Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The Olympics reveal case of discrimination
The 29th summer Olympic games are upon us and the world will remain spell bound for the next three weeks as the human spirit, which is basically about endurance and endeavour, comes to the fore with 10,500 athletes from a record 204 nations chasing 302 medals in 28 sports.

One of such athletes who did not make it for the games though, is Mr Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius. Although eligible to compete in Beijing, Mr Pistorius did not qualify for the South African team.

Despite achieving third place and a personal best time of 46.25 seconds in the 400 metres in Lucerne, Switzerland, on July 16,2008 he was short of the Olympic qualification time of 45.55 seconds. But what makes Pistorius story fascinating and a subject of this column is not his failure to qualify for the games but his passion, determination, grace and grit to liberate himself from the bondages of discrimination.

Pistorius is a disabled person who against all odds has shown that he too can compete and do it very well against the non- disabled athletes. He has also set a precedent and generally shamed the stereotypes who believe that the disabled should be relegated to the special Olympics specially designed for people with disabilities.

If a disabled person can compete ( and Pistorius has proved this) with non- disabled sportsmen, then they should be given a chance.

Besides, this is the spirit of the Olympics: one world, one dream! Pistorius is a double amputee, and wears “Cheetah” prostheses (artificial legs) to walk and run. But some members of the International Association of Althetics Federation ,(IAAF) could not hear of it .

They argued that his artificial legs would give him an unfair advantage over other athletes. Pistorius petitioned the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) where he won after the court’s decision that he was eligible to compete in competitions under IAAF rules.

Many Ugandans with disabilities similar to those of Pistorius would have loved to be part of the historic event but they cannot because they simply don’t have facilities like those available to athletes from the advanced societies .

That said, Pistorius’s story in the run up to the games is also quite captivating from a human rights perspective. Observance of the rights of disabled persons in conservative societies like ours. All too often, persons with disabilities are perceived to be cases of charity, rather than individuals who are entitled to the effective enjoyment of all human rights as spelt out in chapter four of our constitution.

Traditional explanations of disabled people rest upon the assumptions of the medical practitioners who argue that impairment causes such a traumatic physical and psychological impact upon the individuals affected - that they are unable to achieve a reasonable quality of life by their own efforts.

And then you have the more offensive social tribulations suffered daily by people with disabilities. The well entrenched restrictive environment and disabling barriers. The disabled people are treated like a cursed lot among their non-disabled peers. They can’t do this they can’t do that. And the story goes on.

This is what is called social oppression . It’s institutional discrimination which is clearly repugnant to the spirit of our national constitution: that all Ugandans are equal including people with disabilities. This social tyranny is a perspective that is now recognised as an inadequate basis for understanding disability.

It’s this bias that can best explain why apart from the media no civil rights group or local and national leader came out to condemn, let alone investigate the case of Ms Namusoga (not real name), the 13-year-old blind and double amputee who gave birth after being defiled. We are even yet to hear from the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) about this particular case.
Discrimination against disabled people is now widely understood as a major social problem that can only be solved by statutory means. Let parliament enact a law that will help empower the people with disabilities.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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