Namati Kenya wins global award for advocating for equal access to citizenship

Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya Christopher Thornley (centre, in spectacles) when he hosted an event to celebrate Namati Kenya, the joint winners of the 2021 Annual Pluralism Award. To his right is Ms Jessie Castello from the Global Centre for Pluralism.

Photo credit: Pool

They are born in Kenya, grow up in Kenya, but when the time comes for them to get national identity cards, they have to face a security committee to “prove” their citizenship.

Whereas others get identity cards fairly quickly, this group has to wait for months on end.

Such is the plight that faces members of the Nubian community, which is concentrated in Nairobi’s Kibera area, and the tough registration process was brought to fore in an event held at the residence of the Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya on Wednesday evening.

“Vetting is a procedure whereby you appear in front of a security committee and prove who you are,” Mr Mustafa Mahmoud, a Nubian, told the gathering.

“There are different tiers of vetting. There is one that (for those aged) 18 to 23 years, you have to appear by default, based on your religion. And also before that, you have to make it to the vetting list. So, for the Nubian community, you have to go through the vetting,” he added.

Mr Mahmoud was representing Namati Kenya, an organisation that won an award last year for its efforts towards helping Kenya’s Nubians and other marginalised communities to get official documentation. The Wednesday event was organised to celebrate Namati’s win.

Namati was the joint winner of the 2021 Global Pluralism Award. The award is run by the Global Centre for Pluralism; a centre that was founded jointly between the Canadian government and His Highness the Aga Khan.

Every year since 2017, the Global Centre for Pluralism – which is headquartered in Ottawa, Canada – has been selecting three winners from a list of nominees. Namati Kenya was one of the three that won the 2021 Global Pluralism Award alongside Hand in Hand, an Israeli organisation, and Ms Puja Kapai — a Hong Kong community justice advocate.

Ms Jessie Castello from the Global Centre for Pluralism said Namati has done exemplary work in Kenya.

“Since 2013, Namati Kenya has supported over 12,000 Kenyans on their journey to obtain such documents, without which access to education, healthcare services, employment becomes virtually impossible,” she told the gathering.

“By training and supporting a network of community-based paralegals, Namati is working to ensure minority communities receive equal treatment under the law,” she added.

Mr Mahmoud is the co-director at Namati, where he is in charge of citizenship.

“I’ve been through discrimination. I know how it feels, and that’s why it’s deep in me,” he said.

Kibra MP Imran Okoth was also in attendance, and he said his efforts to have the Nubian community recognised cost him some votes from some members of his tribe.

Mr Okoth spoke of a petition he took to Parliament questioning some of the policies against Nubians.

“When I took this petition to Parliament, I never knew it was also going to affect me probably later on. Because, one, it affected me politically, because some of my constituents – mostly people from my tribe – they never voted for me basically because they said I am more Nubian than them. Because I speak the language, I got married to a Nubian and all that. So, it didn’t work for me. But I’ve said, as a leader, there are prices you have to pay,” said Mr Okoth, who questioned the rationale behind the vetting procedures.

Mr Christopher Thornley, the Canadian High Commissioner, lauded the efforts of the pluralism centre that is headquartered in Canada.

“The centre’s core belief – and one that is shared by the Canadian government – is that societies thrive when differences are valued,” he said.

“The centre’s flagship initiative, the Global Pluralism Award, began in 2017 and has now been conferred to 30 laureates in 25 countries. That’s a lot of work since 2017, especially when you think about what happened in the middle of that period,” added Mr Thornley.

Namati Kenya is the second Kenyan organisation to be a laureate of the Global Pluralism Award. In 2017, Alice Nderitu was also celebrated for her work as a peace maker and a gender equality advocate.

The centre has considered more than 1,400 nominations since the inception of the prize.