UNHCR applauds Kenya for granting citizenship to Shona, Rwandese groups

President Uhuru Kenyatta Jamhuri Day

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi during Jamhuri Day celebrations on December 12, 2020.

Photo credit: PSCU

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has applauded the Kenyan government for granting citizenship to thousands of people who have lived in the country for decades as stateless.

Fathia Adalla, the UNHCR Representative in Kenya, termed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to grant citizenship to Shona and Rwandese people “a life-changing development”.

“We applaud Kenya’s decision to grant them citizenship, ensuring that they are fully included in society. This will set a precedent for other countries to follow when it comes to resolving long-standing statelessness,” she said in a statement on Monday.

On Jamhuri Day on Saturday, President Kenyatta directed that some 1,670 Shona people and another 1,300 stateless people of Rwandan origin be granted citizenship papers to end decades of lack of access to key government services and inability to open bank accounts.

The President some time back granted citizenship to the Makonde people, originally from Mozambique, but who had lived in Kenya as stateless.

The Shona, originally from Zimbabwe, arrived in Kenya before independence and worked as church missionaries on British travel documents.

When Kenya gained independence, they had 24 months to apply for citizenship but most didn’t, leaving them stateless.

“Their recognition as citizens secures their rights, such as access to education, health care, employment, property ownership and access to financial services,” the UNHCR boss in Kenya said.

Kenya has some 18,500 people who are considered stateless. UNHCR said it will work with the government to help them get recognition.