Working to make commonwealth leaders more inclusive


Kibe is a former 2030 and Counting participant. He told us about his experience campaigning and speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

A selfie of Kibe Yohana, who was part of our 2030 and counting project

It felt like the right time to head to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this week (20-25 June) to speak on the issues that youth with disabilities face. It was the right time for many reasons, some of them related to the wider world and some of them for me.

My advocacy journey

By quite a coincidence, I started my advocacy journey at the time of the last meeting, back in 2018, when I began volunteering with local disability organisations in Kenya. And since then, quite a lot has happened!

I became a citizen reporter with Leonard Cheshire’s 2030 and Counting programme and have worked with national, local, business and charity leaders to advocate for disability issues. It’s been quite an education, and now I can apply it at one of the highest profile events in the international policymaking calendar.

The impact of the pandemic

The other reason that it’s absolutely the right time for it to happen relates to why it was postponed in the first place. The Covid-19 Pandemic has entered its third year, and we need to discuss what “next” looks like. Covid exposed massive inequalities, especially those people with disabilities face around the world. Aside from the greater toll from the disease, we also dealt with larger impacts on education, employment and access to healthcare than the general population.

At the same time, the clock is still ticking on the world’s commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, many of which economically mandate greater inclusion of people with disabilities. Our deadline is 2030, which is starting to feel very close. Time hasn’t stood still during the pandemic, as much as it sometimes felt like it, and all of today’s pressing inclusion challenges still demand our attention.

What change I'm looking for

Key to what I’m pushing for as an advocate is bridging the gap between international and local. You cannot make change by applying general principles where unique challenges exist. By the same token, policies designed in the UK or Norway won’t necessarily work elsewhere. Take how differently disability is treated culturally across Africa. You have to work with local leaders and stakeholders, from the government to organisations of people with disabilities, to community leaders, to find the best way to make change.

A tailored approach is what I stressed in the Commonwealth’s Youth Development Index report this year – I introduced a chapter specifically on youth with disabilities. Because we’re not at the stage where we can treat youth with disabilities the same way as other marginalised youth around the world. The challenges are far more acute, and the barriers more difficult to overcome.

Desire for change

My desire for change came from having a disability myself. Becoming involved in local organisations made me realise that I could be an advocate – in fact, I was uniquely qualified to do so.

Advocating gives me hope for the future but also a drive. The thing about inclusion at a global level is that there is always space to do more. We need far more data on disability worldwide, and remedying that is something I want to play a part in.

My advocacy journey has taken me far – from Kenya to the UK to study, and now to the highest level meeting of Commonwealth governments. But that’s the thing – there is always further to go.

Now, as we try and move past the turmoil of the last two years, it’s time to look at what comes next.