By Janet Sankale
The Shona community living in Kenya is the latest group to benefit from the government’s policy to address statelessness in the country.
Kenya, which last year recognised members of the community as citizens, on July 28, 2021 presented 1,649 Shona with certificates of registration and national identity cards.
It was a glorious and celebratory moment for the Shona, who have for decades petitioned the Kenyan authorities to free them from their identity limbo.
The Shona, from Zambia and Zimbabwe, arrived in Kenya as missionaries starting from 1959. They were British subjects as their countries and Kenya were all British colonies. They settled mainly around Kinoo, Kiambaa, Kiambu, and Muguga in the Central region of Kenya.
Their problems started after Kenya gained independence in 1963. The 16 Shona families that were in Kenya at the time could not prove their legal ties to their countries of origin, as required by their laws on registration of births and citizenship. Therefore, they lost their Zambian and Zimbabwean citizenship. They ended up becoming stateless because they were new immigrants who had arrived in Kenya just before independence and so did not qualify for citizenship.
This state of affairs has persisted for decades and the Shona missionaries’ descendants suffered the same fate as the Kenyan constitution did not have provisions for registering stateless people at birth.
The campaign to have the Shona community living in Kenya recognised was spearheaded by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and various government stakeholders.
The Kenyan Shona can now enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. Previously, they could not own land or businesses, or get formal employment or government services, and their children could not go to school or college because they did not have legal documents.
Kenya’s minister of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Dr Fred Matiang’i, who was the guest speaker at the event held at Windsor Hotel in Nairobi, assured members of the Shona community of their legality as Kenyan citizens and asked them to participate in the development of their country.
“There will be no people known as Shona, they are now citizens of Kenya who live in Kiambu County,” he said, and directed that all children from the community be facilitated to join school.
The minister explained that the government was in the process of addressing the plight of other stateless persons in the country. This puts Kenya on track to comply with the 1961 UNHCR resolution adopted in 1961 in New York, USA, to end statelessness by 2024.
The Shona join the Makonde, who were officially recognised and awarded citizenship in 2017. The Makonde originally came from Mozambique to work on sisal farms in Kenya’s coastal region. The Makonde and the Hindu were in 2017 recognised as Kenya’s 43rd and 44th tribes respectively.
Speaking to KTN News, Nosizi Dube said that now that she had a Kenyan identity card, she would work hard to reach her full potential.
“We call it a day of freedom; we mark the end of statelessness and all the challenges we faced. We are now free.”
She explained that her community faced harassment by the police but that with their new ID cards, they could even participate in the country’s governance.
In a video by KHRC, Dube, the first member of the Shona community in Kenya to get a university education, said they were confined and without birth certificates, they were denied access to education.
She narrated the challenges she encountered on her education journey. She was unable to register online to join the University of Nairobi because she did not have a national ID. She wrote to Dr Matiang’i and Prof George Magoha, the minister for Education, asking them for help to get an ID card to enable her to enrol.
“Usquatter umeisha, vyeti vyetu tumevipata, vitambulisho tumefaulu. Kwa kweli mvumilivu hula mbivu. Sasa tumekamilika. Serikali twaishukuru chini ya raisi wetu Uhuru,” (Our status as squatters has ended. We now have certificates and identity cards. It is true that it pays to be patient. We thank the administration of President Uhuru [Kenyatta],) said Jane Wacuka in Kiswahili.
Samuel Kimani Wanjiku, the county assembly member for Kinoo ward, thanked President Kenyatta and promised to work closely with the community to make government resources accessible to members.
In its report on the profile of the community, African Missionaries in Identity Limbo, KHRC provided a legal analysis of the Shona citizenship status and recommended that members be granted Kenyan citizenship.
A source at KHRC told Journalists For Justice that although there are more than 3,000 members of the Shona community, only 1,670 came forward to register for Kenya citizenship. The National Registration Bureau has yet to confirm the eligibility of the remaining 21 members who had applied.