Source: Kenya Human Rights Commission
When Mzee Kigongo, 76, received news that a local NGO would be offering free medical services to residents of Kwale County, he was overjoyed. He had hoped that he would finally get much needed medical attention for a neglected swollen leg (from a snake bite earlier in his life) that had pained him for most of his adult life.
On the day of the medical services, he made his way to the venue and was attended to by the doctors who advised that his leg would require amputation. Only his identification documents were required to register him for the surgical operation that would be conducted at no cost to him at a set later date.
Strange though it may seem, Mzee Kigongo didn’t have an I.D card. In fact, he has never had the vital document despite having been born and lived in Kenya his entire life. He is a member of the Warundi community that remains undocumented and unrecognized by the Kenyan state. Consequently, this urgent medical need was in jeopardy simply because he lacked a national identity card.
Lack of National Identification documents limits one from enjoying the full rights, privileges and benefits that result from citizenship and locks one from the mainstream of society. Stateless persons are denied ID cards in Kenya.
Resultantly, such is the lived reality stateless people endure. Stateless persons continue to grapple with hardship in accessing critical services and enjoying the rights citizens enjoy in Kenya. Among the many vital services, they cannot easily access include healthcare, education, employment, owning property, participation in electoral processes, and even freedom of movement.
“You can’t even have your leg cut for lack of an I.D”, Mzee Kigongo quizzically quipped at a recent meeting between members of the Warundi community and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
As many as 800 members of the Warundi community live in Kwale County though others are spread across parts of Western Kenya. They arrived in Kenya in 1959 to work in sisal farms. During that period, the region was under the East Africa Protectorate, as such there was easy movement of people across borders.
After Kenya attained independence, the Warundi remained in Kenya but were not offered citizenship and thus remain unrecognized and undocumented to date.
As a result, the Warundi, like many other stateless communities including the Pemba and Shona communities find themselves stateless in the only place they have ever identified as home for decades.
The prolonged neglect of the community has had a critical impact on their lives. The Warundi worked mostly as farmers and owing to their statelessness are locked out of other avenues of gainful employment.
Moreover, a good number of the first wave of the Warundi who immigrated into Kenya are aged today and farming is no longer feasible. Unlike most of their peers who are Kenyan citizens, they do not receive government assistance through the elderly fund and as such remain desolate.
For their school going children, services like bursaries that subsidize the cost of education are unavailable. For the women, healthcare and socio-economic opportunities like joining SACCOS or other avenues of banking are far from attainable.
The challenges notwithstanding the Warundi have got by as best as they could. Buoyed by the recent recognition and award of citizenship to the neighboring Makonde community, the Warundi are actively organizing to demand for their citizenship. Some of the steps taken include registration of the community, issuing members of their community with membership cards for ease of tallying, as well as grassroots engagement, coordination and familiarizing with the local administration and immigration officials.