The Makonde of Kenya: The struggle to belong

Published: 1/May/2015
Source: UNHCR

The Makonde are a Bantu speaking community who live on both sides of river Ruvuma which forms the border of Tanzania and  Mozambique. The community originated from the Northern part of the Republic of Mozambique mainly from Mwende district of Cabo Derogado province. A small group of Makonde migrated to Kenya in the early part of the twentieth century, and have remained ever since.

Yhe Kenyan Makonde are estimated to be 4000 people. The community started streaming into Kenya as early as 1948. The Kenyan Makonde consists of descendants of exiled freedom fighters, refugees fleeing civil war, labourers who were recruited by the British during the colonial period to work in sisal farms and sugar plantations across Kenya’s coastal province in Kwale, Kilifi and Taita Taveta.

The Makonde community lost their formal working jobs in the sisal firms and sugar plantations in the 1990s. During this time, there was an order by the government to the employers regarding employment of non-Kenyans. All employers were to ensure that their foreign employees were registered with the government and had work permits. Given the high fees required for work permits vis a vis the remuneration, most companies opted to terminate their contracts with the foreign workers including Makonde community members.

After Kenya’s independence, they were neither repatriated nor given Kenyan identification. However, they were given DC cards five years after independence. These allowed them to work and pay taxes. This situation changed when there was a change in political regime. They were given alien cards thereby formally recognising them as foreigners. These cards were meant for identification especially when encountering the police.


Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, Statelessness
Regions: Kenya
Year: 2015