POLITICS OF IDENTY

How Secret Service discriminated against me at UN - Senator Mwaura

I felt profiled and discriminated against on the basis of albinism, racial and regional origin.

In Summary

• One description fits all ‘albinos’ more dangerous with only a screwdriver in hand.

• We still have a long way to go before we are fully recognised, accepted and included into mainstream society.

Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura
Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura
Image: FILE

“Our lives begin to end when we keep silent about the things that matter,” Martin Luther King Jr.

I am rushing to attend a Kenyan side event on peace and I am told to step aside and kept waiting for over 30 minutes.

The secret service agents ask for my ID after taking my entry card. I give them my national ID and NHIF cards as proof of identity.

 

They go like, “The photo is for the same person but the names don’t match”. By now, I had to ask them why they are questioning me. They say there is someone who fits my description walking around with a screwdriver. I am like seriously?!

In the US, people are allowed to own and carry guns, and here we are talking about a screwdriver? I feel profiled and discriminated against on the basis of albinism, racial and regional origin. This cannot be happening at the UN headquarters, the home of the universal bill of rights?

They are embarrassed. I offer to leave but they refuse to let me go. The White men now call a Black guy who helps calm the situation. He takes me to his office in some basement and introduces himself as Eric Bramwell, the lieutenant officer in charge of the Investigative Unit. He offers to escort me to the GA hall but I opt to first get into the Kenyan side event.

I bump into Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, something that seems to give Bramwell validity about my identity. In the side event, I impress upon Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma on the need for Kenya to take up the role of the AU Special Envoy on albinism, a position that I helped push in Addis Ababa in March.

As I get into the General Assembly Hall, Bramwell, who now refers to me as Senator Dr, pulls me aside. He is with Kevin O Hanlon, the head of security at the UN and who has come to apologise in person. 

I leave the matter to rest.  President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers a compelling speech that receives rare applause in comparison to other presidents. He later on invites us to a private meeting. Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN Lazarus Amayo informs me that he has received an apology from the UN about what had happened.  Later on, at the entrance of the President’s meeting venue, my colleague legislators are ushered in while I get questioned.

The Secret Service takes my card again as others take my photos secretly. As if that is not enough, a Secret Service agent follows us up to the lift looking at me suspiciously. When Uhuru finally comes in, he wonders loudly if I am an al Shabaab mujahedeen or the chairman of the National Riffles Association. I tell him, “Those people really harassed me”.

 

We let the matter lie.   The following day, as I try to access my hotel, I give my UN card at the checkpoint. I am again told to step aside. Calls are made once again and the whole process begins all over for the third time. I can’t take it anymore.  I remind the secret agent he is a person of colour and that I am a senator from Kenya. He rudely asks me if I am a US senator.  I tell him that he isn’t the most important security agent and he should step aside.

I am allowed in after a State House official finds me at the entrance. On my way out, I meet Mutahi Ngunyi and we have a chat. Again, this seems to give the Secret Service my validity. I there thinking, am I not good enough to be believable right? To the Secret Service, I am just ‘an albino with a screwdriver’ and who is a threat to some king.

I tell them that by now, they should have circulated my image for their system to differentiate between their supposed target and me.  At this point, one of them takes a photo of my entry card. I later got an apology from US ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter, but I notice it had been sent before the third incident. Western movies cast us as pale white-skinned villains with red eyes, endowed with potent supernatural powers. In the sub-conscience of the secret agents, I am a caricature of such a villain!

One description fits all ‘albinos’ more dangerous with only a screwdriver in hand. Sequentially, another person with albinism, Dr. Omotayo from Nigeria faced the same stereotyping severally during the same period. They clearly aren’t used to seeing people like us in such meetings as UNGA. We don’t belong there!

We still have a long way to go before we are fully recognised, accepted and included into mainstream society.

Alluta Continua