Kenya’s citizenship on sale

Published: 29/Sep/2009
Source: The Standard (Nairobi)

By Adow Jubat and Boniface Ongeri

He had just hit 18 years in 2006 when as required by law, he decided to get a national identity card.  Having been born by Kenyan parents in Garissa District, Khalif Hassan was certain he would easily get the precious document that confirms his nationality.

As required in this part of the country, he presented himself to a vetting committee just as a formality to confirm he is a Kenyan.

“I was dumbfounded when the area chief disowned me despite watching me grow up in the village,” Khalif says.

He says he was further shocked to see five youths whom he had never seen in his entire life in the village being cleared by the committee to be issued with the IDs. They were said to have come from his village.

“I later learnt that they were from Somalia and had been camping in Dadaab Refugee camp,” he says.

This is the sad situation in North Eastern Province where issuance of identity cards is influenced by bribery.  The war is Somalia and instability in parts of Ethiopia has seen many Somalis from those countries seek refuge in Kenya. They are now using their advantage of sharing a language and culture with Kenyan Somalis to acquire citizenship.

Corruption cartels

Vetting committees, based at divisional level have to verify an applicant’s citizenship before getting the identification card. Members of the commitees include the District Officer, District Registrar of Persons, an intelligence officer, a Criminal Investigation Department officer, sometimes immigration officers, area chief and local elders.

CCI investigations and interviews with residents, committee members and Government officers established that some committee members collude to give aliens Kenyan nationality illegally through issuance of ID cards.

Mrs Zeinab Mohammud, a former vetting committee member in Garissa Township accuses the committees of being corrupt.

“Some of the members openly solicit for bribes from foreigners and give them ID cards at the expense of genuine Kenyans,” Zeinab says adding that she was forced to leave the committee because of the shameless bribery.

Since the fall of Siad Barre regime in 1991 that plunged Somalia into anarchy, Kenyan identity card has become the most sought after document by Somalia nationals and a major business in North Eastern Province. Residents of this region have coined the word Kenyanisation to refer to the process of foreigners buying the identity card.

“It is so easy to be Kenyanised,” says Mohammed Hassan, as he rubs his thumb and index finger together as a sign for money.

“With as little as Sh15,000 you can be Kenyanised. But when the committee becomes stubborn Sh50,000 will soften them,” says Hassan, a Somali national who bought the citizenship. He acquired the document after paying Sh30,000 ten years ago and has been busy amassing land under his name.

“I have helped many of my relatives to get the document. I am a Kenyan by virtue of this document and no one can do anything,” he gloats wondering how one can prove he is not a Kenyan.

Residents in the province know who among them is a foreigner but because the aliens have ID cards, the Government says its hands are tied. The foreigners share a language and culture with the residents and have relatives in Kenya, therefore, making it difficult for one to differentiate Kenyans from foreigners.

Accomplices in crime

CCI investigations established that some residents are accomplices in this. They front the aliens as Kenyans after receiving bribes.

“When the foreigners are registered the same residents who helped them acquire the documents shout the loudest on realising the foreigners are giving them competition for jobs, business and property rights,” North Eastern Provincial Commissioner James ole Seriani laments as he admits selling of nation ID cards is a big problem in the region.

Ole Seriani cited a case in Ijara District where an old man in Hulugho Division had presented to a vetting committee a Somali teenager whom he claimed was his son.

“The boy was cleared by the local vetting committee but villagers disowned him. We are holding the old man and the young man waiting for DNA tests. If the DNA won’t match they will be prosecuted,” the PC says. Ole Seriani says the Mandera District vetting committee was disbanded adding the Ijara District committee was suspended after irregularities were detected.

“In Ijara District, a teenager was presented by a man who claimed to be his father, but when we called the wife who was supposed to be the young man’s mother, she disowned him,” Ijara DC John Kamau says.

In Mandera, Saadia Abdi, a Somali National confesses she paid Sh15,000 to get an ID card. Recently she lost the document and wanted a replacement but was asked for Sh5,000 bribe. “I will have to pay when the committee is reconstituted,” she says confidently.

Ijara DC says it is difficult for officials issuing the ID cards to differentiate between Kenyan and Somali nationals. “Under these circumstances the residents know each other. We advocate for people to be patriotic,” he says.

“The local vetting committee was suspended because committee members had become corrupt, unpatriotic and untamable,” Kamau says. “We are looking for people of integrity.”

Mandera DC Francis Lenyangume says the vetting committee in the district was disbanded because it had been infiltrated by foreigners.

“We know genuine Kenyans who want the document will suffer but the disbanding is for the interest of Kenyans,” he says.

Residents often complain of unfair competition for scarce jobs and business opportunities from foreigners some of whom are recruited in the military and other disciplined forces. Corruption in these committees could be used to help usher into the country people with terrorists links. “We are thinking of registering all foreigners in schools. The registration is not to deny the foreigners an opportunity to learn. It is because we have realised some are using the schools to get national ID cards,” the PC says. In remote Mandera, the PC says, the enrolment in local schools is mysteriously higher than Garissa and Wajir Districts, which are more urban.

Garissa District Commissioner Joshua Ogango says despite calls to abolish the vetting committees, they are the best way to vet foreigners so far.

“Without the committees we would be registering many aliens. The province borders Somalia and Ethiopia that host suspected criminal elements, some linked to terrorists groups. The Government cannot take things for granted,” he says. Nevertheless, residents say the process has not deterred aliens from acquiring Kenyan identity cards.

“The committees oppress Kenyans and only serve rich aliens,” former Wajir South Councillor Dagane Siyat Kabahai says.

“From the refugee camps, foreigners monitor the dates when the vetting committees plan to hold their sittings and land like vultures,” Kabahai says. “They are even coached about the areas they will claim to have come from. The practice has denied genuine Kenyans opportunities.”

System’s loopholes

Applicants are supposed to produce their parents’ and grandparents’ identity cards.

The PC says the Government will soon do away with mass registration because it gives aliens a loophole to sneak in.

“A maximum of 30 applicants will be processed per sitting to ensure total scrutiny. This will make registration a frequent exercise,” he says.

Ogango says lack of resources and vastness of the settlements forces the committees to carry the exercise once or twice a year.

Some Kenyans grow old without ever getting their identity card while rich foreigners get it with ease. “Kenyans usually are reluctant to bribe to get the document because majority know it is their entitlement thus they are dismissed and aliens given opportunity,” says Khalif Abdi Farah, co-ordinator for Northern Forum for Democracy.

“Woe unto those whose parents have personal grudges with any of the committee members,” Farah says.

Recently residents narrated to the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) the challenges they face while seeking the ID cards.

“Some residents have been waiting to be recognised by their country for more than 10 years,” Vincent Musebe of KHRC says. “There are 50-year-old residents who don’t have identity cards.”

In a report titled , Foreigners at home; the Dilemma of Citizenship in Northern Kenya, KHRC calls for restructuring of ID cards management and the creation of a centralised database of birth registration to streamline the process.

Themes: ID Documents and Passports
Regions: Kenya, Somalia
Year: 2009