Makonde issue shows different people care for Kenya and are concerned for common interest
What you need to know:
- Spectacle of Makonde trekking moved government made government go into action.
- A day after journey began, government published notice in The Kenya Gazette, backdating to August a three-year extension of the registration deadline.
This is a general reflection on the historic development that had led to the Makonde community, at last, receiving Kenyan nationality.
A “trek” is a long, often difficult, journey, and the idea that the Makonde should hold a trek from Kwale to Nairobi to press their case for recognition as Kenyan citizens was the brainchild of the Kenya Human Rights Commission which then developed a coalition with other NGOs from the coast, notably the Kwale Human Rights Network and Muslims for Human Rights.
The County Government of Kwale became a natural partner because it has shown support for the Makonde with its Assembly passing a motion calling on the national government to give the Makonde Kenyan nationality.
Also, during a visit to Mombasa, the leadership of the Kwale government had drawn the attention of the President to the Makonde issue and, in response, the President established a taskforce that was to advise on how to carry out the naturalisation of the Makonde people.
For reasons that have not been made clear, the report of the taskforce has not been made public and one of the demands that the Kenya Human Rights Commission has articulated was for the report to be made public.
The Constitution pronounced itself on statelessness and required that all stateless people in Kenya be given the country’s nationality in accordance with a law enacted by Parliament.
The Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act, the law in question, provided that the registration of stateless persons should be done within a period of five years, a date that reached on August 30.
The impending deadline became a source of leverage against the government to show what it was doing to grant the Makonde citizenship.
At the flagging off of the trek to Nairobi, which I attended, we were joined by representatives of the Kwale County Government and, importantly, also by the leadership of the Kwale provincial administration.
The understanding had been that the good offices of the Kwale government would facilitate the opening of doors in Nairobi, and specifically a meeting with the President.
When, only a few kilometres from Makongeni where the trek had begun, we met the first opposition against the trekkers going to Nairobi, this became confounding, especially since it was led by the leadership of the county provincial administration and elements of the county government that had just flagged off the trip.
Expecting that more than 300 people, who had lived for the day they would be going to Nairobi, were going to suddenly turn back on the road merely because somebody in authority no longer wanted them to travel, would have been expecting too much.
We will never know what course the Makonde issue would have taken if NGOs had not mobilised them to make an organised demand for the recognition of their citizenship.
What is clear is that the spectacle of the Makonde trekking moved the government into action and, a day after the trek began, the government published a notice in The Kenya Gazette, backdating to August, a three-year extension of the registration deadline.
The facts of the Makonde situation go against the narrative that has been created that NGOs play a negative role and the people should shun them and work only with the government.
When Mr Nelson Marwa tried this same line with the Makonde, as he tried to prevent them from leaving Kwale, they made known to him their very different views about the role that NGOs were playing in their lives.
In Nairobi, we rode our luck, exposing the trekkers, many of them very elderly people, to the possibility of police brutality as the police tried to prevent their march to State House.
If the Kwale County Government had been present with us, as it had promised, it would somewhat have ameliorated the exposure.
Also, the different views between us, the organisers, and the police, as to what was allowed in law, had the effect of creating a stand-off and increasing the exposure.
In the end, President Uhuru Kenyatta received the trekkers, a fact that made the spirited attempt by the police to prevent the march on State House to look laughable.
There needs to be a public discussion on the place of the State House as an object of public picketing.
Under the Constitution, picketing is now a constitutional right, both on its own and as an extension of the freedom of expression.
In many countries around the world, places of authority are the natural targets of picketing. In the US, for example, there is a perpetual presence of objectors outside the White House, trying to grab some attention for their various causes.
Here in Kenya, it is regarded as dangerous to picket the President and authorities have made approaches towards the State House to look like an act of high treason. It is easy to see how those around the President benefit from this arrangement. By placing the President in a bubble, inaccessible by ordinary, desperate, and often angry people, officials increase their own importance in the eyes of the public and also their control over the President who becomes their prisoner.
So long as it is peaceful and orderly, picketing the State House is lawful and the efforts by authorities to exclude this as a possible place of protest have no legal support.
The Makonde issue is a rare occasion that demonstrates from the different positions that they occupy, different people all care for the country and, and although they may not always agree, they all care for the common interest.