The councils for people living with disabilities in the East African Community (EAC) region need to work together to ensure that their missions are realised and to achieve more as a team.
The call was made on Tuesday in Kigali during a three-day workshop for people living with disabilities.
The workshop, which drew participants from all the EAC state members, was organised by Rwanda in partnership with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Officials called for common strategies to ensure that persons with disabilities are supported in various aspects such as health, education, employment, transport and accessibility, collaboration with NGO partners, among others.
They said that, while each country has its own way of supporting people with disabilities working with the council, there was need to have a common network to influence the governments on how to better support them.
Much as national and international policies are designed to support people with disabilities are in place, officials, said efforts to implement such policies have been fruitless over the past years and this can only change if the councils created a strong network to deal with issues together.
Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the executive secretary of the National Council of People with Disabilities in Rwanda, stressed the need to have a regional network, saying no council can achieve a lot alone.
“We need to create a strong network of people with disabilities in the region, we will make some recommendations on how to have a network which will help us achieve our common mission, each council has own mission but we need a common network to achieve a lot together,” said Ndayisaba.
He added that they would draft a joint statement which will include all the necessary tools needed to have their problems addressed and share it with Heads of State for consideration.
Dr Samuel Kabue from the Ecumenical Disability Advocate Network, Kenya, said though the EAC has a disability law and countries ratified other international laws, such laws can only remain in the shelves if the councils do not push for their implementation.
“Actually the EAC already has a disability law enacted very recently, and five years ago, they came up with the disability policy but all this can just be documents on the shelves if there is nobody pushing. I believe these councils can play a key role in pushing for those policies and laws to be implemented,” said Kabue.
He said rights of people with disabilities would not be achieved without somebody overseeing it.
He observed that the councils can enrich each other and continue to identify their role as facilitating other government departments on inclusion of persons with disabilities in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework.
“The councils of people with disabilities should influence public policies for inclusion of persons with disability to ensure that the principle of equal rights is applied across the board,” Kabue added.
Dr Alvera Mukabaramba, the Minister of State for Community Development and Social Affairs, said there is need for governments to decentralise the issue of people with disabilities up to the grassroots level.
She said the councils network would help influence governments to act more in the favour of people with disabilities.
The minister hailed JICA for the role it has been playing to partner with the government to support people with disabilities.