NOW Us: Positioning youth with disabilities for political participation in Uganda
by Charles Mugoya and Faridah Nabbanja, UNAPD Uganda
Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD) was established in 1998 with the vision of fostering unity, mutual support and equitable representation for individuals with physical disabilities. As a grantee partner under the Influencing Grant category, UNAPD is currently implementing a transformative project titled “Empowering Youth with Disabilities for Political Participation” in Pallisa district.
The project aims to empower Youth with Disabilities (YWDs) to actively engage in political spaces within their communities. Prior to this initiative, YWDs in Pallisa District faced significant challenges in voicing their concerns in the political sphere and other influential arenas. Additionally, they lacked the confidence to effectively communicate with their leaders and articulate their unique perspectives. In April 2022, UNAPD established self-led influencing groups, known as “Now US Youth Groups,” in the sub-counties of Kameke and Pallisa town councils. These groups collaborated closely with local leaders to create a platform for change. Each group consisted of 25 members, with 90% being persons with disabilities, and had a gender ratio of 3 females to 1 male. The groups elected chairpersons and secretaries responsible for coordinating their activities.
Following their formation, group members underwent comprehensive training and mentorship on the existing legal framework, including the Disability Act and Youth Act, to understand the provisions these instruments offered for political participation of YWDs. They received guidance on leadership and governance and were equipped with essential soft skills such as negotiation, communication, lobbying, and debate to advocate from an informed standpoint.
The Now US Youth Groups convene bi-weekly to share information, discuss significant milestones, develop strategies for progress and address emerging challenges. Additionally, they have established WhatsApp groups that facilitate seamless communication, fostering a sense of unity and the rapid dissemination of information.
With UNAPD’s support, YWDs have experienced a remarkable increase in their confidence to articulate issues that affect them to their leaders. The Now US Youth Groups have played a pivotal role in strengthening self-esteem, fostering peer support and actively identifying and mobilising the most marginalised youth with disabilities, including individuals with dwarfism, albinism and epilepsy. Furthermore, these groups have taken the initiative to keep their leaders informed about their activities, fostering a more receptive environment. It is now evident that Youth with Disabilities seek peaceful engagement and mentorship, aiming to assume greater leadership responsibilities in the present and future.
Youth with Disabilities have notably amplified their participation in local elections within their communities, resulting in a series of positive stories:
Oluka John, a Youth with Disability from Komolo B village in Kameke Subcounty, shared his testimony:
“In 2020, I aspired to become the youth chairman at the sub-county level but faced discouragement due to my disability. Both my father and friends expressed doubts about my chances of being elected. However, drawing inspiration from the mentorship sessions we have undergone, I am now determined to contest in 2026 for the position of sub-county councilor. I intend to advocate for the issues affecting Youth with Disabilities that have long been neglected at the sub-county level. Additionally, I aim to address the challenges they face in accessing government grants designated for YWDs, such as the ‘Myoga’ Parish development modal and the Disability Grant.”
Amuron Hellen, a youth with a disability from Kwapa village in Kameke Subcounty, emphasised the increased participation of marginalised youth with disabilities:
“Previously, individuals such as persons living with albinism and epilepsy, who were among the most marginalised, did not effectively participate. During a visit to Komolo Manga polling center to check the voter register, I encountered three youth with disabilities, including a little person and two persons living with albinism, verifying their names. I am confident that this time, many persons with disabilities will actively participate in the upcoming election for the re-election of the Member of Parliament for Gogonyo County on 11/08/2022.”
Umar Kirya, the 28-year-old Pallisa town council youth chairperson, acknowledged the positive impact of the Now US Youth Groups on information sharing and proactive advocacy:
“Being part of the district team selected by the district Parish development modal monitoring committee, where I represent the youth, I am grateful for the opportunity to ensure that the allocated 10% benefits Youth with Disabilities as well. This experience has opened doors to effectively address issues affecting YWDs, thereby promoting inclusive service delivery.”
The journey towards political participation and improved services for Youth with Disabilities is ongoing. The Now US Youth groups continue to mentor other YWDs within the community, further increasing the number of individuals seeking political representation and participation in Pallisa District. Political parties have already initiated the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their quarterly meetings, demonstrating their commitment to prioritising disability inclusion and leaving no one behind.