Glimmer of hope for the Shona community living in Kenya

By 2020, Government of Kenya pledges recognition as citizens and registration of the Shona community who qualify under the law

Nosizi Dube, Zephania Mungani and Happiness Kapota, are some of the more than 4000 Stateless Shona community members whose origin is Zimbabwe. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile.

A ministerial conference on the Eradication of Statelessness in the Great Lakes Region was held in Nairobi from 16-18 April 2019, with participants drawn from 12 Member States from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The event that was co-organised by Government of Kenya’s Ministry of Interior, the ICGLR Executive Secretariat, and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR agreed on common approaches on the right to belong for minority groups in the great lakes region.

By 2020, Government of Kenya pledges recognition as citizens and registration of the Shona community

The Government of Kenya through the Chief Administrative Secretary, Patrick Ole Ntutu came bearing good news especially for the Shona community. By 2019, Kenya will re-establish a task force on statelessness and validate the draft national action plan followed by its implementation.

Hon Ole Ntutu remarked, “By 2020, Government of Kenya pledges recognition as citizens and registration of the Shona community who qualify under the law, as well as by 2020,enactment of the Births and Deaths Registration Act that provides safeguards to prevent statelessness.”

Ministry of Interior officials from Kenya and UNHCR who jointly co-organised and co-hosted the statelessness ministerial conference together with the Secretariat of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Regions (ICGLR) .©UNHCR/Caroline Opile.

Among the participants was 19 year old Nosizi Dube, from the Shona community, whose great grandparents from Zimbabwe arrived in Kenya in the 1960 as missionaries. Her grandparents and parents were born in Kenya, and she has called Kenya home all her life.

We exist but we are not recognized

Nosizi is a secondary school student in Kiambu County, near Nairobi.  She narrates how she was fortunate to be sponsored by the Member of Parliament where she resides for her excellent performance in primary education and mastery of the local dialect while reciting a poem on prize giving day. She hopes to find sponsorship for university education and to graduate as a neurosurgeon or financial engineer.

“Education is part of my soul. If I lose it, I lose my identity completely”. Nosizi says.  “With education, I know I will represent my community and encourage more people to go to school and not lose hope.”

 

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Nosizi Dube is a 19 year old girl from the Shona community, whose great grandparents originated from Zimbabwe. She remains stateless event though she has lived in Kenya all her life. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile

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Nosizi, Happiness and Diana Gichengo from Kenya Human Rights Commission, one of the organisations that works closely with UNHCR to advocate for an end to statelessness in Kenya. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile.

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Participants at the ministerial conference on statelessness in Nairobi. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile.

However, she is among the few from her community that have completed primary school and enrolled in secondary school.

Happiness Kapota, was not as fortunate.  The 24 year old mother of three dropped out of school when she was in primary 7 for lack of a birth certificate to enrol for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE).

“I was born in Kenya, and my parents were also born in here.  I am the third generation of the Shona community. My only inheritance is statelessness and that’s what I have passed on to my children.”

She has three children who are also stateless and according to her, have no hope of a better life. Happiness makes a living from basketry while her husband is a carpenter.

My only inheritance is statelessness and that’s what I have passed on to my children

In Kenya, it is estimated that there are more than 18,500 stateless persons from various communities that include Shona, Pemba, Persons of Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Malawi and Zambian descent.  Children born in Kenya to British Overseas citizens are also stateless due to conflict in nationality laws resulting in the impossibility to be attributed the nationality of their parents at birth or the attribution of the nationality of the country where they are born and where they have their habitual residence. This lack of recognition of any nationality may continue during all their childhood and often remains even after reaching majority.

So far, the Makonde and Nubian communities have been granted citizenship by the Government of Kenya.

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John Amugune from the stateless Maragoli in Uganda, hopes to belong with a new constitutional amendment in the country. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile.

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Makonde community recognised by Kenya government in 2016 were at the conference to entertain participants at the conference. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile.

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Belgium Ambassador to Kenya follows through proceedings at the ministerial conference. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile.

In the same forum, John Amugune keenly follows proceeding to know his fate as a stateless Maragoli in Uganda. Born in 1962 in Uganda, John discovered he was stateless during a constitutional amendment in 1995 that excluded the Maragoli, whose origin is Kenya, from the list of tribes.

“We have done business, paid taxes and voted in Uganda, therefore the Government can’t wish us away.” John says.  He notes that their government has been supportive and remains hopeful of being recognized as citizens when the constitution is amended.

Their stories are just a glimpse into the world of stateless persons. Across the globe millions of  people are stateless according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Director of Africa Bureau says, “In the Great Lakes region, the main drivers of statelessness includes discrimination, conflict in law, migration before independence and lack of access to proof of nationality.”

Raouf observed that statelessness can be a cause or a consequence of forced displacement.

Delegates and Government officials drawn from 12 countries in the Great Lakes region were in Nairobi for the Ministerial conference on eradication of statelessness in the region. The countries agreed to common approaches to eradicate statelessness. ©UNHCR/Caroline Opile

Ministers from Angola, DRC, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya and Republic of Congo gathered to adopt common approaches in addressing statelessness.  Jointly, the ministers agreed to extend the Action Plan of ICGLR to eradicate statelessness to 2024, to expand the Action Plan with an additional objective aimed at strengthening access to proof of legal identity including birth registration and nationality documentation , both documents to be adopted at the next Regional Inter-Ministerial Committee of ICGLR.

The conference marked the midway point in the Global Campaign to end statelessness by 2024.