Africa Leaders Forum

President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi and Special Olympics co-hosted the first-ever African Leaders Forum on Disability on February 9 to 11, and a Unified Football Match kicked off the Forum. South African football legend Desiree Ellis, a long-time Special Olympics supporter and volunteer, is flanked by team-mates from the Malawian pro-league and Special Olympics Malawi. Special Olympics figured there was no better way to kick off the day of serious discussion by African leaders that took place on February 10 than with a Unified soccer match on February 9.
Thousands of people from Lilongwe and other parts of Malawi poured into CIVO Stadium to watch the Blue Bullets play the Red Devils in a Unified Sports™ game, which joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. The match was a fun way to demonstrate Special Olympics’ key value of inclusion, along with the impressive skills of Special Olympics Malawi athletes.
At the Unified match, the Blue Bullets, captained by Ernest Mtawali, and the Red Devils, led by Phil Masinga, competed. Blue prevailed to win the match 4 to 3, and Red Captain Masinga said, “The result is not the main thing. We’ve shown that through football, we can bring people together.”
President Banda fulfilled her vision announced at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative to convene African leaders from government, the top disability, health, and development organizations, Special Olympics, and the private sector to formulate the best strategies for ending exclusion and low access to social services for Africans with intellectual disabilities. The forum drew 1,500 participants.
The Hon. Rachel Kachaje told the audience about Malawi’s path to inclusion. President Banda has emerged as a champion of the rights of people with disabilities in her country and in Africa since she took office in 2012, passing a national act ensuring the rights of people with disabilities and creating the new ministry that Kachaje heads.
President Banda and other speakers at the Forum, including senior representatives from the African Development Bank, the African Union, Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi, UNICEF, USAID, and the World Bank, said the Forum emphasized that action speaks louder than words. Four priorities for action and advocacy were identified, covering data, targets, resources, and multi-sector cooperation.
Special Olympics young athletes played inclusively; athletes’ families participated in a Family Health Forum; and athletes learned age-appropriate information about HIV/AIDS in a unique education program pioneered by Catholic Relief Services.
Her Excellency President Joyce Banda of Malawi and Special Olympics Malawi athlete Mphatso Chiphwanya share a laugh before signing the National Partnership Agreement between Special Olympics and the Republic of Malawi, as Tim Shriver, Peter Mazunda, Chairperson of Special Olympics Malawi, and Malawian Special Olympics athletes Innocent Chilongo, and Chisomo Matenje look on. The Partnership, only the second between Special Olympics and an African country program, ensures that programs and initiativesthat nurture sports, health, education, and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities will grow.