There was joy among the 4000 people of Shona origin living in Kenya after the Government of Kenya pledged to recognise them as citizens and register them by 2020.
The Shona Community of Kenya had launched a bid to attain citizenship after their families have been residing in Kenya for close to 60 years and yet they have remained undocumented and stateless rendering them vulnerable to poverty.
The Government of Kenya through the Chief Administrative Secretary, Patrick Ole Ntutu came bearing good news for the Shona community. By 2019, Kenya will re-establish a task force on statelessness and validate the draft national action plan followed by its implementation.
Ntutu remarked, “By 2020, Government of Kenya pledges recognition as citizens and registration of the Shona community who qualify under the law, as well as by 2020, enactment of the Births and Deaths Registration Act that provides safeguards to prevent statelessness.”
Originally from Zimbabwe, they came to Kenya in the 1960s as missionaries when the country was still under British rule. However, with the collapse of colonialism, the missionaries found themselves stateless.
They then settled in Nairobi in Central parts of Kenya. The Shona missionaries used British passports to travel since Zimbabwe and Kenya were under The British colony.
In 1963 when Kenya gained its Independence the missionaries stayed put although they were no longer documented since there was no provision in the constitution to document them.
Stateless people are denied the rights and benefits most people take for granted. These “legal ghosts” often live in poverty and are at high risk of detention and exploitation.
Few in the Shona community have a Kenyan birth certificate or identity card, necessary to attend school or university, open a bank account, get a job, passport or mobile phone, or enter government buildings, the women said.
Without citizenship of either country, the Shona are in limbo: unable to travel back to Zimbabwe or buy land in Kenya.
The Shona in Kenya keep themselves to themselves, bonded by their faith and meeting regularly at the Gospel of God church, brought to Kenya by their parents and grandparents.
The church was founded in 1932 by Johane Masowe, a Shona prophet who believed he was a reincarnation of John the Baptist and travelled the continent spreading the word.
Its members remain loyal to traditional cultural practices, like polygamy, which is common among their close-knit community. Girls usually marry as teenagers and greet men by getting down on one knee in the traditional way.
Most of the Shona community make a living from traditional crafts. Men are carpenters, masons and builders, while women weave baskets and mats.
The older generation pass their skills on to their children so that they too can make a living from their hands, but only Kenyan identity cards would allow the Shona to further their education and start businesses.