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close this bookSustainable Development and Persons with Disabilities: The Process of Self-Empowerment (ADF, 1995, 117 p.)
close this folderSection III: Lobbying, networking and building alliances
close this folderChapter 10: Strategies for lobbying, networking and building alliances
View the documentPWDs are their own principal change agents
View the documentLobbying, advocacy and networking
View the documentBroad alliances
View the documentAction guidelines

PWDs are their own principal change agents

History is not changed by the power holders; it is always changed by those who are individually powerless but who can collectively move mountains.

In Chapter 3 on "Enabling Environment" we argued that the PWDs themselves are the principal "stakeholders" in their own situation. As such they are also their own principal change agents. Indeed, throughout history every major social change has begun with those who suffer from the injustices of the existing system of economic and social relations. Those who rule the system never want to change it. indeed, why should they? Therefore, the masses (the common people, the populace, those who are prejudiced by the system), make their own history. The entire liberation struggle of the third world, and more recently the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, is a testimony to this.

But change does not come overnight. Those who are in power do not yield easily. Prejudices do not suddenly disappear, especially if they are rooted in culture, religion and 'tradition". It requires decades, sometimes centuries, of struggle to bring about fundamental changes. In the meantime, individuals caught up on the wrong side of the power divide have two options: seek their individual salvation and adapt as best as they can to the situation, or join the collective force to try to change the situation. Every social movement has these two types of people those who are only for themselves, and those who are for the collectivity. The women's and the disability movements are, of course, no exceptions.

What are the essential ingredients of change?

There are many, such as a good vision that inspires popular support, a good leadership, a good strategy of action, and so on. But they all boil down to two:

a) Collective action, and
b) Broad based alliances

Importance of collective action

This is the first most important ingredient. The importance of collective action cannot be overemphasised. Changes are not products of individual heroism, though history somehow only remembers heroes. Individual leadership with vision, wisdom and charisma are, of course, very important. But changes come because the masses of people have joined the movement for change.

We live in an era of global agendas. The world, at least in terms of communications, has become smaller. With fax machines at hand the Chinese students caught up in revolt at Tiananmen Square could mobilise world opinion against state repression. This they could not have done only a few years before.

The TV screen has brought action in the remotest parts of the world (including plight of the poor and the powerless) right into the bedrooms of people who have TVs, and has jolted them from their usual complacence. So the communication infrastructure is in place. Social movements have to know how to use it.

The main problem is not the hardware. The main problem is people. Individualism is one of the most dynamic aspects of western civilization. But it is also the worst. Individual gratification, individual greed, general selfishness - these are the constraints to collective action. That is where good leadership comes in, one that can inspire collective action. Streams of individual agony have to be channelled into collective rivers.

In recent years the women's movement has coined a very useful phrases: Organise, Don't Agonize!

National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe (NCDPZ)

We the disabled people of Zimbabwe formed the NCDPZ ourselves. It was in 1985. There were no employment opportunities for us after schooling. We were not satisfied with handouts and institutional rehabilitation. We wanted to take matters in our own hands. It was our will and objectives which kept us going. The municipality gave us a piece of land and we started our projects. We have managed to empower many other groups. A group of women, for example, are now engaged in sewing and knitting. The project had problems in the beginning. The profits obtained were not properly accounted for. But we are learning from mistakes. Now they have rectified the mistakes. NCDPZ is self-sustaining.

Collective action brings self-confidence. It emboldens the feeble. It motivates the pessimist. It stirs to action. That's why it is important that before the PWDs think in terms of lobbying and networking, they must first unite and pledge for collective action.

This is not to say that they are not so united. Indeed, the last decade has seen many dramatic changes in the disability front. The disabled people are uniting at national and regional levels. They are forming "Pan -" movements (like PAFOD - PanAfrican Federation of the Disabled). And they are planning global agendas, like the DPI - the Disabled People's International. They are also uniting at cross-disability levels. For sure, there is progress. But more can be done. The poor amongst the disabled people are still in the streets or in rehabilitation centres. The women are moving in, but still not in large enough numbers to make a significant impact. Persons with severe disabilities are left behind. There are still national and regional differences. Of course, there can never be perfect unity. Divisions are always there. Contradictions persist. All this is not to undervalue the achievements made so far. It is to inspire further collective action.

As the West African proverb says: We need many hands to embrace a Baobab

So there is no question that changes must begin with the PWDs themselves. They must empower themselves BOTH to generate and sustain their own activities, and to ensure that other actors, especially the government, create the enabling environment for them. We give in the adjoining box the example of NCDPZ (Zimbabwe) who rejected the charity model, and set out for themselves a different kind of organisation.

Local effort is necessary, but it can become a patchwork of indifferent performance. Also, at the national level it may not add up to changing the overall situation of the PWDs. At the macro-level (in this case, at the level of the nation itself), policies and institutions have to be created that empower the disabled people. Certain things have to be done by government, such as changes in legislation, and providing the enabling environment for PWDs to be self-reliant.


With the coming to fore a new degree of collective consciousness about social issues, people have become alive to the importance of strategising. It is not a new concept. But with mass politics encouraged by mass communications, strategising has reached new sophistication in methodology and techniques. There are practically hundreds of "strategising workshops" held every day in every corner of the world on one social issue or the other. The end of the cold war has globalised social and political issues as never before.

So what is strategy? It is simply a systematic approach towards achieving a certain objective. It is a design or a scheme that identifies the ways and means by which certain objectives might be attained over a certain period of time. Without a strategy, action becomes ad hoc, unsystematic, incoherent, reactive. A strategy has to be "pro-active" (this is a new word in the strategising dictionary). You can't sit and simply react to somebody else's initiatives, you have to take the initiative yourself on your own behalf

What does strategising involve? From the author's experience working with political, activist, and grassroots organizations for over three decades now, it involves at least the following:

1. A moral philosophy, a vision
2. A set of short-term and long-term objectives
3. A broad consensus in sup port of those objectives
4. An organisation and leader ship
5. Appropriate slogans and techniques
6. Selecting the terrain and tactics of the daily struggle
7. Morale building during the struggle
8. Self-financing the struggle
9. A humane treatment of those who "betray" the struggle
10. A humane treatment of "the enemy."

Notice that this is a summary derived from several years of experience. Naturally, these observations reflect the author's own philosophy of action. The only reason they are brought in here is to argue the point that there are no "scientific" rules to strategising. Every movement must make its own strategy. It must have its own philosophy of action, its own moral code, its own way of dealing with "the enemy" or those who "betray" the struggle, its own rules for financing the struggle, etc. Not all of the above elements will apply to the struggle of the disabled movement, but some of them could apply. Obviously, every movement has to have at least a vision, a set of objectives, an organisation and a leadership.

It is not the purpose of this chapter to lay out a strategy for the Disabled Movement. That would be impossible, let alone being pretentious. To some extent, the People with Disabilities coming from various parts of Africa met at Entebbe in September 1994 to do just that. This chapter draws on the deliberations of that workshop, although the objectives of this guide are much broader, and not confined to the workshop proceedings.

There are two "techniques" of strategising that excited some interest at the Workshop which we need to discuss further. These are "lobbying" and "networking". They both fall under item three in our list of elements above that go into a strategy - namely, building a broad consensus in support of stated objectives.