The Makonde: From Statelessness to Citizenship in Kenya

Published: 15/Mar/2017
Source: UNHCR Kenya

“We had rights but we did not know how to enjoy these rights because we did not have identity cards.”

“The day I got my Kenyan identity card I came home and celebrated. I’m now a proper Kenyan. I can go anywhere and get assistance without any fear.” Those are the words of Amina Kassim a 51 year-old mother of four who was among those who trekked from Kwale to Statehouse Nairobi to meet the President in October 2016 to discuss the plight of the stateless communities living in Kenya.

Amina is among the 1,176 Makonde who were issued with Kenyan identity cards in February this year when the Makonde were officially declared the 43rd tribe by President Kenyatta. Amina’s parents were born in Kenya, she is a third generation Makonde. Her grandparents came to Kenya from Mozambique to work in sisal plantations in the coast of Kenya.

Its a similar story for many from the Makonde community. Their forefathers hail from Mozambique and arrived in Kenya through Tanzania in the 1930s to work for the British. They had never been recognized as Kenyans. They were stateless.

A Stateless person is an individual who is not considered to be a national by any State under the operation of its law.

Now that she has an identity card, Amina, who is a fishmonger, hopes to expand her business. “I will open a bank account and save money. I will also join a women savings group,” she said. “This will help me expand my business and renovate my house.”

Without identity cards, the Makonde could not open bank accounts, register telephone sim cards, acquire business permits, move freely or even register for mobile banking. “We had rights but we did not know how to enjoy these rights because we did not have identity cards,” said Amina. “We have suffered.” She stressed reflectively.

The Makonde are known for carving wood, a skill they inherited from their forefathers. The carvers have been exploited by middlemen for many years simply because they did not have identity cards. This will now change. “We are happy now that we have identity cards. We used to hide in the villages and carve because we could not operate or sell in town without permits. That is why we sold to middlemen who took advantage of our situation,” explained Damiano Garcias who sells his carvings to earn a living. “We will now obtain a business permit and rent a place in town where customers can come to us directly.” He added.

“I am so happy to have an identity card. I have made a copy which I walk around with because I treasure my original identity card and I do not want it to get lost or worn out.” said Damiano as he showed off of his ID card copy.

Without identity cards, Makonde youth were discriminated against when they sought employment or to join youth groups. “For us who have attained 18 years, we had a difficult time joining youth groups but now that we have identity cards we have managed to join some groups which will empower us,” noted Martin Kosta, a Makonde youth representative. “The other day the Chief informed Makonde youth about the National Youth Service selection because we are now recognized as Kenyans.”

“I am so happy to have an identity card. I have made a copy which I walk around with because I treasure my original identity card and I do not want it to get lost or worn out.”

Obtaining Kenyan citizenship for stateless persons is a procedure.  “Registration of stateless persons is a 3-step procedure. It involves application to immigration officials to be considered for naturalisation. Once a person is approved for naturalisation, a certificate of nationality is issued. This certificate is the golden paper that one needs to then seek an ID card without questions asked, and if one was born in Kenya, and did not obtain a birth certificate, they also apply for a birth certificate,” explained Wanja Munaita, responsible for Stateless persons at UNHCR Kenya.

Read full text, with pictures at UNHCR Kenya.

Themes: 
Regions: Kenya
Year: 2017