Chakwera opens MACOHA Flag Week

President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera on Thursday opened the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA) Flag Week on a sad note after observing that the government has failed to create a conducive environment for persons with disabilities to be at par with able-bodied people.

Chakwera said that Malawi has a long way to go to “make persons with disabilities feel that they are in a new Malawi in which everyone prospers together.”

The Flag Week is being observed under the theme “50 Years of Empowering Persons with Disabilities.”

The President was the first to buy a Flag marking the start of this year’s Flag Week.

Chakwera kneels down to a girl who was putting a lapel on his jacket–Photo by Govati Nyirenda, State House

Chakwera said the more he reflected on the work many people have done to empower persons with disabilities in the past 50 years, the more he realized that we have a long way to go to make persons with disabilities feel that they are in a new Malawi in which everyone prospers together.

“Two recent incidents, one here at home and one abroad, serve as a painful reminder that we cannot afford to become complacent about the rights of persons with disabilities. The first incident happened in Scotland just a little over two weeks ago when I was attending the Climate Conference in Glasgow. On the first day of the World Leaders Summit, Israel’s Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Honorable Karine Elharrar, was unable to access the conference facility with her wheelchair. After waiting two hours to be assisted, she gave up and returned to her hotel some 50 miles away,” he said.

The President said if in the developed Global North, a minister with a disability still has to fight for something as basic as equal access to a building, then there is no way we can become complacent in our efforts to equalize access to public services and public spaces for persons with disabilities.

Chakwera therefore directed the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development to ensure that building accessibility standards are complied with in all the councils.

He demanded that the ministry should furnish him with a progress report no later than the last day of this fiscal year.

“The second incident happened here at home. 50 days ago, my friend Honorable Clement Chiwaya was alive, and he and I even corresponded. But by the end of the next day, he was dead, having fatally wounded himself with a gun in the House of Parliament, where he had once worked as Member of Parliament for Mangochi Central and as Deputy Speaker. In a note that he had left behind, the former legislator narrated his ordeal as a person with disability, describing how he had been denied his work benefits for so long that he felt reduced to the indignity of having to beg for them,” narrated the President.

Chakwera described the words Chiwaya made in his suicide note as “heartbreaking words were written by arguably the most empowered person with disability in the history of Malawi.”

Chakwera receives a gift from Dr. Chioza Bandawe

He emphasized that the fact that Malawi, as a society made such an accomplished and distinguished man feel devalued and distressed on account of his disability, is a stain we must work tirelessly to remove.

“If a man of his achievements was made to feel disempowered by his disability, how much more those persons with disability whose names, stories, and faces remain unknown. I am there directing the Minister responsible for the social welfare of persons with disability to conduct an assessment of every public institution’s performance in upholding the rights and dignity of persons with disability and to report those who are violators to me. I will know how to deal with the heads of those departments.

“If we want the next 50 years to be 50 years of empowering persons with disabilities, then we need to do more and better than we have done so far. We should not deceive ourselves with the notion that we have done enough to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities. If persons with disabilities are themselves saying that we are not doing enough, then we must work as though we haven’t done anything at all. That is the new Malawi we want,” said Chakwera.

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