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Cities and Inclusive Political Participation in Mozambique by Carlos (Ntsholo) Quembo

September 25, 2018

Introduction

Today, September 25, 2018 begins the electoral campaign for the fifth municipal elections in Mozambique. There are 53 municipalities in total. As part of its activism, APODEMOS, a civil society organization that fight for the rights of disabled persons, particularly the right to access the city in Mozambique. This blog addresses ways in which disabled people are excluded in political participation and from accessing buildings in Mozambique. Before addressing the issue of city accessibility, the blog discusses the ways in which the Mozambican electoral law excludes the political participation of disabled people.

Electoral law vs disability in Mozambique

To adapt the electoral law to the constitutional amendment approved in May 2018, and particularly to “deepen decentralization process in Mozambique, the government approved the new law for municipal assemblies. Once again, the right to vote for disabled people was not addressed in the new law, though the Constitution of the Republic of Mozambique implicitly provides that right. Other laws related to electoral process in Mozambique, namely presidential, legislative, provincial assemblies and municipal assemblies’ elections do not yet address the vote of disabled people. This exclusion significantly hinders the political rights of disabled people; a right established in the Convention about the Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD) when Mozambique ratified in 2010.

Fig. 1 Polling station in Mozambique

As a result of this legislative negligence, disabled people are completely excluded from electoral process in Mozambique, although they are fully capable of voting. For example, ballot papers are not accessible; they do not have braille ballots for people who are blind. Polling stations are not accessible for people who use wheelchairs, as can be seen in figure 1. Polling stations do not have sign language interpreters available to assist voters who are deaf.

Because people with disabilities are excluded from electoral processes, their concerns are also excluded from electoral manifesto of election candidates at all levels. The fifth municipal elections in Mozambique are just another example of this unacceptable reality.

Municipal elections vs inclusive cities

For the fifth municipal elections there are more than 30 candidates. These include political parties and citizens’ groups. Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique), Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) and the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) will compete for the 53 Mozambican municipalities. A striking fact is that our cities are not accessible to people all kinds of disabilities. They  face enormous difficulties in moving around independently or even with the assistance of another person because there are no ramps and not curb cuts, etc. Although some public transportation has reserved spaces for disabled people, elderly and pregnant women, there are not enough. There is no accessibility for wheelchair users and signage is also not accessible (braille) in the 131 years-old capital city of Maputo. Barriers are created by cars that park diagonally, as in figure 2 below. Most public and private buildings, if not all, are not accessible and in most of them, there are no accessible toilets.

There are many reasons for the barriers and exclusion mentioned above.  Law enforcement is one of them. Although the Article 204 (1) (a) and (f) of the Constitution of the Republic, in conjunction with Decree No 53/2008 of 30 December (Bulletin of the Republic 4th Supplement I Series – 52), establishes the Construction Regulation and Technical Devices for Accessibility, Circulation and Use of Public Services Systems for Persons with Disabilities or Conditioned Mobility, technical specifications and the use of the International Access Symbol, which are attached to this decree and form an integral part of it, that is not the case.

Cars parked diagonally block access to the building

Fig. 2 Cars parked diagonally block access to the building

The attitude of exclusion is still dominant in Mozambique, at the level of decision-makers, and of the general public in general. Disabled people will not benefit from the reserved spaces in public transportation if they cannot get on the bus in first place, which is the case. The other reason is the lack of a disability law in Mozambique. It has two-fold impacts. On one hand, this legal vacuum leads people to continually discriminate against disabled people, given the fact that it is not a crime. On the other hand, the vacuum hinders the capacity of disabled people to fight for their rights.  We are happy to learn recently that the law on disability is being discussed at the National Parliament.

Conclusion

Given the political momentum in Mozambique, APODEMOS urges the different actors of the electoral legislation in Mozambique to mainstream disability rights in every electoral legislation in Mozambique. In fact, this mainstreaming must start with the Mozambican Constitution first. Because it still addresses disability as medical and care issue instead of a social issue. People with disabilities are not “disabled” because of their disability they are disabled by the barriers and negative attitudes and discrimination that exist around them. If disabled peoples’ voting rights are ensured by law, then political parties, the head list of municipal elections and the candidates of all other elections in Mozambique will begin to include their concerns of disabled people in their election manifestos, and these will be transformed into action by the successfully elected candidates. Together with all stakeholders and affected parts, APODEMOS will continue to fight for the rights of disabled people in general and particularly for the right to vote.

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