Some of the 2,000 members of the Pemba community at Kilifi chiefs office during the hearing of their petition to recognize them as Kenyan citizens before the National Assembly Parliamentary committee on administrative and security on March 12, 2021.

| Charles Lwanga I Nation Media Group.

Tales of suffering from the stateless members of Pemba community

When Samira Omar Hamisi was writing her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations in 2016, her parents hired a Kenyan foster parent to enable her obtain a birth certificate.

Being stateless, her parents had to do the unthinkable to enable their daughter meet the KCSE requirement to sit for the examination.

The 25-year-old who holds a birth certificate bearing the names of the “good Samaritans” as her biological parents, is lucky to have completed KCSE since most students like her drop out of school or opt to take Islamic religious education for lack of birth certificate.

Ms Hamisi told the that despite being born and raised in Kenya, she is regarded as one of the 7,000 people from Pemba Community, who are predominantly found in the Pemba islands, parts of North Mozambique. In Kenya, they are mostly found in Lamu, Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale.

“I have never travelled to Tanzania, Pemba or Mozambique although my parents tell me that their great grandparents came from those parts of Africa,” she said adding, “I also don’t know anyone there.”

Last weekend, about 2,000 members of the Pemba community accompanied by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) met the National Assembly parliamentary committee on administration and security to petition their plight in Kilifi.

Police harassment

Mr Hassan Omari, also a member of the Pemba community and a resident of Watamu said they are usually arrested by police, who ask them to produce work permits, whenever they go fishing despite them being born and raised in the country.

“It is difficult for us to own property and bank accounts since we do not have identity cards. Most of us have been forced to either forge one or use a Kenyan to own bank accounts and properties,” he said.

Mr Omari said they are forced to remain silent whenever assaulted by their neighbours for lack of ID cards to enable them to report perpetrators to police.

“We are discriminated against by the government officers and neighbours for being stateless,” he said adding, “Our children have also fallen victims in schools for their statelessness.”

Mrs Rahma Aboo, a mother of five in Mayungu said they bought land and obtained ownership document through a Kenyan friend who has been frustrating them whenever they want to do any transaction.

“It pains me a lot. I struggle to put my children through school and it becomes a challenge whenever I want to borrow bank loans to pay for school fees and do business using the title deed,” she added. 

During the hearing, some of the Pembas residing in Watamu, Mayungu, Malindi, Uyombo, Mtondia, Tezo, Mnarani and Kilifi confessed to having obtained national identity cards illegally.

“I did that to make ends meet and secure a job among other basic services in the government,” said Mr Jumaa Yusuf, one of the petitioners, adding “my children were unable to sit for national examinations for lack of birth certificate.”

Mr Yusuf further said that they falsely obtained the national identity cards to open bank accounts and obtain crucial government services for their children.

“I was born in Kenya despite my grandparents having originated from Pemba. I have six children and the IDs were crucial documents to enable me to open a bank account and obtain government services,” he said.

Ms Diana Gichengo from the KHRC said they decided to intervene after efforts by the members of the Pemba community to petition the Kilifi and Kwale county assemblies failed to bear fruits.

“Their case has been complex since despite them petitioning the Kilifi and Kwale County assemblies, they have never had a chance to get citizenship,” she said adding, “We have taken up the case since their rights have been violated for years. From records; one of the Pembas was the founder chief of Mombasa.”

Ms Gichengo said there intention is to see them incorporated and accepted into the society as Kenyan citizens just like the members of the Makonde community.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, who presented their petition before the National Assembly, said the community moved in East Africa regions during the reign of Sultan Abdullah Bin Khalifa of Zanzibar after taking advantage of the “10 mile strip”, which covered from Vanga near the Kenya-Tanzania border to Kipini in Lamu.