Persons with disabilities face extra challenges in Kenyan politics

By Bosire Boniface in Wajir

February 27, 2013

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Ahmed Mohamud Mohamed, a 43-year-old cobbler in Wajir town, says he feels left out of public discourse as Kenya prepares for the March 4th elections.

  • A blind voter walks away from the ballet box after being helped to vote in Othaya in 2002. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission says adequate measures are in place this year to safeguard disabled persons' right to vote. [Alexander Joe/AFP]

    A blind voter walks away from the ballet box after being helped to vote in Othaya in 2002. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission says adequate measures are in place this year to safeguard disabled persons' right to vote. [Alexander Joe/AFP]

Mohamed, who was debilitated by polio at infancy, said candidates have shown little interest in including persons living with disabilities in their plans. "It feels like we have been silently dismissed as persons who do not matter," he told Sabahi.

"The candidates are flouting their manifestos but I am surprised that they do not address the plight of citizens living with disabilities in this society," he said. "We are neither consulted nor involved in setting the agenda."

According to Abdinasir Khalif, chairman of the North Eastern chapter of Persons Living with Disabilities, Kenyan culture is discriminatory against people with disabilities.

"Society is very sceptical of our abilities," he told Sabahi. "Our efforts to carry out sensitisation campaigns and raise awareness have not fully borne fruit."

Khalif said his organisation helps citizens with disabilities learn how to run for office, but society has not been accepting of disabled candidates. "A community is judged by how it treats its disadvantaged groups and Kenya has not done that well based on the principles dignity, equality and inclusion," he said.

The government should facilitate political participation for persons with disabilities, said National Disabled Development Fund (NDDF) chairman Phitalis Masakhwe, who was debilitated by polio.

The NDDF was established in December to provide start-up capital to people with disabilities who want to start businesses. A similar funding programme for those seeking elective positions would help address some of the challenges they face running for office, he said.

"Kenyan politics are expensive already and the disabled also have to contend with logistics," said Masakhwe, who lost a bid for the Mumias parliamentary seat in the 2007 general elections.

For instance, without special vehicles, accessing much of the electorate is a harrowing experience that can discourage even the strong-willed, he said.

'No group will be left out'

Kibaya Laibuta, chairman of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, said political parties have worked to be more inclusive, but still choose candidates based on physical and financial strength.

"While politicians and political parties are compelled by law to practice gender parity and neutrality on age and religion, they ignore the disadvantaged group," he said.

"Persons living with disabilities are gifted and selfless servants with conviction and willingness to serve for the country's development … They are not seeking pity and tokens," he said, adding that they need an opportunity that has not been adequately accorded.

Improving the lives of disabled persons has been on the campaign agenda of some of the presidential candidates.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga intends to implement an economic plan to improve the lives of all Kenyans, said Dennis Onyango, communications secretary in the prime minister's office.

"[Persons with disabilities] will be empowered in a bid to have everyone economically independent. No group will be left out in the quest for the country's development," he told Sabahi.

Director of media communications for The National Alliance party, Munyori Buku, said Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta's leadership would not discriminate against persons with disabilities during job recruitments.

"We have officials with disabilities in the party, and if Kenyatta is elected president he will embark on a deliberate bid to recruit persons with disabilities," Buku told Sabahi, adding that the party is willing to set a quota for persons with disabilities in government appointments.

Disabled voters get priority at polls

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has put in place adequate measures to handle persons with disabilities on election day, according to Garissa regional co-ordinator for the IEBC David Towett.

"Persons living with disabilities and the elderly will be given first priority to vote and they will be assisted to the polling booths," he told Sabahi, adding that the IEBC has recruited hundreds of persons living with disabilities to help in the exercise.

Kenyan government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said the country has been gradually implementing the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2003.

"The government is an equal-opportunity employer that does not discriminate based on gender, religion or disability," he told Sabahi.

He said that since the law was passed, all public and private buildings and institutions that provide key services are required to be accessible to persons with disabilities.

"The government has recognised the struggle persons with disabilities face in some government offices, but they are all being re-structured to be accessible," he said.

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