• It’s quite telling that stereotypes against certain groups of people persist, despite having made strides in society.
• While women are attacked based on their sexuality, PLWDS are seen as beggars and that nomination slots are equivalent to giving alms to the less fortunate.
I rarely use this platform to delve into my personal political journey, but today I would like to dig into this subject matter owing to recent political developments.
To begin with, it’s important to understand that I started my long career of advocating the rights of persons with disabilities while in campus. Having been elected as a first year to the main student executive body in the Kenyatta University Students Association, I was privileged to lead efforts to change that constitution to amongst others ensure the representation of persons with disabilities in the governing association.
My role into this was a result of people referring me as ‘Yash Pal Ghai’, who was the then chairman on the constitutional review commission. I took it in stride and gave KUSA its first constitution.
I also participated in leading demonstrations to ensure students with disabilities got fees support for their education, including pushing for a resolution that any student with disability and got C+ (plus) and above be sponsored by the government.
These measures have seen so many successfully attain university education. It’s out of these efforts that my fellow students elected me as their nominee to sit in the inaugural National Council for Persons With Disabilities in 2004, a revolutionary body that has helped put issues of persons with disabilities in the mainstream of government programing.
At the same time, we started the Albinism Society of Kenya in June 2006. Out of these advocacy efforts, I joined ODM, which went ahead to become the biggest political party in Kenya at the time.
I was elected into the National Executive Committee of the party as secretary for special interest groups. However and interestingly, the party constitution had only five slots for persons with disabilities as observers to the election. I was thus asked to bring along four others to observe the proceedings of the National Governing Council. This irked me as it clearly showed that we didn’t have equal rights.
What I did was to embark on a process that ended up with the creation of the position of secretary for disability affairs and a representative of a person with disability from the grassroots up to the national level.
This was a first of its kind in Kenya’s history and it served as a good point of dispersal since the splinter parties of UDF, Wiper and URP all copied that model, including Jubilee.
In 2007, I also pushed to have a stand-alone chapter on issues concerning persons with disabilities in the party’s manifesto as I was part of a small group that was working on the same, as chaired by the late Joseph Martin Shikuku.
I was in the party’s constitutional amendment committee that saw recommendations made to ensure out of the 12 nomination slots in the National Assembly, persons with disabilities would be included ensure representation.
It’s curious to note that this was actually a recommendation of the 2007 ODM manifesto. I was further appointed as a member of the reference group under the Committee of Experts led by Nzamba Kitonga on matters disability. This ensured issues of persons with disabilities were well captured in the Constitution. In fact, in November of 2009, when the first harmonized draft constitution was launched, I was privileged to receive a braille copy before President Mwai Kibaki and PM Raila Odinga.
It’s out of these and many other initiatives, including fundraising for the party, that I got nominated to Parliament.
Due to my stellar performance in Parliament, Jubliee sent overtures to join them. After the shambolic party primaries — of which I had contested for the Ruiru MP in an attempt to represent a population of nearly half a million — I joined the presidential campaign team. We traversed over 10 counties, holding over 600 meetings, for four days in a week between May and August 2017. My car even got worn out.
It thus lends credence to the fact that parties look for the best to nominate contrary to popular opinion. They, too, want candidates who can help sell the image of inclusivity in terms of ethnicity and region to ensure they promote the idea of a fair chance hence national appeal.
It’s, however, quite telling that stereotypes against certain groups of people persist, despite having made strides in society. While women are attacked based on their sexuality, persons with disabilities are seen as beggars and that nomination slots are equivalent to giving alms to the less fortunate.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Parties need numbers over and above foot soldiers who can advance their positions. To say that you are nominated doesn’t mean you cannot have contrary views away from mainstream thinking.
Recent developments have served to show a lot needs to be done for society to fully appreciate the contributions of special interest groups, especially persons with disabilities.
If the stereotypes are to become vestigial and not really what people think of such representation, this endeavor to deconstruct the mindset must be won for things to change.
What worries me most is the continuous erosion of ‘fair chance’ for each and every Kenyan, despite their tribe, region, religion, age, gender, disability, colour, race or social status.