Disabled Kenyan singer goes to court over rejected presidential candidacy | Global development


A gospel singer who wants to be Kenya’s first disabled presidential candidate has filed a lawsuit in the country’s courts after being left out of the electoral race.

Reuben Kigame, who is blind, filed a complaint against the Electoral Commission of Kenya (IEBC) last Tuesday, claiming he was barred from participating in the August 9 elections.

Kigame’s campaign team claims the IEBC discriminated against him and the commission failed to provide any credible explanation for his disqualification.

They allege that commission officials gave Kigame a sleight of hand when he tried to submit his documents and made him wait for hours before declaring that he had missed the deadline.

Kigame said he had met the requirements to run as an independent candidate, collecting 48,000 signatures and voter ID cards across the country. “It was like I was a non-entity,” he said. “It’s really sad that I have to fight for inclusion like this.”

Kigame said commission chief Wafula Chebukati admitted to him in a meeting on Sunday that there was no system in place to accommodate candidates with disabilities.

Gitobu Imanyara, a Kenyan human rights lawyer present at the meeting, said Chebukati’s admission “was an outright acknowledgment of the commission’s violation of its obligations as a public body, which it should be held accountable”. Imanyara said Kigame was disadvantaged and his constitutional rights violated. The IEBC did not respond to requests for comment from the Guardian.

Kigame has received quiet support from Kenyans, although a group of young people camped outside the Electoral Commission building in a silent protest last week. They draped white sheets over their eyes as a symbol of Kigame’s blindness and political vulnerability and held up signs that read: “No Kigame, no elections”.

Kigame, a former schoolteacher, is known for many different things, said Sungu Oyoo, a writer and social activist. He is a veteran gospel singer whose music is famous in churches across the country. He is also known for his support of young talent through his music academy and his work with #LindaKatiba, a citizen movement in defense of the constitution. He is also considered a pioneer in disability activism through his run for the presidency.

He first entered national politics in 2013 when he ran for governor of Vihiga County in western Kenya and came fourth. He says people discouraged him from entering politics, saying it was too “dirty” for a Christian leader. “But that’s why I want to go in – because it needs a cleanup,” said Kigame, whose politics are influenced by Martin Luther King Jr.

“In Kenya, 59 years of doing things the same way has not brought economic stability – nor solved the three problems we faced at independence: ignorance, poverty and disease,” he said. he declared. His campaign pledges to prioritize the basic needs and rights of Kenyans, calling on the current government to focus on infrastructure development rather than the welfare of citizens.

Despite Kigame’s accomplishments, some still struggle to see beyond his disability. His campaign team was faced with questions like, “How could he inspect the presidential guard?

“There is a cultural misperception around people with disabilities,” Kigame said. “A lot of people only know the blind as people in need.” At least 900,000 Kenyans are disabled, according to the 2019 census, but the country has little or no infrastructure for them, leaving people socially and economically marginalized.

Caroline Pereina of the Kenya Society for the Blind said that since Kigame launched her campaign, she has seen people become more interested in what it is like to live with a disability. “His candidacy was historic for the disability community. It felt like we were finally seen and heard so it was a really sad day for us when we found out he was disqualified,” she said. For her, her exclusion from the race reflected her daily experiences.

The August election is seen as a two-way race between populist candidate and current vice president William Ruto and longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga. Mark Bichachi, a political analyst, said: “For those of us in the city, we can understand that Kigame’s candidacy was a big step in terms of Kenya’s maturity. But if you’re in politics, you also know that there’s no way a fringe candidate will get the 50% vote needed to win the presidency.

“Around the elections, you will hear the common feeling of Kenyans”Sitaki kutupa kura‘ – Swahili for ‘I don’t want to waste my vote,’” Bichachi said. “Kigame just didn’t have the numbers.”

However, Wanja Njuguna, a Kigame supporter, said talk of his chances was not the problem. “It’s not about whether he would win or not,” Njuguna said. “It’s about whether he qualified to race – which he did.”

With his name not on the ballot, Kigame said his sponsors were stepping down, but he continued, holding public meetings and sharing his plans for the country pending court judgment.


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