From Senator to 'terrorist', my experience in US

Mwaura recounts what he went through at UN meeting
It is Wednesday September 25, 2019, and I am rushing to take my seat at a Kenyan side event on peace, organised by our permanent mission in New York and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It was during the United Nations General Assembly meeting. I get into the building and check in at security.

Then I am told to step aside and kept waiting for more than 30 minutes. The Secret Service agents ask for my ID. By this time, they have picked my entry card. I give them my national ID and National Hospital Insurance Fund cards.

They tell me that they are looking for someone who fits my description. I ask them why they are questioning me. They say there is someone who looks like me and who is walking around with "a screw driver".

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By this time, I feel profiled and discriminated against on basis of both albinism and race. I wonder loudly that this cannot be happening at the UN headquarters, the home of 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 to me as Eric.

He is Eric Bramwell, lieutenant officer in charge of the investigative unit, security and safety service. He offers to take me to my next assignment-listening to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address to the UN General Assembly.

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Access card

I do not have my access card still and Eric calls to ask if anyone was left with it. Then all of a sudden, and out of the blues, he fishes it out of his pocket in a rather embarrassing manner. 

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He takes me to the General Assembly hall, but I opt to first get to the Kenyan side event, after bumping on Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja. This seems to give Eric some validity about my identity.

Soon after, I join my parliamentary colleagues briefly, before we are ushered in to the GA plenary hall. As I get in, some fellow Kenyans rush to say hello. I am, however, pulled aside by Eric, who now refers to me as Senator.

He is in the company of Kevin O Hanlon, the head of security at the UN complex, and who has come to apologise to me in person. He explains that it was not his team that did it but rather the secret service agents.

As the President is delivering his address, Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN, Lazarus Amayo, walks up to me and informs me that he has received an apology from the UN about what had happened.

About an hour later, at the entrance of Hotel Latte, which is the venue of our meeting with the President, my other colleagues are ushered in while I get questioned. A secret service agent takes my card, again, while others start to secretly take my photos on their mobile phones.

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My colleagues are forced to explain, again, that I am a senator from Kenya. This is after one of the agents loudly asks "who is this guy?" As if that is not enough, another one follows us up into the lift, staring at me suspiciously.

When the President finally comes in, he jokingly asks me if I am Al Shabaab, Mujahedin or the Chairman of the National Riffles Association (NRA). We let the matter lie.

The following day I want to access my hotel along 51st street and as is the practice, I give my UN accreditation card at a designated checkpoint. I am, again, stopped from entry and told to step aside as others get in!

At this juncture, I can’t take it anymore and I remind the secret service agent that he is himself a person of colour. I state that I am a Senator from Kenya and he rudely asks me if I am a US senator. 

Anyway, I'm finally allowed to pass after a State House official finds me at the entrance and explains to the security agents that I am a senator from Kenya.

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I try asking the secret service agents, this time two women who have come to talk to me, to show me the photo of the person they are looking for, but they do not have one!

To them, it is just someone with albinism, whose description I fit into and who allegedly keeps on following some unknown king in order to harm him with a screw driver.

Later on, I come to learn that it is not only me. Dr Omotayo, who has albinism, is an ambassador of the Wazobia people from Nigeria. He, too, has been stopped many times as he seeks to access both his hotel and the UN premises, to the point that his entourage becomes embarrassed.

Western movies

You know a good number of western movies cast persons with albinism as pale white skinned, red eyed villains, who possess some kind of supernatural powers. So in the sub-conscience of these white secret service agents, I am a typical representation of such a villain!!

Now how does that differ with those witch-doctors in many African countries that believe that our body parts possess some magical powers, leading to loss of lives?

Indeed, such acts of officialdom by agents of the State bring to the fore the systemic discrimination within the American and other bureaucracies that act as barriers to the inclusion of persons with albinism."

 [The writer is a Nominated Senator and chairman of the Albinism Society of Kenya. @mwauraIsaac1 [email protected]]

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TerrorismUNGAAl ShabaabIsaac Mwaura