Monday, June 13, 2011

Disability in Africa

One of the joys of my current consulting role in Africa is that I get to interact with a significant number of NGOs and international welfare organisations. From a social issues perspective, this interaction has been enlightening. While I have largely been focused on education related development work in Uganda and Central Africa, one recent interaction outside this realm stands out as worthy of mention. That is the topic of disability in Africa.

In stark contrast to the likes of the BBC that pay great attention to catering for people with disabilities, the priority this segment of the population is given in Africa is shocking. Africa is a region facing some unique challenges with respect to fighting poverty - as such, people with disabilities will automatically be disproportionately represented. The number of disabled rise due to malnutrition, natural disasters, civil strife and conflict, and of course AIDS.

The disabled in Africa are all but ignored in local society. They form part of a vicious cycle in which they are unable to contribute economically, which consequently makes them of less perceived value as human beings - harsh, but this is the reality. This perceived lower value in turn gives people even less incentive to make any sort of investment in uplifting the disabled - physically, emotionally, economically or otherwise.

Worse yet, not only are they largely invisible to the local able population, they also appear to be invisible in development initiatives. The willingness to to contribute is there, and its strong - but they are unfortunately marginalised because they are perceived to be a burden. The result as can be expected, is devastating, both to the disabled individual as well as to the economy.

Further aggravating the situation is that while international organisations acknowledge the importance of catering for the disabled in these markets, and their involvement in poverty alleviation initiatives, there is little to no research done in the area. This lack of information about disability and poverty in Africa and indeed in other developing nations around the world, makes it difficult for welfare organisations and NGOs to actively obtain funding for necessary initiatives.

Most recently, Benin and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) are undergoing such studies to support future aid efforts by the likes of the World Bank - one can only hope that these studies not only begin to identify some critical statistics around disability, but also draw a solid link between disability and poverty in the developing world. Without such a link, it will be difficult to get sufficient funding to do anything of consequence in this area.

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As an aside, some of the recent development and professional coaching work I have been involved with in the education sector has involved engaging with disabled students extensively. It appears, just in the region I am currently working in in Uganda, that school enrollment of disabled children is often as low as 10-15%. Again, this is not a matter of ability but rather one of negative perception, lack of appropriate resources (it still has me taking a punt on an online slots casino every now and then in the hopes that I can start my own self-administered development fund for Africa), and most of all a regressive social attitude towards disability.

Until this perception of the disabled changes in the eyes of the African public, very little will actually be done to alleviate the plight of the African disabled.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Royal wedding, Royal distraction

A few decades have passed since the last similar event of this magnitude - the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. It seems not much has changed in terms of the royal attention the couple - Prince William and Kate Middleton this time around are receiving.

The wedding has been in the spotlight most of this week in the news - the only difference from 1981 being the tremendous global impact of social media. Now there's cartoon facebook pages and wedding twitter feeds and more to keep the news hungry well-fed for the UK national event scheduled for the 29th April 2011.

While places like China are going a little crazy trying to capitalise on the royal wedding by flooding the market with replica wedding rings, souvenirs, branded t-shirts - and quite successfully so one might add, it does beg the questions whether this euphoria is justified, whether such events still should have a place in the world calendar, and no doubt for some, whether the monarchy should still be in existence.

Judging by the coverage on the BBC and other traditional media, it appears that those pro the wedding are significantly more than those against it. Most are welcoming it as a royal distraction from the turmoil going on all over the world at the moment - whether it's the nuclear fallout in Japan, tsunamis, or the North African revolutions that have spread from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to Syria and many other locations in Middle East. The wedding does bring a sense of positivity and hope for viewers - much needed, one could argue, this year especially.

From an economic point of view, certainly there are benefits too. Spending increases a bit on everything from restaurant specials and romantic holiday offers to the actual purchase of tacky souvenir items relating to the wedding. The romance of it all - a fairy tale in the making is quite a captivating incentive to keep many women glued to their screens - again, quite a positive thing for the most part.

On the negatives, however, the argument is that the entire event constitutes a royal waste of public funds. This too, at a time when many feel that money should be allocated to more pressing matters - like saving countries economically. It was indeed a noble gesture for the couple to suggest that nobody send them wedding gifts but instead donate money to a worthy charity instead. I just wonder how many starving children could be fed with the funding going into the wedding itself. Still, I guess there are positives that cannot be totally ignored in this equation.

The bigger issue of course, and one that will no doubt be of importance in the coming week is the actual relevance of the monarchy itself. According to BBC and other news reports, there is likely going to be a significant anti-monarchy protest with members coming in from all over Europe to participate.

Other issues surrounding the wedding from a negative standpoint is unnecessary disruptions. Local government establishments have received over five thousand road closure requests for street parties and the like. If you're not going to be joining them, that will certainly make for some irritation.

Personally, I know there are more pressing issues to deal with in the world. I do believe however, that the public becomes immune to bad news after a while - there is simply so much of it. If anything, the Royal Wedding will provide some relief and help people recollect and celebrate life, albeit just for a short time. A royal distraction is what it is, but a much needed one for the world right now.

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As an aside, it has been great watching romantic wedding movies as TV schedules have moved to accommodate the event in their programming. The fairy tale nature of the wedding just makes one want to go out and buy lottery tickets online in the hopes that someday one might be able to have exactly the same type of royal experience. Sadly, for those amongst us that aren't princesses and have no real shot at meeting princes in our everyday lives, no visits to even the best online slots casino can come to our rescue. For us, we will all live vicariously through Miss Kate Middleton!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Drivers of Social Revolution

The recent events in North Africa and the Middle East, starting off in Tunisia and still rippling across the region, makes for an interesting case study about the drivers for social revolution. Many of the countries that have experienced unrest did not undergo any sudden, major economic or political change. So what is it that sparked off the change and allowed it to be amplified in such a short period of time?

Over the last four months, I've taken a short sabbatical from my consulting assignments to do some volunteer work in Southern Africa. One of my personal goals was to leave a significant contribution, particularly in the areas of education and social development. My experience with life coaching and its application in a mass market context was most insightful. It allowed me a rare opportunity to understand what the really poor value, and what they are willing to endure.

The flip side of that understanding, is that it also provided me with some of the potential triggers that would bring on the need to do something more drastic - be it self-immolation in the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, or some other visible form of protest. And the protest need not be to make a blaring social statement - more often than not it is an unplanned act of desperation. The fact that it catches the attention of media and social networks is often just by the way.

Without diving in to the details of how the North African uprising started, the logic of social revolutions is as follows: there are repressed feelings about the powerlessness of individuals because of their circumstances. If these repressed feelings lead to a state of resignation - an acceptance that the status quo will never change and nothing that an individual can do will make an impact, then the anger of society is bottled up.

Now there are triggers to release this bottled up anger: an act of protest; acts of desperation or violence; organised mass action; or in the case of countries like South Africa - a strong leader like Nelson Mandela. The former triggers often used to be more hit and miss - there was no guarantee that the traditional media would pick up on an act and that it would be publicised enough to raise more than an empathetic conversation. With the rise of freer information flows through social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook, however, public sentiment is more easily communicated. The use of these technologies is what gave voice to the public disgust in Tunisia.

If enough people find a common platform to channel their anger, and if they feel like there is hope that things may change - or there is sufficient pain for them to believe that there is no other option, then there is a revolution. What happened in Tunisia was exactly that - when Mohamed Bouazizi burnt himself, the public was united with a common cause. They could directly relate to the tragic situation of the street vendor who had his wares confiscated and saw no means to continue to make an honest living - and they acted.

What happened since in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Djibouti, Jordan, and even Iran, Saudi Arabia and Libya was that the ousting of President Ben Ali in Tunisia gave hope that their resignation with their respective regimes might have been misplaced. The citizens of those countries too felt that taking proactive steps may improve their lot. Ultimately, it is that very HOPE that is the key driver to any social revolution.

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Be sure to check out the recent post on the North African revolutions on Wonkie, my favourite African news blog and the excellent BBC Paul Mason's democracy and economics article. If you're bored and would like something to do, check out these recommended pages.

As a brief aside I would also like to thank executive coach and friend, Pratish, whom I worked with as part of my volunteer project. For those of you who haven't experienced coaching and are keen to hire an executive coach, I highly recommend him!

Apologies for being out of touch with the blogging scene whilst I was volunteering - I guess readers should be used to that by now with me! I have some interesting articles lined up over the next few months including a guest cartoon strip on Wabber. For my friends in India, you may want to check out the new Play lottery in India page, given that the Powerball is now over $180M this week! :)