This is a personal experience, by Hon. Dr. Isaac Mwaura on his distressing experience in New York – attending UN General Assembly. He is Kenya’s first MP and Senator with Albinism, and the Chairman of the Albinism Society of KENYA.
Published word for word.
I am here feeling very awful about an incident that has happened 3 times at the United Nations Headquarters. I have mulled about it and have struggled a lot, but as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Our lives begin to end when we keep silent about things that matter”.
So, while back at home my social media team uses a wrong photo for a #Tbt that I only came to learn about 7 hrs later, and bloggers cannot have enough of it. Here in New York, where am attending the UN General Assembly for the first time, something even more bizarre has happened.
On Wednesday, I was busy rushing to take my seat at a Kenyan side event on Peace, organized by our permanent mission here and the ministry of foreign affairs. True to it, I get in to the building and check in at the security. I do the usual stuff of emptying my pockets, then I go through the machine and they do a body search.
Then am told to step aside and am kept waiting for over 30 minutes.
The Secret Service agents ask for my ID and by this time, they have picked my entry card. I give them my national ID and NHIF card – as further proof of my identity. They say they’re looking for someone who fits my description. More bizarre, is they say the photo is the correct one, but the names don’t match. By now I ask them why they are questioning me. They say that there is someone who looks like me who is walking around with ‘a screw driver’. Am shocked. In the US, people are allowed to own and carry guns, and here we are talking of a screw driver?
By this time I feel profiled and discriminated upon on the basis of both albinism and racial origin. I wonder loudly that this cannot be happening at the UN headquarters, the home of the universal Bill of Rights. By now they are embarrassed. I offer to leave but they refuse to let me go. The white men now call a black guy who helps to calm the situation. He takes me to his office in some basement and introduces himself as Eric. We exchange cards. He is Eric Bramwell, Lieutenant, Officer-In-Charge of Investigative Unit, Security and Safety Service. So by this time he offers to take me to my next assignment, listening to H.E President Uhuru Kenyatta, as he delivers his address to the UN General Assembly. I don’t have my access card still and Eric calls to ask if anyone was left with it.
Then, all of a sudden, out of the blues, he fishes it out of his pocket in a rather embarrassing manner. So he takes me to the GA Hall but I opt to first get into the Kenyan side event, after bumping in to Nairobi Senator, Johnson Sakaja, who I hadn’t met earlier on. This is seems to give Eric some validity about my identity. So I get in there and meet with PS Macharia Kamau, Monica Juma, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Kenyan ambassador to the AU. We discuss how Kenya can take up the role of the African Union Special Envoy on albinism, a position that I helped push under the mandate of I.K. Ero, the UN independent Expert on the enjoyment of the rights of persons with albinism. The latter is a position that was established by the UN itself in order to deal with gross human rights violations against us after the wave of killings witnessed in many places especially in Africa.
Soon after, I join my parliamentary colleagues briefly, before we are ushered in to the GA plenary hall. As I get in and other Kenyans rush to say hi, I am pulled aside by Eric, who now refers to me as ‘Senator Doctor’. He is with the Head of Security at the UN, a Mr Kevin O. Hanlon, who has come to apologize in person. He explains that it wasn’t his team, but the Secret Service agents. I leave the matter to rest.
At the podium, it’s the turn of the President of Guatemala, who is railing the UN system, for various acts of omission and commission in his country. Next is Kenyan turn and our President delivers a compelling speech that receives rare applause as compared to other presidents. We walk out and say hi to him. He invites us to a private meeting later on. As this is happening, the Kenyan Ambassador to the UN Hon Lazarus Ameyo walks up to me and informs me that he has received an apology from the UN about what had happened.
Later on at the entrance of the venue of our meeting with the President, Hotel Latte, my other colleagues are ushered in while get questioned. The Secret Service takes my card again while others start taking photos of me secretly with their phones. When I see them, I say a cheeky hi to them. My colleagues have to explain again that I am Senator from Kenya, when one of them asks ‘who is this guy?’ As if that is not enough, a Secret Service agent follows us up into the lift while looking at me suspiciously.
The President finally comes in, he teases me, in his characteristic joking nature: Are you Al Shabaab, Mujahedeen or the Chairman of the National Rifles Association (NRA)? I explain to him how ‘those people really harassed me’. We let the matter lie and continue with our meeting.
So yesterday, I tried accessing my hotel on 51st street and gave my UN accreditation card at the checkpoint. I was again stopped and told to step aside! The calls were made once again and the whole process began all over, this being the 3rd time. I couldn’t take it anymore!!! I reminded the secret service agent that he himself was a person of color and that I was a Senator from Kenya. He was quite rude, asking me if I was a Senator, in the US. Ruffled, I told him he wasn’t the most important security agent and that he should step aside. Anyway I was allowed in after a state house official found me at the entrance and explained to them that I am a Senator from Kenya. On my way out, I meet Mutahi Ngunyi, the re-known Political Science Professor, and we had a chat. Again this seemed to give the secret service validity about my presence.
So in my mind I think to myself, I am not good enough to be believable right?
That I can only get validation from other people?
More-so, the explanations given about screw drivers didn’t add up. I tried asking the Secret Service agents, this time, the two women who had come to talk to me earlier in the day – about the suspicious photo. They didn’t have it any longer. To them, it was just someone with Albinism, and so I fitted their description and who allegedly, ‘kept on following some unknown king’. I told them that by now they should have circulated my image so that their system could differentiate – innocent persons with albinism – and guilty persons with albinism.
I felt sick.
#Keep it locked for the next part of this tale.