Scores of Cameroonians with physical disabilities petitioned the government on Friday for better representation in public office and political parties. Meeting in the capital Yaoundé, ahead of the International Day of Disabled Persons on December 3, activists said parties resist fielding disabled candidates. They also noted that not a single disabled person is in parliament or the president’s office.
Samuel Nyingcho, who has impaired vision, said the opposition Social Democratic Front rejected his request to run for local council in Tubah, an English-speaking northwestern town. Nyingcho said he was told that visual impairment hinders the ability to contribute to development.
“The national chairman of the Social Democratic Front, gave me a test to ascertain whether I was able to read and write and equally able to engage in community work,” he said. “That test I passed and then was given the opportunity to enroll as a councilor.”
But Nyingcho said after he registered, his candidacy was again rejected. Others with visual impairment began street protests and the party finally accepted his candidacy, he said.
The Social Democratic Front said that since his election in 2013, Nyingcho has been an exemplary council member, helping the community to build roads and to provide electricity and water.
Nyingcho is one of only 12 councilors with disabilities in Cameroon, out of some 12,000 nationwide.
Not a single member of parliament’s 280 members has a disability, and only one of the country’s 372 mayors.
Thirty-two leaders of associations of people with disabilities signed the petition presented Friday.
Coco Bertin, the founder of the Club for the Rehabilitated Young Blind People of Cameroon, said he signed because there is no reason qualified and educated people with disabilities should be denied better representation in public office and political parties.
He said more opportunities for those with disabilities would reduce or end the traditional belief that people with disabilities are a curse to their communities or victims of ancestral punishment for wrongdoing. Coco added that Cameroon will not be a country that ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity if people with disabilities are discriminated against.
Cameroon President Paul Biya appointed Douglas Achingale, who walks with crutches, deputy director general of the National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities in 2020.
Achingale said the disabled want to see exclusion stopped in schools.
“There are official texts which give children with disabilities some exclusive advantages during their admission in public schools, however, many educational authorities refuse categorically to respect this text,” he said. “The process to render public buildings accessible to persons with disabilities is slow, very slow indeed.”
The government says it has taken note of the plight of people living with disabilities.
Pauline Irene Nguene, Cameroon’s minister of social affairs, said Cameroon considers the fight against all forms of social exclusions as one of its immediate priorities. She said there is an ongoing advocacy with political parties, NGOs and the government for social exclusion to end.
The United Nations proclaimed the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 1992 to mobilize support for the inclusion of persons with disabilities and promote awareness-raising about disability issues.