Disability comes with a lot of challenges. In many African societies, people with disabilities were either killed at birth or ostracised by society.
Rarely were people living with disabilities allowed to enjoy the same privileges as their able-bodied kindred.
Even where opportunities arise, people living with disabilities have always been discriminated against. It wasn’t until the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003 that things started changing with the clamour for equal rights. Reuben Mugasu has been a victim.
Born in Magui village, Vihiga County in 1977, Mugasu is visually impaired, single, and poor. He ekes a living entertaining people in churches and family functions, but the events are far and few between.
“I was born visually impaired and missed out on a lot of things. My parents were very poor. In 1991, I joined the Kibos School for the blind but dropped out in the first term the following year due to financial challenges,” he recalls.
Mugasu lives in a small threadbare, mud-walled house that he says a well-wisher built for him.
Sections of the wall on the outside are falling off due to exposure to rain. Mugasu is aggrieved that in 2018, people he knew visited him at home and lied to him that Hon Musalia Mudavadi and Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli wanted to see him.
“I was excited, only to realise shortly afterwards that I had been duped. They took me to a private recording artist in Kakamega town and made me record six songs with the promise they will market them and send the proceeds to me. Indeed, the songs were put on YouTube but I did not get a single cent from them”. Some of the songs are titled ‘Mugera gwo ruriva’, ‘Sinda henda mwoyo gwange’, ‘Ikihanwa ki chunyara kuha nyasaye’, and ‘indagano’.
Kakamega-based music producer Fred Akivambo confirms he recorded the songs and shot the videos. “I know the old man and I recorded the said songs. Beyond that, I know nothing and if indeed someone made money out of them, then I was fleeced too,” he said.
“I am the one who found the songs on YouTube and when I asked him about them, he denied any knowledge of them being on YouTube,” says Elvis Misigo Mwanga, son of Mugasu’s late elder brother.
“Whoever put up the songs on YouTube also placed a request for monetary aid to help Mugasu. The songs were later pulled down,” Mwanga adds.
Only monetized accounts with a set threshold of followers can generate money on YouTube. This follows a rigid verification process by Google about content ownership and suitability. However, Mugasu strongly believes the people who posted his songs on YouTube took advantage of his impairment for their own to benefit.
“There is word those who hijacked my songs claim they bought me a car and built a house for me. Those are all lies. I depend on well-wishers for survival. Some of them buy me clothes, others give me food and a few of them give me money. That is how I survive. Last year, I registered with the Ministry of Social Services to benefit from funds set aside for people living with disabilities, but I have not received any money to date,” Mugasu said.
A visit to the Vihiga County offices confirmed Mugasu’s claim that he had registered but had not received any money so far. “The last payment we made was in July 2021 and we are still awaiting directions,” a clerk at the social services offices told us.
“It is unfair to take advantage of disabled people. Given my condition, I appeal to those who love my music to help me in any way they can. I particularly wish to get help in recording the songs so that I can make some money out of them to help me meet some of the basic needs of life. As it is, I survive through difficulties, depending on donations from well-wishers,” said a forlorn Mugasu.