What you need to know:
- Ashura Michael remains unbowed, despite being denied a chance to participate in 2022 election after resigning from her job and spending a substantial amount of money on campaign materials.
- Her hopes of being nominated to the Senate were also dashed after her name was removed from the nomination list at the last minute under what she terms "mysterious circumstances”.
Had the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party nominated its Nairobi senatorial candidate through the vote in the run-up to the August 9 General Election, Ashura Michael would perhaps be the county’s senator.
Her plan to represent Nairobi in the Senate faltered in the last election when the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition party settled on ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna as its candidate and handed him a direct ticket.
Ashura’s hopes of being nominated to the Senate were also dashed after her name was removed from the nomination list at the last minute under what she terms “mysterious circumstances”.
The name, according to her, was removed when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) returned nomination lists to political parties, including ODM, for failing to comply with the two-thirds gender rule and the inclusion of marginalised groups such as persons with disability and the youth.
“My name was in the first list that was rejected by the IEBC. The list was rectified and taken back to the electoral agency, but this time round my name was missing.”
Being denied a chance to participate in last year’s elections was a big blow to her as she had not only resigned from her job at an international organisation to focus on elections, she had also spent a substantial amount of money on campaign materials such as T-shirts and posters. She, however, remains unbowed insofar as her ambitions are concerned.
Ashura, an alumna of Kuja Special Secondary School for the Deaf, was born a normal child in Rongo town, Migori County, before measles struck and robbed her of her hearing ability when she was four years old.
“I endured a tough life growing up. I would struggle to keep up with the pace and demands of my fellow children. As I started to lose my hearing, I had to adjust to a new way of life. I had to learn to communicate in different ways, such as sign language and lip-reading. I also had to learn new ways of studying and paying attention in school,” she recalls.
“I had to work hard to keep up with the hearing students, not just academically but socially as well. I had to learn how to advocate for myself and get the help I needed to succeed. Thankfully, I found mentors and supportive teachers who helped me develop the skills I needed to thrive. In my career, I had to work extra hard to prove myself and show that I could do the job just like anyone else.”
Being Deaf, her political journey has not been a walk in the park. “My political journey has not been easy. As a deaf woman, I have had to fight for recognition and the right to be heard. During my short stint in competitive politics last year, I faced myriad challenges. Unlike my competitors who were talking directly to the electorate, I was using an interpreter, hence less impact,” she says.
“Communication is a key ingredient of passing information; hence, I felt some disconnection with the voters. Running for the position exposed me to the already-existing fears I had about what vulnerable populations face in the murky world of politics. For instance, some parties still believe that the probability of losing the seats is high if the ticket is given to persons with disability – which is wrong.”
Ashura says she joined politics with the sole aim of challenging the negative stereotypes about women and persons living with disabilities (PWDs).
“Persons with disability cannot afford to sit back and wait to be given leftovers; we must sit at the decision-making table. For this reason, I believed running for a senatorial seat would give me the impetus to speak on behalf of women and persons with disabilities, especially the deaf.”
She expresses concern that 22 county assemblies have no PWD representatives.
“Out of the 47 counties, only the United Democratic Alliance party has nominated deaf persons – one in Kirinyaga and another in Bomet. Deaf people can serve diligently. For instance, former United States President Barack Obama had two deaf people who served in the White House: Leah Katz, a receptionist, and Claudia Gordon as director at the White House Office of Public Engagement,” she says.
“Article 54 of the Constitution states that the state shall ensure the progressive implementation of the principle that at least five per cent of members of the public in elective and appointive bodies are persons with disabilities.”
Ashura has a diploma in law from the defunct Inoorero University and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Nairobi.
“As a country, we have not put any efforts towards the implementation of our Constitution, which is the beautiful thing for the prosperity of our nation. I hope my candidature has inspired more persons with disabilities, especially young women of my age.”
Ashura has also undertaken short courses in women Agribusiness Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Civil Leadership from Michigan State University in 2019 and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2016, respectively. She has served in various leadership positions, including formerly serving as the Speaker of the East African Youth Legislative Assembly. She is the founder and director of Free a Girl’s World Network, an organisation that aims to empower the girl child socially and economically.
She also has served as co-chair of the Youth Council of Unicef’s Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities; chair of the African Charter on Democracy, Election and Governance Kenya Chapter; secretary general for the Kenya National Association of the Deaf Youth Section; and gender and inclusion officer at Peace Ambassador Integration Organisation, among other positions.
Ashura has won several humanitarian and leadership awards. In 2019, she was named the most Influential Young Kenyan under the Leadership and Governance category.
In 2020, she was one of the top 15 Kenyan Women blazing a trail of the corporate suite 2020 (Law and Policy) and the Dedicated Deaf Youth 2020 by the World Federation of the Deaf Youth.
In 2021, she was named one of the top 10 Kenya’s under 30 women shaping our future, Youth Hero and published by Friedrich Naumann foundation on the Female Forward and National Gender Equality Commission award on Exemplary Service in promoting equality and inclusion of special interest groups in 2021.
Ashura has also won Diversity & Inclusion Award, Nairobi (2019), African Deaf Woman of the Year award (2018) and Pan African Humanitarian Award (2017).
She advises women and PWDs to keep their heads up, continue with their dreams to bring a change, and use other platforms besides politics to shape the world. “This quote from Mother Teresa: ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples,’ keeps me inspired,” she says.