In 2017, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) through its Kenya Electoral Assistance Program (KEAP), supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), collected interviews from participants of its upcoming election access observation in Nairobi. The election access observation is designed to train disability rights advocates to collect information about accessibiltiy and inclusiond during an election. A transcript of this interview conducted by IFES Senior Access and Inclusion Specialist Virginia Atkinson with Naomi Mandella, a long-term observer with Kenyan group ELOG, is below.
Atkinson: Good morning.
Mandella: Good morning to you.
Atkinson: Will you please just tell us your name and where you’re from?
Mandella: My name is Naomi Mandella. I’m from Kenya, Vigo County and [inaudible] constituency in particular.
Atkinson: And how have you been involved in preparing for these elections?
Mandella: These elections, I have been lucky to be identified as one of the long-term observers by ELOG through my organization United Disabled Persons of Kenya, so I’m doing observation work.
Atkinson: And what have you seen during your observations so far?
Mandella: So far, I’ve seen – there are lots of things that I’ve seen, particularly, being a person with disability, I’m interested in people with disability. I’ve seen – I’m happy to note that in my constituency, people with disabilities are being accepted because so far, my reporting has not come across any politician who is side lining or being abuse to persons with disability or referring to them with demeaning terms. So far, the campaigns have been good and also the polling stations, which, although I have yet to go inside them, they have tried to locate them at venues that are very good for persons with disabilities, though I can’t say 100 percent, but they’ve tried. And during the voter registration, where the venues were a bit far for persons with disabilities, I was happy to note that some voters were even going to counsel persons with disabilities, register them. So I was happy to see that the IEBC, the election board, is trying to bring to some schools of persons with disabilities, which is quite a good thing.
Atkinson: And can you tell us a little bit about your plans to observe the simulation?
Mandella: The simulation is a new thing to me, and I’m happy that I was incorporated in that. So during the simulation observation, I plan to make sure that the forthcoming election will be inclusive for persons with disabilities, inclusive in terms of accessibility, inclusive in terms of, uh, um, the general environment that includes people with disability because most of us do not turn up to vote because we fear the environment, the hostile environment and all that. So my hope is that, as I’ll be doing that, I’ll come up with issues or with, um, challenges that people with disabilities might be facing, and if presented to IEBC, they pick them up and maybe make corrections before the election day so that majority of us people with disability do not get left – do not be left out during the elections because most of us fear and we’re shy of to go to the polling stations, in fear of the barriers that we’ll meet there. So I’m hoping that the mock observation will bring out ideas that will help IEBC rectify the challenges and then our turnout will be – will increase.
Atkinson: And why do you think it’s important for people with disabilities to participate in these elections?
Mandella: It is quite important, first of all, because you all along been crying for inclusivity, and there’s no way you can be included in something that we are not, um, actively involved. So by us being part of the observers, then it’s showing to all the world that we, too, can do it because initially, people used to think that a person with disability – they think that we can’t do, but through my involvement in the election observation, I’ve just realized that there are things that we people with disabilities can do, and in fact can do better that people. So first of all, according to the world, there’s something we can’t do, and then secondly, it’s also giving us the – we are owning the process, people with disability, because once you’re involved as observers, then the DPO on the ground will know the if some of us were involved as observation then sure it is something that we can honor the results that come up.
Atkinson: Anything else you’d like to add?
Mandella: Maybe just, uh, um, reasonable accommodation for future, maybe, for IEBC, that during the election processes, things like the challenge that people with disabilities face, they need to work together with us much earlier, so that if there are changes they need to make, they make them in good time and we make awareness to other people with disability – they are aware that there will be these changes, other than waiting until the 11th hour, when people might not be able to incorporate those changes and maybe know whatever have been left for them. Yes.
Atkinson: Thank you.