Candidate living with disability navigates barriers as he seeks elective seat

Mr Nicholas Mutharimi, who is a person living with disability, during the interview on July 21. He is vying for the Igembe East MCA seat on an UDA ticket.
 

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete I Nation Media Group

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A walk along the paths of this Igembe Central constituency rural village in Meru reveals a neglected area where poverty reigns supreme.

Residents have no piped water and buy it from vendors at Sh10 for a 20-litre container. Since domestic animals and miraa crops must be watered, most households spend up to Sh200 daily, money that could be used to put food on a family's table for a day.

While there is no electricity, roads in Kiambajwa village have never been graded and in their place are huge gullies. We are trailing Mr Nicholas Mutharimi, a candidate living with disability who is vying for the Igembe East ward seat under the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.

It doesn't matter that Mr Mutharimi has been using a wheelchair because he has had brittle bone disease since he was eight years old; residents reckon he is the only man capable of solving their many decades-old problems.

Watching their excitement and enthusiasm as they accompany him on the campaign trail, taking turns pushing his wheelchair, one discovers a village bent on demonstrating that Mr Mutharimi is their saviour, not any of the other 10 able-bodied men and women he is competing with.

Mr Oreste Mithika and Ms Mary Kainda the parents, pose for a photo with Mr Nicholas Mutharimi.
 

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete I Nation Media Group

This is what residents of Igembe South did in 2017 when they elected current MP John Paul Mwirigi, then a third-year university student who campaigned on a bicycle. The prospect that he will be elected is not far-fetched, he says, citing Mr Mwirigi’s example.

“I have been through thick and thin all my life but these people always make me happy. They lifted my spirits when I was down and this gesture now is proof they love me unconditionally,” Mr Mutharimi says.

He goes on: “I am grateful to them because since I was a toddler battling this condition they were supportive, carrying me around before I got a wheelchair and even today when I get stuck in our bad roads they lift me to safety. I think they love me because we have lived as a close-knit family and I have never suffered stigma.”

On this hot afternoon, Mr Mutharimi is surrounded by dozens of villagers as he enumerates his pledges to the community. He is also accompanied by his parents, Mr Oreste Mithika and Ms Mary Kainda, who he says are very supportive.

In 2017, he tried his luck at the ballot but claims he was rigged out during Party of National Unity (PNU) nominations and promised a seat reserved for people with disabilities (PWD), which never materialised.

He castigates political parties, saying most of them discriminate against some aspirants in their nominations and don’t consider the plight of PWDs.

When the chance presented itself in the UDA nominations this year, 791 residents voted for him against his closest challenger, who garnered 201, in voting marked by low turnout.

Mr Nicholas Mutharimi campaigning in his village.
 

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete I Nation Media Group

“They say I understand their problems better and I am best placed to represent them,” says the 29-year-old fourth-born in a family of six whose younger brother also suffers from a similar condition.

His early life was fraught with challenges and he almost dropped out of school. After Mutuatine Primary School, he joined Joytown Special School in Thika and in 2018 proceeded to Nairobi Technical Institute for a diploma in information, communication and technology.

But he had to suspend his studies for two months, almost dropping out due to lack of fees, and he had to beg the college administration to assist him.

“While in Nairobi Technical in the first year, I faced a lot of challenges getting school fees to a point I postponed my studies. The then principal, Mr Frederick Magua, came to my aid and the college paid my fees, house rent and upkeep,” he says.

The Disability Community Centre and the Liliane Foundation, through Cheshire Disability Services Kenya, also gave him a new wheelchair and paid part of his school fees.

Mr Mutharimi had a hard time securing a job after college but managed to raise money and set up a cybercafé in January 2020 at Mlango Kubwa in Nairobi. It sustained him until he shut it down earlier this year to concentrate on politics.

For him, campaigns are expensive because mobility is limited and he has to hire a vehicle at Sh10,000 daily. When he wants to use a motor bike he has to hire two, the second one to carry his wheelchair.

On a typical day, his campaign begins with a prayer at home after which his nephew Robson Muritani, who has been assisting him to move around for 10 years, accompanies him to campaigns.

Leadership style

He says his leadership style, if he wins, will be participatory, giving priority to education by pushing for allocations to bursaries for needy learners, water and grading roads in his ward.

“The support I am getting from my people is overwhelming and I am confident of victory. I may not have money but the people of Igembe East ward are not looking for people with money; they want a representative who understands their problems,” he says.
 

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