Event Report: "Africa in Front of Us" Seminar Series No. 9 "Disabled People who Cross the Border / People with Leprosy who Create a Village"

published: 2014-12-15

On June 27 (Fri.), the Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University organized in Room 211, Keigakukan Hall, Kinugasa Campus, the ninth seminar in the “Africa in Front of Us” series entitled “Disabled People who Cross the Border / People with Leprosy who Create a Village”.

For this ninth seminar, we invited as lecturers two very promising researchers of the younger generation from Kyoto University, who gave presentations describing how people with disabilities and illnesses create or reorganize their own independent lives in Africa.

Mikako Toda's presentation was entitled “Persons with disabilities crossing borders – a case study of central Africa”, and, basing her insights on the examples of migrant beggars in Yaounde, Cameroon, and on cross-border business in Congo, she elaborated on how people with disabilities create foundations for subsistence crossing the borders of countries and communities. The latter case of the cross-border business was especially interesting. A disabled association, which successfully established a trade business and a passenger transport business using a discount/support system offered by the ferries crossing the Congo River, has by now firmly established itself hailed as “kings of business” and is now an oligopolistic company engaged in this business exclusively. Ms. Toda explained that in the sphere of cross-border trade with its unclear rules, people with disabilities – for no other reason than their disabilities – became a privileged class of a kind, managing to acquire official approval and thus protection of all kinds of powers, and acquiring an occupation for themselves. From her point of view, this disabled association is different from the common mutual-aid or self-help groups, and instead should be seen as a new type of a “merchant guild” of Contemporary Africa.

Mr. Akie Kyo's presentation was entitled “The sick who create hometowns – a case study of a village inhabited by people affected by leprosy in Zambia.” The presentation described the historical process involving ex-leprosy patients, who, after being discharged from the sanatoriums and settlements established by Christian organizations during the colonial times, could not go back to their hometowns and, with no place to go, ended up creating Umoyo, a village of their own. These ex-leprosy patients use the aid supply they receive from the missionaries and exchange these with other things in the surrounding villages, establishing a foundation for their lives in their own village, Umoyo. Ms. Kyo feels that their situation is different from other communities such as self-help groups whose aim is “to solve the problems created by the disability”, and that this village of ex-leprosy patients in Zambia is a community aiming to simply exist, rooted in livelihood practices of maintaining a household, distributing food, etc.

The common point in the two presentations was that in African countries, where social security systems of the state are quite weak, people with disabilities and diseases devise some truly powerful strategies to survive, and that here one can find unique social solidarity created to enable people make ends meet. A number of questions from the floor was made regarding what kinds of cues we can find in these survival strategies and social solidarity of people with disabilities and diseases in Africa, cues that could help us to better see the situation of the disabled and sick in Japan.

African communities of people with diseases are embedded in the society, creating paradigms of development and support creating foundations for subsistence of people with disabilities that go above the nation-state, above the institutionalized social welfare which classifies and segments those in need of support. In order to take further their proposals, created drawing fully upon the strength of ample quantitative and qualitative data, and create a framework that is not bound to the African cases but can be applied universally, there is surely a need to get a further insight into the difference of cultural and social backgrounds, and create other opportunities for a dialog between the two presenters and Japanese researchers of persons with disabilities and diseases.