Skip to main content

Promoting Political Participation for People with Psychosocial Disabilities in Uganda

Published: Jan 31, 2024

Country: Uganda

Rebecca Aaberg’s Outbound Fellowship Experience

Rebecca Aaberg is a US Outbound Fellow in the FY2021 Professional Fellows Program (PFP) on Inclusive Civic Engagement. This program is sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston in partnership with Humanity and Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was contributed by guest author Rebecca Aaberg.

In October 2023, Rebecca Aaberg, Inclusion Advisor at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), traveled to Uganda as a US Outbound Fellow to support Teopista Nannyanzi, the former Project Coordinator for the Pan African Network of People with Psychosocial Disabilities (PANPPD). Their goal was to train organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) on effective strategies and practices to enhance political participation of people with psychosocial disabilities.

Teopista developed a position paper during her Fellowship at IFES in May and June 2023, with guidance from Rebecca. The paper showed that many people with psychosocial disabilities want to participate in civic activities but face obstacles like stigma and lack of access to resources, emphasizing the need for civic education.

In Phase 1 of the outbound effort, Rebecca and Teopista focused on gathering input and finalizing the position paper. Meetings with various collaborators provided insights into current efforts and advocacy gaps for political inclusion. Contributors included OPDs like Triumph, My Story Initiative, and Show Abilities Uganda (SAU, see Figure 1), Uganda’s national federation of OPDs: the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU); civic society organizations like Concerted Efforts for Rights Uganda (CERD) and Youth Coalition for Electoral Democracy (YCED); and government stakeholders like the Electoral Commission and the National Council on Disability (NCD). Teopista and Rebecca integrated these insights into the final position paper.

A group of six people, including one white American woman, four Ugandan women, and one Ugandan man, posing for a picture. One of the Ugandan women uses a wheelchair.
Figure 1: Rebecca (third from left) and Teopista (second from right) meeting with representatives from Show Abilities Uganda (SAU), a youth-led OPD serving Northern and Eastern Uganda.

In Phase 2, the focus shifted to training two OPDs, Triumph and My Story Initiative, on how to develop position papers for advocacy. Each training session had 10 participants, including advocates with psychosocial disabilities, and lasted about two hours. Each training session began with participants sharing personal stories of barriers to elections and political life. The training involved practical experience, including writing an outline for a position paper and drafting talking points about the paper. These conversations contributed to Teopista’s position paper. To further practice, participants engaged in a role play, using these talking points in a mock meeting with a government stakeholder.

“Having the opportunity to meet with people at Triumph and My Story Initiative who had personal experiences with political participation [in Uganda] was incredibly impactful, personally. Hearing their stories put this work into context,” expressed Rebecca.

As a result of this engagement, a young Ugandan woman with a psychosocial disability, who successfully ran for the position of youth councilor in her Village Youth Committee, was featured on IFES’ sister website,

Phase 3 of the outbound effort involved organizing a webinar on November 1, 2023, on the political participation of people with psychosocial disabilities in East Africa, in collaboration with PANPPD and IFES. During the event, speakers with psychosocial disabilities shared their advocacy experiences, emphasizing meaningful political participation and best practices to ensure rights and access for people with psychosocial disabilities. A representative of the Election Commission of Uganda contributed a practitioner’s perspective on how to include voters with psychosocial disabilities. The webinar provided an opportunity to share research findings and good practices with other OPDs in Africa while attracting global attention to Teopista’s position paper.

Fortunately, the outbound trip wasn't all work. Rebecca shared, “One of my favorite things of the outbound was to meet Teopista’s family. It was such a treat, and I really enjoyed that. I think those kinds of experiences are invaluable, because anyone can be a tourist and go to a museum, but getting to meet the people who live in a place is not something that you can replicate.”

Rebecca also enjoyed sightseeing in and around Kampala, exploring local culture, and visiting unique places like the Source of the Nile and the Equator (see Figure 2). Reflecting on her experience, she noted, “I had read about Uganda’s history, but seeing these places made it clear how integral Uganda’s experience is to that of East Africa.” Teopista introduced Rebecca to local artisans, including Triumph’s craft-making business that employs people with psychosocial disabilities.

A white, American woman and a Ugandan woman standing inside a stone circle with a sign above them that reads “Equator,” both smiling into the camera.
Figure 2: Rebecca (left) and Teopista (right) standing in the equator marker in Uganda.

For Rebecca, the outbound experience of collaborating with Teopista was formative. “Having worked internationally in other contexts, this trip allowed me to learn more about Uganda’s culture and experiences. It enriched my perspective on working in East Africa. Many successes of the outbound wouldn’t have been as successful virtually. Being in-country justified setting meetings with critical stakeholders for advocacy on the political rights of people with psychosocial disabilities. I also had the opportunity to make new connections with government and OPD stakeholders and will continue to support Teopista’s advocacy.”

Teopista added, “The outbound project had a significant impact on my side. Through the outbound, I widened my networks. There are people I didn't know, and now they are colleagues who can reach out to me to see how best they can involve people with psychosocial disabilities.”