Our political parties must stop alienating disabled members

Wednesday September 6 2017

There is a saying attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.

Kenya’s national values and principles of governance include, among others, inclusiveness, equality, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalised. As such, our society ideally is one where the vulnerable and marginalised are treated as other members of society, where there is equal opportunity for all. 

In political participation, an area where the weak and vulnerable are likely to be left behind, Kenya’s progressive Constitution includes everyone. The establishment of electoral institutions, including the National Assembly, the Senate and 47 county assemblies is indeed expected to ensure that decision-making that comes through political representation is all inclusive.

This is more so for marginalised communities, who for many years have been pushed to the periphery of society. For the disabled, the expectation was that as long as the letter and spirit of the Constitution was adhered to, leaders with disabilities would sit in all those assemblies.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, which forms part of our laws, calls upon Kenya as a State Party to promote actively an environment in which the disabled can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination and on an equal basis with others.

FURTHER MARGINALISING

However, owing to recent happenings during nominations of MCAs, Kenya is at risk of further marginalising the disabled. This is because of the failure by parties to adhere to the constitutional requirement of ensuring that at least two disabled persons are nominated in each county assembly.

It was rather disheartening to the disability movement that none of their members were nominated in 17 counties. In 2013, there were 61 nominated legislators with disabilities drawn from party lists of the marginalised.

This compares with 42 who were nominated this year, a travesty of justice because we are going back on the gains that had been made for the disabled. There are counties where petitions have been lodged, such as Murang’a, where the swearing in of nominated MCAs was halted.

This shows we have working courts where injustices can be corrected. However, we have to recall that the disabled face numerous other challenges, including lack of resources to challenge such unconstitutional moves in court.

Therefore, it is critical that constitutionally established principles that seek to ensure fair representation of the disabled are adhered to; and importantly, there has to be better political willingness to include them in politics and elections. Finally, the disabled should not tire from pushing for their place at the national table.

Anderson Gitonga, executive director, United Disabled Persons of Kenya.