For the Makonde, challenges abound a year after receiving citizenship

President Uhuru Kenyatta issues a national identity card to Hamisi Juma, a member of the Makonde community at Sawa Sawa grounds in Msambweni on February 1, 2017. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • In February 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta officially declared the Makonde the 43rd tribe of Kenya after years of agitating for citizenship.

  • The Nation finds out what good this has done to the community.

Expectant faces greet us when we arrive at Makongeni village off Likoni-Lunga Lunga road.

The sleepy hamlet is home to the Makonde people who migrated here from Mozambique in the 1930s to work in sisal farms along the Kenyan coast.

At the centre of the village stands a plaque with the message: “In recognition of the struggle of the Makonde who came to Kenya to work in sisal farms.”

KENYA CITIZENSHIP

Next to the plaque is a tree planted in commemoration of the event that has no doubt shaped the future of the community. In December 2016, after years of seeking to be recognised as Kenyans, the Makonde were officially awarded the Kenyan citizenship.

Before that the Makonde couldn’t get national identity cards and birth certificates. But that is all in the past now after President Uhuru Kenyatta pronounced Makonde the 43rd tribe of Kenya in February 2017.

So what has changed for the community a year down the line? Apart from the promise of a better future, nothing much, it seems.

Community spokesman Thomas Nguli said they have seen little progress after they were granted citizenship.

“We are happy that we are now Kenyans. But there are still problems affecting us. For example, we still don’t possess any land and we are still squatters. We have no title deeds to this village which we have called home for long,” said Mr Nguli.

NATIONAL IDS

He said currently, the community has more than 1,000 people with national identity cards, something he admits is in itself progress, but he insists more needs to be done.

“We thank President Kenyatta for enabling us to acquire national identification cards but we cannot fully reap the fruits of being citizens until we own land.

“We are also still being ignored by our neighbours and this makes us feel unwelcome. We need recognition like other Kenyans,” said Mr Nguli.

He said currently 1,875 members of the community have been issued with n=IDs and are registered as voters in Kwale County.

“Due to many years of marginalisation and being stateless in a country we have called home, we feel that it is time our predicaments are fully addressed.

“We can only sleep well if we can be granted jobs and other forms of empowerment. The first and foremost being the ability to own land and develop it as citizens,” he said.

Not that nothing good has come out of the citizenship initiative.

PUBLIC SERVICE

Six people from the community have found employment in public sector after securing IDs, something that was not possible a few years back.

“Two youths joined the Kenya Police Service and four joined National Prisons Service. About 200 youth have also been participating in community work under the National Youth Service,” Mr Nguli said.

Rose Boniface, 50, said she is happy that she is now a citizen after getting an ID in 2016, a reason that enabled her to participate in last year’s General Election.

“Although we walked freely just like any other Kenyans, we had some challenges because we did not have IDs and most of the time we were forced to play hide and seek with police. It also hindered us from getting government services,” she said.

“Unfortunately politicians who frequented the village to solicit for votes have abandoned us. They promised us a lot of things, including assistance to help us own land, but they have now disappeared into thin air,” said the mother of three.

Another community member, Julieta Simenya, said they are still facing several challenges even after getting Kenyan citizenship.

LAND ISSUES

“Our parents migrated here but we were born here. Our late parents did not have land because they were working as casuals in the defunct Kwale Sugar factory,” she said.

She said that after the factory collapsed, most of them died.

“We don’t have land and we are asking President Kenyatta to consider setting aside land for us,” she said.

“We can now seek financial services because we have IDs. It was not possible a few years ago but we thank the government. However, the government shoul look into the historical problems we face,” she said.

The community trace their roots to Mozambique and Southern Tanzania and were brought to Kenya by British colonialists to work in Kwale and Kilifi sisal plantations.

Their problems began when the sugar and sisal farms in Ramisi, and the sisal plantations in Kilifi, Kwale and Taita Taveta collapsed.

Despite the challenges that remain, Mr Nguli is happy that after years of agitation spearheaded by the Kenya Human Rights Commission the Kenyan government granted them citizenship.

“We started the journey for recognition as Kenyan citizens early in 1995,” he said, adding that he will die a happy man for accomplishing this for his community and the generations to come.

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