The Makonde community in Kenya arrived in the country in the 1940s mainly as labourers in sugar and sisal plantations at the coast. The fact that many of those plantations have since gone out of business left members of the Makonde community not only without citizenship but also without a livelihood.
There are almost 10,000 members of the Makonde community at the Kenyan coast. The Makonde are not the only people who find themselves at the Kenyan coast which also received the arrival of the Pemba from Zanzibar, and communities from Rwanda and Burundi. However, the Makonde, who number about 10,000 are by far a majority. Half of the population has intermarried heavily with other coastal communities.
As a result of their lack of Kenyan nationality, the Makonde are unable to access national identity cards and are also unable to obtain services that require people to produce ID cards.
Over the decade they have tried in vain to acquire Kenyan citizenship. There have been at-least 3 attempts at registration that have stalled midway. The Makonde are recorded as having voted in the first elections in independent Kenya The Constitution of Kenya addressed the problem of statelessness, decreeing that all stateless persons found in Kenya must be given Kenyan nationality in accordance with a law that Parliament was required to enact.
Parliament passed the Citizenship and Immigration Act as the law to govern issues of statelessness. The Act provides that within 5 years, all stateless persons must be registered as Kenyan citizens. The five year period ended on 30th August without the Makonde receiving the registration that the law promises.
Trekking against Statelessness
As a result of their agony, the Makonde community with the assistance of Kenya Human Rights Commission, Haki Center, MUHURI, Kwale Human Rights Network, , Human Rights Agenda, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Msambweni Human Rights Watch, Kwale County Government (County Assembly and the County Executive), Juhudi Community Support Center, and Sauti ya Wanawake-Kwale staged a walk dubbed “Trekking against Statelessness” on 10th October 2016 from Kwale to State House, Nairobi to seek audience with the president after several futile attempts to seek audience with the relevant authorities on the registration of those classified as stateless.
The trek was flagged off from Makongeni, Kinondoni in Kwale County, the home area to many of the Makonde people by George Kegoro, Executive Director, Kenya Human Rights Commission, the Acting County commissioner for kwale Mr Olaka and the county Secretary of kwale Mr.Mwaro . The day was successful save a few attempts to stop the procession by the coast regional Co-ordinator, Nelson Marwa with whom they had sought audience before. He tried to stop the procession at Kombani and Maganyakulo along Likoni-Ukunda highway with no success. His attempts though supported by Mr.Mwaro and the Acting Kwale county commissioner who had moments earlier flagged of the walk did not bear fruit and the trekkers proceeded with the trek.
“We have decided to go State House, Nairobi because all relevant government officials say all our issues can only be resolved in Nairobi” Thomas Nguli, Chairperson, Makonde Community told Mr Marwa.
After the deliberations and Mr.Marwa having no control over their trek, the team spent the night in Mombasa from where they proceeded to Voi the next day with stop overs in Mariakani and Taru. On getting to Voi, the teams including their nine buses were detained at Voi Police station for more than two hours under unclear circumstances. Again attemts to take over the keys to the buses and driver’s licences were unsuccessful .The trekkers were however released late at night once again displaying their tencity .. The next day they proceeded with stopovers at Manyani , Mtito , Makindu ,Makutano and spent their night at Mlolongo awaiting their the long awaited day to meet the president.
On 13th October 2016, the trekkers made it to Nairobi and had they first stop at Nyayo Stadium where they were to regroup and start their procession into the city center before going to State House. Meanwhile a group of Civil Society Leaders (CSO) leaders and well-wishers were gathering at Freedom Corner is readiness to receive the team from Kwale. The two teams met at Uhuru highway and snaked their way into town using Parliament Road.
On getting to Kenyatta Avenue after the city center procession, the trekkers were met by heavy police presence at the Uhuru Park entrance on their way to State House, Kilimani OCPD, Peter Kattam informed the team that they could not precede to State House. On the way were heavily armed policemen and water cannons ready to spray trekkers with water.
After a while Mr.Kattam gave instructions to the trekkers to assemble at Uhuru Park where the Internal Cabinet Secretary Major General (Rtd) Joseph Nkaiserry would be addressing them. He told the trekkers that the President was waiting for them at State House within 30 minutes. Jubilation engulfed as the trekkers walked back into their buses ready to go to State House.
In a few minutes, the heavily armed policemen had become friendly even clearly traffic for the State House guests. On arrival to State House, the team was welcomed by the President, Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto.
“I apologize on behalf of my government and that of previous governments for having lived in this condition for so long. You are not visitors in this country, and I order that by the time I come to Mombasa in December the people should be registered” said President Uhuru Kenyatta
From that the Makonde had been granted citizenship and the president also ordered they, Makonde be given title deeds for the land they live on as that could not have been done previously since they lacked identity cards
The trek, though tough and long ended ,clearly symbolized their difficult quest for citizenship. a huge success it was to the Makonde and other stateless community as well as the organizers who believed firmly that the Makonde deserve Citizneship . KHRC is grateful to everybody who was involved in the planning and execution. Like the deputy president rightfully noted the Makonde slogan of ‘Ugeni Huu Mwisho Lini ‘ turned to ‘ugeni huu mwisho leo’
KHRC and other partners turn their efforts to following through the implementation of the presidential directive .