Unbowed: The man a bullet couldn’t stop

By Mwaura Samora

NAIROBI, KENYA: It has not been easy for wheelchair-bound politician, Timothy Wanyonyi Wetang’ula, the MP for Westlands. 

For starters, he is the lawmaker of a diverse area. In his constituency of 180,000 Nairobians, there is stark inequality – the eastern area of Westlands has many rich people while the southern areas are populated by the poor living in slums around Kangemi.

He had to be carried around during the March 2013 campaigns, which he joined three months to the general election. 

And as a new entrant in Westlands politics, he had to tussle with veterans like Kamlesh Pattni.

“There are several slums in Westlands, some very inaccessible, so I had to hire strong men to literary carry me on my wheelchair where there were no roads,” recalls

Wanyonyi, who became physically challenged after a carjacking incident in 1998. After winning the Westlands seat, Parliament, which was designed with able-bodied legislators in mind, became his next hurdle. 

“The speaker’s office is upstairs,” he says, “and there is no staircase so I have either to be carried up there or book an appointment where the speaker comes down and meets me at the dining hall or any other place that can afford us privacy.” During the renovation of the chambers of Parliament, he says, considerations were not made for the disabled especially in the seating arrangements.

The sergeant-at-arms 

 “This puts me and my colleague Yusuf Hassan (Kamukunji MP) at a disadvantage because meeting the Speaker privately is almost impossible,” laments Wanyonyi who served as a nominated councillor in Nairobi for five years.  

“They just plucked two seats for me and Hassan and put them at the back since the other areas are inaccessible by wheelchairs,” Wanyonyi says.

“Before the introduction of the electronic system one had to stand to catch the attention of the speaker. Since I sat at the back and couldn’t stand I ended up not being seen.

To be noticed I had to give the sergeant-at-arms a note to take to the speaker, a very slow and sometimes ineffective process.”

The former founder chair of the Kenyan Paraplegic Organisation   wants to improve the lives of the disabled, youth and women.   

“The single most remarkable project that I have initiated so far is setting up an ICT resource hub for Westlands schools at Highridge Secondary School, with a replication of the same in wards coming soon,” says the MP.

Deep sea, Githogoro, Matopeni 

“I am in process of making all public schools in Westlands able to accommodate disabled children, since I have realised those from poor backgrounds who miss special schools end up not getting any education.”

This, he says, is in line with his long-term agenda to improve education by increasing numbers and absorbing informal schools to the public grid and increase water supply in slums like Deep Sea, Kibagare, Githogoro, Matopeni and Ndumbu-ini.

The Nairobian met the MP for an interview a few days after he had opened a clean water kiosk project at the Kangemi Resource Centre, which was funded by Skyjuice, an Australian NGO.

Wanyonyi plans to be in office for only two terms after which “I retire from politics.”