Source: CRAI blog
By Diana Gichengo
The Makonde community in Kenya arrived in the country in the 1940s mainly as laborers in sugar and sisal plantations at the coast from Mozambique, majority of them settled in Tanzania while the rest were left in Mozambique. Owing to legislative and policy gaps, the Makonde were not recognized as citizens during independence. A fact attributable to ethnic and racial discrimination; This is because only 42 tribes considered indigenous to Kenya, Indian settlers and English settlers were recognized as citizens. The Makonde have thus for over 50 years lived as stateless persons.
It’s important to note that the Makonde did vote in the first general elections of independent Kenya. They have been promised nationality by each successive government in Kenya. So far there have been 3 attempts by government to register the Makonde or issue them with identity documents, but none of the attempts has resolved their statelessness situation for them.
The Constitution of Kenya (2010) sought to address the problem of statelessness. Subsequently, Parliament passed the Citizenship and Immigration Act of 2011 as the law to govern issues of statelessness. The Act provides that within 5 years, all stateless persons must be registered as Kenyan citizens. In July 2014 the Kwale County assembly petitioned the President to recognize the Makonde as citizens and issue them with identity documents.
In response to the petition the president in 2014 established an interdepartmental taskforce on statelessness to look not only to the plight of the Makonde but other stateless persons residing at the coast of Kenya. These include descendants from, Pemba, Seychelles, Rwanda and Burundi. To date the report of taskforce has not been released. the Makonde supported by Civil society organizations led by the Kenya Human Rights commission , made a questions through members of parliament in the senate and the National Assembly. The questions went unanswered.
The five year period prescribed in the statute in Citizenship lapsed on 30th August without the Makonde or any stateless persons receiving the registration that the law promises.
As a result of their agony and the dwindling hope of recognition as Kenyans, the Makonde community(with the 5 generations of the community ) with the assistance of Kenya Human Rights Commission and other CSOs commenced a difficult journey dubbed “Trekking against Statelessness”. They departed on 10th October 2016 from Kwale to State House, Nairobi to seek audience with the president after several futile attempts to seek audience with the relevant authorities on the registration of those classified as stateless.
The trek was to be a symbolic journey showing the daily struggle that the Makonde go through in not accessing what would be seen as ordinary. It was a journey to lay a mark in the eyes heart and mind of every Kenyan of the degrading nature of statelessness. During the journey they also sought to showcase their culture to the world and they thus travelled with their artifacts and musical instruments, iconic of their great contribution to the Kenyan culture and heritage. On the first day of the trek the registration period for stateless person was extended for a period of three years. clearly the pressure was working !