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 Stanley Mtoma is below.
Atkinson: Could you please tell us your name, and where you’re from?
Mtoma: My name is Stanley Mtoma. I’m from Nairobi – that is the capital of Kenya in East Africa.
Atkinson: And what kind of work are you doing around elections?
Mtoma: Basically, I’m an election observer, or we can call “monitoring” the elections for the United Disabled Persons of Kenya, the UDPK in collaboration with [the International Foundation for Electoral Systems] IFES.
Atkinson: And what kind of barriers are you finding that people who are blind or have low vision are encountering?
Mtoma: What I can talk about, basically, are two types of barriers. The first barrier I will refer to as the barrier to information or access to information because you realize that for one to make a proper or informed decision, one must have access to the correct information pertaining to the elections. That is, in terms of the candidates you want to vote for, which parties they stand for, their manifestos, their particular timeline, or even for one to participate, either as a voter or as an aspirant, because you have to know all this information, and sometimes maybe it is not available in accessible format. This is, through the braille or through soft copy or maybe the websites of the political parties may not be very accessible. So, those are some of the areas we are working with polling agency in Kenya, which is known as the IEBC, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and the political parties and other stakeholders to ensure that this information is accessible to persons who are print disabled or visually challenged.
Atkinson: And what are your hopes for these upcoming elections?
Mtoma: Our hope is that these elections will be free, fair, and credible, just like it is stipulated in our laws, under the Constitution and other statutes like the Elections Act and the Political Parties Act and other regulations pertaining to elections. We believe that it is our constitutional rights for every person to exercise it – to choose the leader of their choice. So, we deemed that we need to have a proper election free from violence, free from intimidation, and the IEBC together with the stakeholders, has to ensure that voting stations are accessible to all persons, including persons with disability, and that is why it is fundamental for us to work in a collaborative partnership with other stakeholders involved in the elections to ensure our representation.
Atkinson: And why do you think it’s important for people with disabilities to participate in political life?
Mtoma: I think it is very important, and fundamental for them to participate because the leaders they put into office will have a direct bearing on them. For instance, if they don’t put proper leaders, then these leaders will not have their interest at heart, but if they put there leaders that they have chosen for themselves, they’ll have their interest at heart and they’ll be able to put in place policies, regulations, and ensure that they will perform oversight, that will ensure the institutions mandated to make life easier for persons with disability or to even the ground will be able to implement this law. That is why we deem that it is important to put people who will have our interest at heart.
Atkinson: Anything else you’d like to add?
Mtoma: Yes, I would like to say that we are happy that stakeholders like IFES and others are working together to give us – to provide support in terms of technical and other types of support to ensure that persons with disability are included in these particular elections. So it’s a “thank you” to IFES and other stakeholders who are working with us.
Atkinson: Thank you.