The Makonde community has officially become Kenya’s 43rd tribe after being affirmed as Kenyan citizens in an event that was marked in song and dance.
A celebratory mood engulfed Makongeni area, Kilifi county, where enthusiastic men, women and children from the community originally from Mozambique, came together to rejoice over the rare feat of acquiring Kenyan citizenship.
This comes two months after the government finally granted them citizenship rights which they remained without for decades. Officials from both national and county governments as well as human rights activists graced the occasion which was officiated by the Coast Regional Coordinator, Nelson Marwa.
Not even the sweltering Coastal heat that hit hard on March 23 could deter the celebrants from revelling in delight of becoming Kenya’s 43rd tribe after a painstaking struggle for recognition, spanning several decades.
President Uhuru Kenyatta issued the Makonde community with 1,176 IDs, 1,731 birth certificates and 1,496 citizenship documents in February. The move came after the President hosted a delegation of 300 members of the Makonde at State House, Nairobi, in October, last year.
Uhuru then directed relevant government departments to ensure the members of the community were issued with title deeds for the land they are currently living on as squatters.
The Makonde arrived in Kenya in the 1940s mainly as farmhands in sisal and sugar plantations in Kwale, Kilifi and Taita-Taveta but after these companies ceased operations, they were reduced to squatters at the Coast.
Daudi Punda, a Makonde elder, lauded the Jubilee government for enabling them to get IDs and citizenship. “We are more than happy about this kind gesture of ultimately being recognised as Kenyans after remaining without citizenship for many years,” he said.
For Ms Amina Kassim, getting citizenship is a plus which will enable her to serve the country and contribute to development. “This is what I was anxiously waiting for. I feel very special and promise to be a good citizen of this country,” the elated single mother said.
She said before becoming Kenyans, life was hell for the community since as stateless persons they could neither secure jobs, nor transact any business while their children were denied bursaries.
“It was tough for me especially because as a single parent, I was the sole breadwinner of the family and jobs were hard to come by without an ID,” she added. Her children could not even be registered for national examinations as they were required to present birth certificates which they did not have.
“We have endured untold suffering as all the opportunities were closed to us since we lacked Kenyan identification documents,” said Ms Kassim. Makonde chairman, Thomas Nguli thanked the President for considering their plight noting that his government had speedily achieved what successive regimes had failed to do for them.
“I appreciate what this government and human rights groups have done for us since we could not have made it this far if it was not for their contribution,” he said. Marwa asked the Makonde to make use of the citizenship by taking an active part in nation building.
“I know you are overwhelmed with the fact that you are now Kenyans but I urge you to use the citizenship to develop yourselves and the country,” he said. “You can now access loans, work and engage in businesses to improve your lot because you are officially Kenyans,” he added and promised the community a raft of more State goodies. Marwa said the community will enjoy a special public employment quota like other marginalised groups.
Additionally, Chinondo Ward will be sub-divided into two locations one which will have a Chief from the Makonde. At the same time, Marwa stressed the need to nominate members of the community to the County Assembly as a marginalised group while urging them to also seek elective positions.
Kenya Commission of Human Rights Executive Director George Kegoro, said the issue of statelessness concerns the whole of Africa and not Kenya alone. He hailed President Kenyatta for being in the forefront of tackling the issue in the region saying it was the way to go in ensuring the plight of stateless is adequately addressed.