Liberia: “Disability Is Not Inability”

Liberia Amputee national team players celebrate after progressing to the final

... Hailing the Achievement of the Amputee National Football Team

The success of the Liberian Amputee National Football Team, three-time winners of the African Nations Cup and second runners-up in the just ended Nations Cup final, is by all accounts no mean achievement considering the low level of official support provided to sports in general and to football in particular.

Their achievement highlights the recognized fact that people with disabilities can make substantial contributions to society but they are generally ignored. Liberia has set up a National Commission on Disabilities chaired by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor.

According to the United Nations, there is a link between poverty and disability because, as statistics show, people with disabilities are more likely to experience poverty while poverty itself also increases the incidence of disability. And the UN further notes that 80 percent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries.

 In a December 3, 2021 statement marking the celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disability Summit, President Weah declared, “I am here today to give you my fullest support. My Administration will continue to strive to improve the conditions in Liberia under which persons with a disability must live.

“This will involve further facilitation of the work of organizations working in the sector, including the National Commission on Disabilities, which is overseen by Vice President Taylor in her capacity as Chairperson. Where this is lacking, we will begin to take the necessary corrective steps to restore your basic rights”.

Following closely on the heels of President Weah’s statement came a statement made by Presidential aspirant Tiawan Gongloe during an acceptance speech in Ganta over the weekend.

Gongloe said, “In my effort to build a better Liberia, I promise that not less than fifty percent of my cabinet ministers will be women. In this regard, I will pay special attention to the physically challenged as well those who are marginalized in one way or another. Nobody will be left behind in the nation’s march to a better Liberia”.

Available statistics on disability in Liberia are scanty and, in most cases, virtually outdated. This strongly suggests that there is a lack of reliable disaggregated data on disabled persons in Liberia. According to a 1997 UNICEF report, 16 percent of the population of 5m people is disabled. Further, according to UNICEF, 61 percent have mobility problems, 7 percent are speech impaired while 8 percent have an either psychosocial or intellectual disability.

People with disabilities in Liberia generally suffer marginalization and stigmatization. From a cultural perspective disability in Liberia, as in many other parts of Africa, is often seen as divine retribution for the misdeeds of either one’s ancestors or oneself.

According to James Amanze, the attitude of six major World Religions towards People With Disabilities is generally negative. He further argues that such negativity is seen in their teachings, beliefs, practices, spiritualties, and ethics and that this is a source of stigma, discrimination, isolation, and exclusion of people with disabilities.

People with Disabilities are for the most part excluded from education, skills training, income-generating activities, employment and they suffer from a general lack of adequate access to health care. Additionally, they have little or no voice in national political life and society in general. Although they are confronted daily with real issues, their issues and concerns are either not mainstreamed or hardly considered in national policy formulation including poverty alleviation measures.

As a result, life for people with disabilities exists in a vicious poverty trap with virtually no opportunities for upward social mobility. According to the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA), 99 percent of Liberians with disabilities live in extreme poverty.

In 2012, Liberia signed and ratified the UN Conventions on the rights of people with disabilities including other treaties that have to do with the rights of Persons with Disabilities such as the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It also since formed a National Commission on Disability.

But the dismal level of support accorded to the National Commission on Disabilities suggests that Disability is not a priority consideration for this government. As noted earlier, much too often the talents they have and the contribution that disabled people can make to society are virtually ignored.

It is for this reason that we at the Daily Observer hail the success of the Amputee National Football Team. Against so many odds, they have demonstrated a spirit of patriotism and a commitment to the nation which most of our officials lack. This is depicted in the broad smiles of the members of the team.

Virtually every single one of them comes from poor and deprived backgrounds and families. It is safe to say that at least 85 percent of them are unemployed. Compared to their counterparts in other parts of Africa, with organized well supported football development programs, our boys have done extremely well and are indeed deserving of support.

As the Legislature debates the national budget for passage, we urge our lawmakers to revisit the level of support to the National Commission on Disabilities and do their possible best, going forward, to mainstream disability issues/concerns into the national budgetary and planning processes.  

Disability is by no means inability and this has been amply demonstrated by the Amputee National Football Team.