Choosing our leaders: Assistants and Core Members experiences (1 of 2)

RESPECTING THE OTHER ( PAUL AND MAURICE).

8th of August 2017 was the date set for Kenya’s General Elections and I had the great  privilege of assisting Paul Nderitu, one of our core members, to execute his constitutional right of determining who would be the new set of Kenya’s political leaders both at the national and county levels through secret ballot.

After months of rigorous campaigns by the various candidates and preparations of the core members about the process through the help of assistants and officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission who were very kind to us, one could only imagine how ready Paul and I were for this event.

Being an important day and as we had arranged with Paul the previous day, I woke up and got ready early in the morning. At 06.00 am, I was knocking at the door of Paul in Effatha Home and as I had suspected he was all ready to go, just waiting for me.  We were at our polling station 15 minutes later where we found long queues of people waiting to cast their votes.

Fortunately for us we didn’t have to queue since people with disabilities, those with small children, the elderly people and expectant mothers were allowed to go directly to the polling processes.

Physically, Paul doesn’t present as a person with disabilities so I was a bit worried that we may face some challenges trying to convince either the election officials or those who were already on the queue why we needed to be given any kind of preference. However, it was interesting because we didn’t even have to excuse ourselves since almost everyone on the queue including the election officials knew Paul by name and they were aware that he had intellectual disabilities so there was no need to explain anything to them.

As the one assisting Paul I had to sign a document with the Presiding officer agreeing that I would respect his will and keep his choices secret.

We both went through the verification processes and received the six ballot papers each: for the President, Governor, Senator, Member of National Assembly, Woman Representative, and the Member of County Assembly. 

I then accompanied Paul to the polling booth to assist him mark the ballot papers as per his preferred candidates and I can tell you, this was the most challenging and at the same time liberating experience I have had in my journey with people with disabilities . Before this exercise, I had deliberately chosen not to discuss with Paul his preferred candidates. I wanted him to feel that he was personally making the choice at the polling booth. I was also careful not go into the polling booth with an already formed opinion of his preferred candidates,  otherwise I would have just marked the ballot papers without engaging him, in which case he would have felt or even seemed that I had taken his powers to make the choice.  

In the process I discovered that out of the six positions we were voting for, Paul and I only shared one preferred candidate. It was not easy for me, knowing that I was actually supporting Paul to make ‘his’ candidates ‘beat’ my ‘own’ candidates in the poll. However, the conviction that  despite Paul’s inability to mark the ballot papers due to his physical or mental challenges did take away his birth rights to make the choice of who becomes his leader was greater that my desire to have my will prevail. 

I will forever remain grateful to Kababa (a core member in L’Arche Kenya) and Paul through his unquestionable trust on me on this occasion for bringing me to this level of human freedom.  Kababa, through the ‘waste’ papers that he always carry around with him, commonly referred to as ‘makwa’ has always taught me to be a man of principle; to have something that I stand for in moments of doubt, a value that is greater than me and to always respect other people’s opinions especially when they are different from mine.

I am also grateful to the IEBC and the relevant authorities for providing a conducive environment particularly for adults with intellectual disabilities  to exercise their rights in electing leaders of their choice. Through this opportunity, Paul was able to prove that despite his disabilities he can make a contribution to making Kenya a better place for all.

Two weeks after the vote, results have been announced. Some people have celebrated their win others mourned their lose. The presidential results have been disputed and one party has put up a petition in the Supreme Court. The country is divided along political and tribal lines. There are suspicions among citizens and tensions in the different parts of the country based on their perceived political bias. Some Kenyans have lost their lives, suffered fatal body injuries, while others had long before the vote  been threatened of consequences if it turned out that ‘their’ perceived preferred candidates got any votes in their polling stations.

With all these developments, I feel a much greater responsibility knowing that in such moments it is important that a person’s vote remains his or her secret. Most of my friends ask me whom I voted for and I find it safe and reassuring that it’s my secret. Paul does not have that luxury with me, but interestingly, probably knowing well or guessing that we had different preferences, he doesn’t seem to be disturbed by the fact that I know whom he voted and he hasn’t asked whom I voted.

I hope that Paul will continue to help me to grow to such a level of freedom. 

Article done by  Maurice.