identity card.

An illustration of an identity card.

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Stateless Warundi community in Kwale pleads for citizenship

When 75-year-old Kiza Shadrack was vaccinated in Msambweni, he was excited that he had followed the government’s recommendations and had protected himself from the deadly coronavirus.

Little did he know that more than three months after his full vaccination, he would not be able to download a vaccination certificate.

As a stateless person, he did not have a national identity card, so his records could not be found on the website where the certificates were downloaded.

“When I was vaccinated, I was warned that I’d find it difficult to get the certificate. Our names and mobile phone numbers were recorded, with the last two digits eliminated to make it look like an ID number. We would then get messages after the jab,” Mr Shadrack said.

He is one of about 1,200 stateless minority Warundi living in Msambweni, Kwale County, who are pleading to the government to recognise them as Kenyan citizens by giving them ID cards. Some of them were born in Kenya.

Sisal farm

Mr Shadrack hails from Bururi province in Burundi and came to Kenya in 1959 looking for his father, who came to work at a sisal farm in Msambweni.

They entered Kenya through Tanzania via the Vanga crossing in Lungalunga. He chose to stay in Makongeni with other workers when he was told that his father had died.

Fifty-nine-year-old Yusuf Zari Omar said that though he was born in Kenya, he has never been identified as a Kenyan. He too has been vaccinated but has no certificate.

“I was born in Kikoneni, here in Kwale, but both my parents were Burundian and died in the Kaya Bombo massacre in 1977 when a majority of people from upcountry and who were not South Coast natives were killed," he told the Nation at his home in Kona Chale, Msambweni.

He is married to a Kenyan and the couple have 12 children, but he cannot access medical care because he lacks an ID.

"I suffer from high blood pressure. But I do not have the money to go to the hospital. Even though I have an NHIF card, it does not work because I lack an ID," Mr Zari said.

The stateless Warundi have decried missing out on various opportunities and are pleading to the government to issue them with IDs. They cannot register as voters or get relief food and money from the government.

“We started this journey a long time ago and even went to the Office of the President together with the other stateless people,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is the Makonde only that were given citizenship as we were asked to wait. Nothing has been done about us since.”

For Omar Siriyako, who came with his father in 1959, he would help his father on the sisal farm before getting a job at a sugar mill.

Though he had paid into the National Social Security Fund monthly when he was working, he has not been given his pension.

He explained that their worst experiences came during President Daniel arap Moi’s era.

“The police would come to look for us in the house at night. So we would prepare supper very early and then go climb up the trees to sleep until morning when the search was over,” Mr Siriyako said.

To save them from constant harassment and arrest, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) has made special passes for the Warundi community, with a membership number and their village, location and county, similar to the way the data is listed on Kenyan IDs.

To ensure that their children have citizenship, the Warundi have resorted to marrying Kenyan citizens.

Grace Wageta, 55, was born in Kenya to Burundian parents. She married a Kenyan man and ensured that she had made a copy of his ID the moment he was hospitalised.

Bursaries

“I usually thank God because I made a copy of his ID before he died. This is what has helped me get my four children bursaries, ID cards and other official registrations,” she said.

She uses a phone whose mobile money wallet is registered in her son’s name.

“It is even harder for me to do any business. So, I just hawk mitumba clothes. But whenever a customer sends me a lot of money, I find it hard to withdraw because the agents always ask why the line is registered with a male name,” she said.

The main economic activity for the majority of the Warundi is farming.

As the national elections approach, Ms Wageta, who has never voted in her life, hopes that county and national leaders will help them.

“We would like President Uhuru Kenyatta to remember us before his term ends,” she said.

In 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta granted the Makonde people citizenship, enabling them to enjoy government services freely.

Other stateless persons are the Pemba. The government has begun a process to naturalise them as citizens after a petition by Kilifi MP Owen Baya.

For Mr Shadrack, he still hopes that one day he will be identified as a Kenyan.

His son, 30-year-old Shadrack Barnaba, says he has missed out on many international opportunities because he cannot get a passport with the documents he has.

“I may be a Kenyan citizen, but my father does not have an ID or birth certificate. It has become impossible to apply for the passport that will help me chase opportunities beyond the borders,” he said.

Other stateless people living in Kwale are the Shona.

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