The Makonde: From Statelessness to Citizenship in Kenya

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

"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." 51 year old Damiano Garcias shows a copy of his identity card. He is a Makonde who was born and raised in the Kenyan Coast. Garcia loves carving wood and this earns him his daily bread. Now that he has an ID card, he intends to acquire business permits so that he can expand his carving business. ; Makonde community was declared the 43rd tribe of Kenya by the President in February 2017 when 1176 Makonde were issued with Kenyan identity cards. 1496 individuals from the Makonde community received nationality certificates. This number reflects only those whose parents are both Makonde. Those who have one Kenyan parent are already deemed as Kenyans and UNHCR will be following up to ensure they are not left out from obtaining their IDs. Other than the Makonde, other stateless communities living in the coast of Kenya include; the Pemba, the Shirazi, the Rundi and some Rwandans.

“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.

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

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.

A joyful Amina Kassim shows us her Kenyan identity card. The 51 year old was born and raised in the Kenyan coast. Her grandparents came from Mozambique through Tanzania to work in sisal farms in the Vipingo, Kenyan Coast. UNHCR/M.Ndubi

 

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.

Mzee Nguli proudly wears his ‘Brand Kenya’ bracelet. “I am Kenyan.” He said. Mzee Nguli is the Makonde chairman who has led the community through out the journey to obtain documents. UNHCR/M.Ndubi

 

So far, 1496 individuals from the Makonde community received nationality certificates and 1731 Makonde who were born in Kenya have been issued with birth certificates. A birth certificate helps to link a child to a particular state, thereby reducing the risk of becoming stateless for children.

As the Makonde celebrate the gains made in acquiring Kenyan citizenship, they cannot help but sympathize with other communities who are stateless. They know too well the importance of having a nationality. “We urge the government to give everyone and identity card,” said Amina Kassim while speaking about the Pemba Community. “I feel bad for them. I would like us to be one. I would like all of us to have ID cards.”

In 2016, UNHCR and partners conducted a survey of the Pemba. Action 10 of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness encourages States to improve quantitative and qualitative data on stateless populations. This not only helps with determining solutions to resolve statelessness but also for planning purposes, governments can plan better with data. Data collection also helps to determine the needs of the populations in order to tailor make the interventions to assist the affected populations. The exact number of stateless persons is not known so above all, this will contribute to a comprehensive number.

A man from the Pemba community attends the community meeting in Kwale while wearing a t-shirt with a powerful message ‘Citizenship for All’. The Pemba are among the stateless communities living in the coast. Their forefathers hail from Zanzibar. Despite being born in Kenya, they are still stateless. UNHCR/M.Ndubi

 

Other than the Makonde, other stateless communities living in Kenya include; the Pemba, the Shirazi, the Rundi, individuals of Rwandan origin, the Shona, children born in Kenya to British Oversees Citizens and the Galjael tribe who lost their nationality in  1989.

Other communities are at risk of becoming stateless because of the requirement to constantly prove they are Kenyan such as the Bajuni – A Kenya Somali tribe and the Nubians of Kenya.

“I feel bad for them. I would like us to be one. I would like all of us to have ID cards.”

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, which has a mandate to provide international protection to stateless persons has been working with an estimated number of 20,000 stateless persons in Kenya. “We now estimate the number of stateless persons to be at 18,500 because of the Makonde who were registered and those who died in the course of 2016.” Said Wanja Munaita.

UNHCR will continue working with the government of Kenya and partners in order to have the Pemba and other communities documented this year. UNHCR also seeks to have the draft National Action Plan to resolve statelessness in the country validated by the government.

Additionally, UNHCR will continue to work with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to ensure stateless persons are captured in the 2019 National Housing and Population Census.

Read the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness within 10 years here http://bit.ly/2mDosKb.