Out in the Cold: Vetting for Nationality in Kenya

Published: 1/Mar/2011
Source: Open Society Foundations

By Sebastian Kohn

Abdulhaleem El-Busaidy is only one of millions of Kenyans who are discriminated against in access to Kenyan nationality—despite having a clear right to it under Kenyan law.

The main problem is discrimination in the issuance of national ID cards, the main proof of nationality for Kenyans. In 2010, El-Busaidy was refused an ID card because he failed to produce his grandfather’s birth certificate. He was told that because of his ethnic background, this was required by a secret government circular that reads: “For Asians and Arabs—parents’ and grandparents’ birth certificates are required proof of citizenship.” El-Busaidy, the son of a former Commissioner for the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, decided to challenge the constitutionality of this overtly discriminatory policy. He took his case to court in Mombasa.

The High Court in Mombasa responded. In January 2011, it first ordered a temporary suspension of the circular. And then, on February 18, the court made an important decision against discrimination in access to nationality: Judge Ojwang confirmed the suspension of the circular on the basis that ethnic and religious discrimination in access to national ID cards—and thus nationality—is unconstitutional under the new Constitution of Kenya. The case will now be heard on merits.

Read further on Open Society Foundations website.

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, Identity Documents, ID Documents and Passports
Regions: East Africa, Kenya
Year: 2011