In a country where disability is still often seen as a punishment from God, one candidate in Ghana’s upcoming presidential election is gaining attention.
Ivor Greenstreet, the 50-year-old flagbearer for the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP), is the first disabled person to run for the highest office in Ghana.
Greenstreet was already active in politics when a car accident in 1997 left him in a wheelchair.
A native of the capital Accra, he made an unsuccessful bid to enter parliament in the early 1990s, running for the CPP, a minor leftwing party founded by Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, during the struggle for independence from Britain.
Speaking to AFP, Greenstreet said the accident transformed his politics as he became more “activist-orientated”, determined to fight for social justice for those who felt marginalised.
Minor parties stand little chance against the two main contenders in the December 7 poll, President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress and Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party.
But Greenstreet’s nomination has inspired 14 other people with disabilities to run for parliament with his party, in what he described as an “incredible” number.
“They emerged from the woodwork,” he said.
“I guess some at the local level thought: ‘If he can do it, why not me?’”
– Fighting misconceptions –
Those with disabilities are often stigmatised in Ghana.
Speaking to AFP ahead of the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, marked every year on December 3, Alex Williams, spokesman for the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations, said about 15 per cent of the population suffer some form of disability.
“There is a perception that being disabled in any way makes the person unable to function at all,” he told AFP.
This often means those with physical limitations are rejected by society and unable to find work.
And religious beliefs can mean that some view those with disabilities as suffering a form of punishment for wrong-doing.
While there has been work across Ghana to educate the public on disabilities “we confront these perceptions day in and day out,” the spokesman said.
And having Greenstreet in a visible position has helped others with disabilities, he said.
“It is an indication of the road to follow,” he said.