Makonde still in limbo

Njange Maina @NjangeWaEunice

They were shipped into the country from Mozambique by the colonialists in the early 1900s.

They endured massive torture along the way and on the plantations they slaved in. When the country gained independence in 1963, they assumed the worst was over. But they were wrong!

The Makonde community have remained unrecognised by the government, a stateless people incapable of self-advancement from a lack of critical documentations. Then in 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta recognised the community as Kenyan citizens.

Curiously, however, the registration was afterwards stopped and the community is back to where they started.  A visit to Makongeni village in Msambweni reveals the slow pace of political and economic civilisation the community is moving at. Baked mud houses weighted by age and collapsing thatch roofs dot the village.

Yet, it is a village full of life and energy in which Thomas Nguli, the chairperson of the Makonde community living at the Kenyan coast welcomes us to. As dusk approaches, the vibrancy hits fever pitch as women ready the evening meal kisavu, while the youth try the drums in preparation for a dance, sidiba. The men are seated in a circle outside a hut and the children can be heard playing nearby.

The kisavu meal is the trademark food for the Makonde. It comprises hot posho served with a stew of ground nuts and cassava leaves.

The village occupies about two-acre piece of land where the Makonde were allowed to live by a well-wisher. The land is, however, small and cannot sustain a viable agricultural practice.

About 10 mud-walled and grass thatched houses cluster on the piece of land. The houses shelter about 100 people. The rest of Makonde population is dispersed around in a similar style of architecture on granted pieces of land.

“We are about 2,000 people. Some live here and others are dispersed around. All of our people live on well-wishers lands,” says Nguli. Some families live in land belonging to Kwale International Sugar Company (KISCO), which they also work for.

They were only able to secure the jobs after their IDs were issued. However, due to their lack of formal education, works at the sugar firm only limit the Makonde to menial jobs.

The one employed by KISCO have managed to open bank accounts, enrol into National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), and already reaping the benefits.

About 200 youths were also recruited into the National Youth Service, six into the police service and one into the Kenya Army after issuance of IDs. Until 2016, students of Makonde community could not pursue education beyond secondary school because of lack of IDs which are requisite for college admission. The same fate still awaits those in school.

But the Makonde still practise wood carving. But the skill, handed down generations, has little impact on their economic wellbeing as a result of exploitation from middlemen.  With no curio shops of their own, the brokers buy the carvings at throw-away prices and sell them on at huge profits.

Paulo Ldingondo says the highest amount of money he has ever earned from a carving was Sh1,500. The artefact had taken him 10 days to sculpt.

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