People with disabilities are often shunned in Africa but Uganda is one of the few countries where there is a deliberate policy to include them in all walks of life, including government. The annual Hot Pink Catwalk fashion shows go a step further, demonstrating the capabilities of the disabled. Epajjar Ojulu reports from Kampala.
Like elsewhere in Africa, people with disabilities in Uganda have from time immemorial borne the burden of being regarded as 'undesirable incarnates of evil', to be shunned or eliminated from society.
Although this demeaning and dehumanising attitude is still unfortunately very prevalent throughout Africa, Uganda has taken significant and deliberate steps to give hope to people with disability. It is, perhaps, one of the few countries on the continent to reserve parliamentary seats for people with disabilities and to appoint some of them to government ministerial posts.
Since 1986, when President Yoweri Museveni came to power, the blind, deaf or lame have been appointed to ministerial positions as a constitutional requirement, which demands that affirmative action be taken to ameliorate the suffering of vulnerable members of society, including people with disabilities.
For a country where up to 15% of its estimated 40m people have one form of disability or the other, affirmative action is an admission by the government that a big segment of its population has for long been ignored and it is time to make amends, by taking on the moral responsibility of caring for the more unfortunate members of society.
In spite of the positive measures to change the stigma against them, people with disability have continued to suffer from social prejudice, which will not go away in the short term. "Children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus are kept out of public view by their parents to avoid the social stigma associated with such children," says Livingstone Sekatawa of the Association of Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus of Uganda. Children with hydrocephalus and spina bifida are identified by their abnormally big heads and stunted growth.
Michelle Omamteker of the Malengo Foundation, which is behind the Hot Pink Catwalk fashion shows, says she drew the inspiration to highlight the plight of people with disabilities from the UN's Sustainable Development agenda, which calls for the reduction of inequalities driven by social stigma against people with disability and other vulnerable members of society.
In particular, she says, there...