When Dr. Martin Luther King, a prominent leader in the civil rights movement in the United States from 1955 until his assassination in 1968 was speaking of the long journey to establishing equity among all races, said: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’.

The statement has been used the world over in pushing for social reforms, noting that change isn’t immediate, but gradual.

In the disability front within the Zanzibar context, it’s been a long time coming as each generation is tasked with putting in the work of making the society and country more disability inclusive.

The push for disability rights in Zanzibar dates back to the 90s when the Union of People with Disabilities Zanzibar (Umoja wa Watu Wenye Ulemavu-UWZ) under the late Mwalimu Khalfan, held a banner defending the rights of people with disabilities and pushing to have the government hear their voices.

The push injected a sense of self-knowledge into a society that had long been unmindful of the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Like lost innocence, this new conscience couldn’t be ignored. Progressively, more players, including presidents, actively contributed to pushing the disability agenda forward from the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities (Rights and Privileges) Act No. 9 of 2006 and to enacting the new Act of 2022 which was consented to by the President on 22 December 2022.

The new Persons with Disabilities Act, of 2022, brings with it a myriad of benefits, all intent on leveling the playing field for all.

Mention a few are the right to education-comprising vocational training and social adaptation training based on categories of disabilities; the right to work and employment; the right to health services; right to access information and communication, the establishment of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities and establishment of Zanzibar Development Fund for Persons with Disabilities.

But more work has to be done. The government allocated an initial Sh1.0 billion to the National Council for Persons with Disabilities established by the Act, which funds activities geared towards improving the socio-economic well-being of PWDs, but these funds are still insufficient to serve thousands of people with disabilities.

The 2022 Act further strengthens the position of PWDs.

Under section 42 of the Act, it is an offence to conceal a person with disabilities.

The section states that: Any person who conceals a person with a disability commits an offense and shall upon conviction, be liable to a fine of not less than fifty thousand and not exceeding five hundred thousand shillings.

The law also states that if a person with disabilities is convicted of any offense in accordance with relevant law and sentenced to imprisonment, the punishment given to him shall regard the state and type of his disability.

As part of the global community, the new law also commits the government to ensure and takes measure to prevent disability caused by road accidents, disease and other health factors, accidents, diseases and industrial disasters and other factors that cause disability.

The commitments made by the government in the new law are for the generation of proper disability disaggregated data, a commitment already on course with the ongoing roll-out of the new registration system.

With the Disability Act being the first which comprises many rights in Zanzibar’s history, it wasn’t intended to be the last.

Indeed, the Act assented that prior to 2022, was not in tune with the changing times. The process of reviewing this new law started in 2013, without success.

During the International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebrations last December, the First Vice President, Othman Massoud Othman, emphasised the government’s determination to enact better laws that will protect the rights of people with disabilities.

There is also provision for the right to live independently and be included in social, economic and political activities, as well as the right to participate in sports and recreation.

Like every law, it might not meet all the expectations and aspirations of the public; however, it is an improvement if compared to the previous Act, and a step forward in mainstreaming and championing disability rights in Zanzibar, with future generations expected to continue improving it as was done by our elders in the disability movement.

Definitely, with one of the goals of the law being to ensure protection and equal opportunities for people with disabilities, questions linger on its implementation.

However, what is clear though is that the law’s key objective of disability mainstreaming will only grow stronger to the benefit of PWDs.

As a beacon of hope in the continent, we always endeavour to punch above our weight, measuring our work against the best in the world.

The Americans with Disabilities Act remains a landmark law on disability. The 101st US Congress enacted the Bill after receiving broad support across the political divide in Congress.

On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the new law.

It is the hope of persons with disabilities in Zanzibar that the law will bring inspiration and increase the happiness they have missed for a long time.

Please follow and like us: