NAIROBI, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) — Unable to secure Kenyan citizenship for years, the Shona community who reside mainly in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and neighboring Kiambu County had long resigned to a fate of statelessness.
This unwanted status had confined the community of fewer than 2,000 people to a world of untold limitations and impossibilities.
But in a welcomed change of circumstance in recent years, some 1,670 members of the Shona community can now afford to brag about their newly conferred Kenyan citizenship 58 years on.
“I no longer feel like a squatter in my own country. For me and other Shona members this was long overdue,” Senzana Dube told Xinhua in a recent interview.
The Shona tribe traces their lineage to Zimbabwe, where their forefathers were born and later migrated to Kenya in 1960 for evangelical work.
After Kenya expelled its colonizers and attained self-rule in 1963, the Shona were unable to prove citizenship as required by the new government and at the same time could not return to their countries of origin.
Faced with a constitution that lacked a provision for allocating citizenship, the Shona community was inevitably rendered stateless.
Since then, there has been an unrelenting call to offer citizenship to the community to lift barriers associated with statelessness.
To their pleasant surprise, the group received formal recognition by the president last year, officially concluding their statelessness and counting them as the 45th tribe in the country.
Members recognized now hold identification cards while their children bear birth certificates. Both documents hold significance in access to services such as healthcare, education, banking, and housing.
“I can now go out and look for casual work because I have an identification card. Previously, it would have been impossible to have anyone employ an undocumented person. That explains why so many of us have ventured into basket weaving while our husbands embark on small menial jobs,” said Dube.
Nearly all Shona people are deficient in literacy levels, having only attended lower elementary classes as a consequence of financial constraints and the absence of vital legal documentation required to advance their academic endeavors.
“I am just happy my children will have better opportunities than myself. They do not have to worry about not furthering their education as we are now eligible for educational assistance provided by the government,” Dube told Xinhua.
Kenya hosts about 18,500 persons who lack legal association to any country. In 2016, Kenya recognized the Makonde community originally from Mozambique as Kenyan citizens.
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), a pioneering human rights body, played a leading role in regularizing the citizenship of both the Makonde and Shona. The process of lobbying and advocacy for the Shona took them five years of working with different stakeholders towards realizing a common goal.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a stateless person is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law.
Ruth Levichiweza, 60, who had long assumed citizenship was an unattainable dream, now finds herself living it and nothing could make her happier.
“With citizenship, I can open a shop and sell my baskets from there as opposed to using middlemen who would dupe and treat me with such contempt due to my unfortunate circumstance,” said Levichiweza.
Meanwhile, the Sagaf community in the coastal county of Tana River will be the last of the marked stateless communities to be granted citizenship in December this year, according to the Ministry of Interior.