that support people with disabilities. Somalia has signed neither the 2008 UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), nor its supplementary Optional Protocol. Somalia long ago adopted the UN standards of equal opportunities for disabled people, but unfortunately those standards have, thus far, not been met.

Mr President, this large segment of the Somali people have not properly received nor been able to exercise their basic rights,  in the past and present day. They are seen as objects for charitable donations and gesture of goodwill. They are not considered, in the eyes of the public, as equal citizens with equal rights and responsibilities.

These disabled people, when it comes to economic gains, are the poorest of the poor. When it comes to education, they bear, more than any other, the burden of ignorance. When it comes to social integration, they face many forms of inexcusable stereotypes and prejudiced views.

When it comes to employment, they are always at the end of the line. In short, disabled Somali citizens are the most vulnerable, deprived and neglected part of society and their circumstances can only be improved with a proper strategic approach, coupled with valiant political will. Somalia needs reinvention, as you rightly said in your inauguration speech, and such a reinvention should be all-inclusive, where disabled people can find themselves in their rightful, equal place. As a modern society, we need to change our negative attitudes towards people with disabilities by creating an environment conducive to their development so that they are able to create opportunities rather than receive charities.

At the end of World War II, the President of the United States at the time, Harry Truman, was alarmed by the magnitude of disabled war-victims, and so he took the initiative to set up the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped in 1947. This committee was charged with the responsibility of supporting the interests of disabled people, and created employment opportunities for them by urging employers to give disabled citizens a fair chance. In the face of the national devastation in Somalia today, we the SDDF hope for and anticipate a parallel approach to that of President Truman in 1947, which for us would represent a symbol of genuine political will towards a brighter and better future for Somalia.

Mr President, to pave the way for the realization of these stated goals, and to lay the foundation for a long-term strategic approach, we respectfully recommend the following three points for consideration by your government;

1. The Somali state should develop a modern legal framework that can meet the needs of disabled Somali citizens, and is compatible with the international standards of the world today.

2.  A ministerial department, fortified with the appropriate authority to implement the stated goals for achieving equality for disabled people should be founded. This Ministry would be responsible for the designing and delivery of services and government policies that concern disabled people, and would ensure the fulfillment of Somalia’s commitment towards any international obligations related to the rights of those people.

3. For multiple reasons that can be detailed in due course, the aforementioned ministerial department be led by a competent disabled citizen, a person with the appropriate credentials and charisma for the position. Furthermore, the majority of administrative posts in the department should be filled by qualified disabled citizens.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Today, due to the mass migration of the Somali people throughout the world, there are many disabled Somali citizens among the diaspora with the right experience and education in all major fields and disciplines who can successfully carry out the roles that this proposed department requires. These people not only offer the correct knowledge and experience for this proposal; they will also be able to plan, deliver and evaluate the operation of this proposed Ministry from the viewpoint of disabled people. Their performance will outweigh that of an ordinary politician or civil servant who is likely to know far less about the most relevant needs of disabled people.

Finally and most importantly, creating such an administration would significantly boost the morale of the disabled population and simultaneously serve as a practical example of their abilities, which would be of great help towards enhancing the public perception towards their fellow disabled citizens.

Mr President, to put it briefly, we are considerately calling upon you to give the needs of disabled people in Somalia the correct attention and priority they deserve; as well as to take a pioneering role, unlike all previous administrations since independence, in allowing disabled citizens to partake in decision-making processes by appointing those with the most appropriate skills and ideas to positions that will improve equality and opportunity for disabled people as described here today. We the SDDF, bear high hopes that this advise will lead to implementation, and we most respectfully anticipate your willingness and understanding towards these issues raised.

Please accept, Mr President, our best wishes, and the assurance of our highest consideration for your leadership and the new Somali government.

Abdirahman M Farah.
Somali Diaspora Disability Forum (SDDF)
Email: [email protected]

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