When Africa’s blindness community convenes in Kampala, Uganda, for the 6th Africa Forum this October, Martin Kieti will be in the middle of it all. Kieti is program coordinator for the Institutional Development Program (IDP), which was co-founded by Perkins in 1990 and hosts Africa Forum. Kieti, who has low vision, recently spoke with Perspectives about this historic event.
What is the goal of Africa Forum?
Africa Forum is a conference that brings together different stakeholders within the blindness advocacy movement in Africa. We discuss key issues related to services for people who are blind on the continent, and out of these discussions a number of top priorities emerge. Together we are building a new agenda to guide our efforts over the next three to five years. Our event has really taken root since the first Forum was held in Ghana in 1996. We anticipate this year’s conference to be the largest-ever gathering of Africa’s blindness community, with hundreds of participants from over 40 countries around the globe in attendance.
Why is it important to come together as a community?
By coming together, we provide a platform for sharing experiences and establishing common priorities. A wide range of stakeholders – individuals who are blind and visually impaired, government officials, service providers, manufacturers and more – are coming to share their knowledge, learn from each other and build networks. It’s an empowerment process for both individuals and organizations.
What is the theme of this year’s conference?
“Beyond 2015: Delivering on the Agenda for Blind and Partially Sighted People in Africa.”We’re looking at the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals and hope to stimulate debate across the African continent about how the goals relate to our work and whether they can be used as a backbone to help promote equality and access to services.
Does technology play a role in this debate?
Technology has become an integral part of life today. As Africans who are blind and as disability advocates, we have to include technology in the work we are doing. We have to harness new technologies both as a cost-effective way of providing services, and as tools for empowerment and equalization. And we must use technology to ensure that as the world moves forward, Africans who are blind enjoy the same technological opportunities available to others.
What does the future hold for Africa’s blindness community?
There’s great hope. We believe people who are blind and partially sighted on this continent have a great future. There are many people committed to ensuring that opportunities and services are available and accessible. A lot of international human rights organizations are looking at Africa as a place where they have a stake.
Ultimately, Africans who are blind, visually impaired and partially sighted must be able to enjoy full access to services and experience equality just as anyone else would. This requires both the proper legislative and policy frameworks within governments, but also the capacity of the blindness community to advocate, share their experiences and promote change.
To learn more about the 6th Africa Forum, visit AfricaForum2015.org.