The first time I vied for a popular elective post was during my undergraduate days at Kenyatta University. And that is when I discovered that disability can be used against you as a candidate seeking elective office.
Before that, I had only been a prefect and head student in high school. These positions whose occupancy had to be vetted by the teaching body over and above selection by fellow students.
At the university, I had started my participation in elective student politics as a result of cajoling by fellow students in the Special Education Department.
The Beginning of My Journey
The class had elected me secretary and when the elections were called after the University Administration lifted the ban on the Kenyatta University Students’ Association (Kusa), they urged me to vie for an executive position and volunteered to nominate me.
Within no time, I had garnered the requisite signatures for my application to go through. That was the easy part.
I had to come up with a campaign structure, manifesto, the required resources, my key messages, posters, fliers, and all that I required for a fully-fledged campaign.
To begin with, being a First Year “greenhorn” was a disadvantage. How could a First Year lord it over older, more experienced students?
This is the first hurdle that the youth face in their quest for leadership in this country. The older generation usually feels that young people do not know enough to exercise leadership.
Second, I realised that I did not have enough resources to run my campaigns. This put a strain on my plans.
However, there were those who were willing to help, especially the university administration.
I Almost Became a Puppet
I remember the then dean of students telling me to go to see the academic registrar for assistance. Had I done so, I would have become a puppet of my financiers and lost my objectivity.
The youth are vulnerable to such machinations by powerful forces despite their immense leadership potential.
If there is to be a fair game in politics, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission needs to put in place measures to de-monetise the electoral process so young people can meaningfully participate.
Money has consistently been used to corrupt the will of the people in our country’s politics, hence denying it good and visionary leadership.
My Woes with the Camera
Part of the reason my campaign budget was higher than other contestants’ was that, as a candidate with albinism, my black-and-white photos were not as appealing, yet this was the point of contact between the potential voters and I.
Clearly, they had not designed the camera for my skin pigmentation. This meant that I had to print all my posters in full colour, which cost me Sh250 and Sh30 for every A3 and A4 size poster respectively. It too expensive, considering that my competitors were paying Sh10 and Sh2 for similar posters.
The Cost of Disability Needs to be Factored
The cost of disability needs to be factored in during campaigns for such leaders.
For the visually impaired, for example, one has to have an assistant at all times to help him/her attend to personal issues before he/she can engage with the electorate.
This also applies to the deaf, who require sign language interpretation on a full-time basis, a service that is not only costly, it cannot be provided by just one interpreter the whole day.
This is one of the reasons the IEBC should not be seen to increase the cost of competitive politics.
In the rough game of politics where people use anything at their disposal to beat their opponents, one’s disability is always used against them.
I remember how my opponents would wonder how people could elect “an albino” leader.
Clearly, their idea was to communicate indirectly that my candidature was not based on capacity, but sympathy.
See also: Trump Administration on PWD
Seeing Beyond Disability
It is true that, as a young aspirant with disability, the electorate is unlikely to see beyond one’s disability; they have not yet been accepted as leaders, leave alone candidates.
A friend gunning for a civic seat on a DP ticket faced the Herculean task of explaining how he — a blind man — could lead others yet he did not have “lights” (read eyes).
Remember that the DP symbol is a lamp.
Such propaganda always finds fertile ground. This is because, in general, people are ignorant about disability and have negative attitudes towards those affected.
Young people with disabilities face a myriad of challenges in their quest for leadership. These include the ethnic tag, but many across the world have been popularly elected and served their people effectively.
So… Did I Win?
The student body overwhelmingly voted for me. I beat a crowded field of 15 aspirants, and have since served in many capacities, both locally, regionally, and at the international level.
My urge to all young people with disabilities to take charge of their destinies by offering themselves for leadership in order to realise a better Kenya.
If not us, then who?
Courtesy of Daily Nation