The Makonde Community was on 1st of February 2017 recognised as the 43rd tribe of the peoples of Kenya. “Today we officially welcome our new community who from today will have citizenry…” these were the words of President Kenyatta at Sawasawa grounds, Msambweni, Kwale County as he issued members of the Makonde community with Identity Cards and declaring the Makonde as the 43rd tribe of Kenya. What a time to be alive for a people who have been marginalised for decades!
The Makonde community came to Kenya from Mozambique-they are also in Tanzania in the 1940s mainly as labourers to work in sugar and sisal plantations at the coast. Those plantations have since gone out of business and this has the left members of the Makonde community not only without citizenship but also without a livelihood. The lack of birth certificates and identity cards has made it difficult for them to access basic services like mobile money services, banking services, NHIF services and many jobs.
“Trekking against Statelessness”
The Kwale County event presided over by President Uhuru Kenyatta on the 1st of February, 2017 was a culmination of the struggle against statelessness which has been on for decades. The community with the help of civil society organizations organized a walk dubbed “Trekking against Statelessness” on 10th October 2016 from Makongeni, Kinondoni in Kwale County to State House, Nairobi. The trek was met with countless challenges including being arrested at Voi under unclear circumstances but they finally made it to State House where they were received as guests by the President and his deputy. The President would then go on to apologies and order that they be registered as citizens saying, “I apologize on behalf of my government and that of previous governments for having lived in this condition for so long. You are not visitors in this country, and I order that by the time I come to Mombasa in December the people should be registered.”
Laws of Kenya
Chapter 3 of the Constitution of Kenya 2013 prescribes the rights, privileges and benefits of citizens. It also provides that one can be citizen by birth or registration. The Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act, 2011 provides for registration of stateless persons as citizens. Section 15(1) of the Act provides that:
A person who does not have an enforceable claim to the citizenship of any recognized state and has been living in Kenya for a continuous period since 12th December, 1963, shall be deemed to have been lawfully resident and may, on application, in the prescribed manner be eligible to be registered as a citizen of Kenya if that person—
- Has adequate knowledge of Kiswahili or a local dialect;
- Has not been convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or longer;
- Intends upon registration as a citizen to continue to permanently reside in Kenya or to maintain a close and continuing association with Kenya; and
- The person understands the rights and duties of a citizen.
Section 16 of the Act also caters for migrants who voluntarily migrated into Kenya before the 12th December, 1963, and have been continuously living in Kenya shall be deemed to have been lawfully resident and may, on application in a prescribed manner, be eligible to be registered as a citizen of Kenya upon meeting certain requirements. Descendants of the said migrants and stateless persons are also protected by the Act and are eligible to be registered as citizens.
Right to vote
The Makonde people must be over the moon right now and being an election year they will be able to enjoy the fruits of being citizens by registering as voters in the ongoing IEBC voter registration and ultimately voting on the 8th of August, 2017.
So after more than 60 years of being aliens, welcome to Kenya, the Makonde!
BY FELIX OMBURA
This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 2, Issue 2 of February 9th 2017
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