Daisy Coomber and Simeon Lapworth (Project Interns)

Working to fight discrimination against disability

in the Democratic Republic of Congo

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), disabled people often find themselves the victims of prejudice and discrimination, but increasingly efforts are being made to transform attitudes and misconceptions. Willy Masuga Musafiri spoke to us about his work within the DRC’s Ministry of Health as National Director of the National Programme of Community-Based Rehabilitation (Programme National de Réadaptation à Base Communautaire, PNRBC).

Following its formation in 2003, the PNRBC has sought to design, organise and coordinate disability interventions across the country – indispensable efforts that have transformed the otherwise negligible considerations of disability in modern-day discourses. It is through their consistent presence at all levels of prevention that the PNRBC has seen success in rehabilitating, empowering and securing the inclusion of disabled people.

Their support has been wide-reaching across the country, offering relief to those with one of the five main types of disability: motor, visual, auditory, mental, and those with multiple disabilities.

Willy Masuga Musafiri has experience of combatting both the physical and conceptual existence of everyday-discriminations against disability. He explained how in the DRC, disability often carries negative connotations, with people often connecting it to bad luck or even witchcraft. Despite efforts to re-educate and inform, these misbeliefs continue to permeate across society, and it is for this reason that Masuga Musafiri labels the exclusion of those with a disability as “first of all a cultural problem”.

“The usual explanations attributed to disabled people in the different cultures of the DRC prove [this] because they are discriminatory and stigmatizing”.

He exemplifies this, adding that in Congo the birth of a child with a disability can lead to the mother being divorced by her partner and publicly shamed. Moreover “most children born with disabilities are hidden in their households”, meaning that they cannot move about or go to school, as they are the subject of mockery.

When asked about what has influenced these systemic belief-systems targeting the disabled, he responded that it is due to the inadequate response of national laws, policies and strategies, indicating that it takes institutional efforts to construct a more inclusive society.

Without the work of organisations such as the PNRBC, disability will continue to retain its damaging associations. Masuga Musafiri explained to us some of the vast efforts made by the group to support people with disability…

They have enhanced legislation, applying the WHO matrix to develop policies, strategies and guidelines for the promotion of a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

They have improved professional understandings, developing the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of health workers and rehabilitation services to the benefit of people with disability in their communities.

They have increased awareness, mobilising funds for international projects working towards the inclusion of the issue of disability in public policies and support for grassroots interventions.

They have established good practice, working to empower and include people in communities through the likes of football programmes and the provision of mobility aids, aiming to duplicate these changes in other countries.

Willy Masuga Musafiri makes it clear that discrimination against disability is a cultural phenomenon that extends from poor political efforts to challenge such harmful attitudes. The PNRBC has manifestly worked from this premise, seeking to improve the lives of disabled people at both community and government levels. It is through their contributions that the future DRC now contains a promise of tolerance towards disability.