Over 1,000 members of Kenya’s Shona community who have been living as stateless people have received national identity cards with full citizenship rights. At a ceremony in the capital, Nairobi, on Wednesday, Kenyan Interior Security Minister Fred Okengo Matiangi gave out identity cards to 1,649 members of the Shona community, Andalou Agency reported.
“From now on, you are citizens of this great country called Kenya. You have a Kenyan ID, so participate effectively, freely and strongly in the development of your country,” Matiangi said.
For the first time, these members of the Shona community will be able to access basic services such as education, healthcare and financial services thanks to their official documents. “To be a stateless person is very difficult. You are not entitled to healthcare and education like other Kenyans. Majority of our community members are primary school dropouts due to a lack of identity cards and birth certificates,” Nosizi Dube, a 20-year-old member of the Shona community told Anadolu Agency of the challenges she and others faced while living without an identity card.
In the 1960s, about 100 Shona missionaries arrived in Kenya from Zimbabwe and Zambia to establish the Gospel of God Church. The move was accepted and welcomed by Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, but his successors have not done much to integrate the Shona. The descendants of these missionaries have been stateless in Kenya. Despite living and being born in the country, they are not recognized by the law and have been demonstrating in recent times to end decades of statelessness.
Most of the missionaries settled in the Kiambu area just on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Under the first post-independence constitution, people who are not of Kenyan descent cannot be registered as citizens. More than 4,000 Shona people living in Kenya have been rendered stateless because of this outdated law and it is affecting their daily lives.
Nationality laws in most African states operate on the concept of jus soli, or ‘rights to soil’ and jus sanguinis, or ‘right of blood.’ With the jus soli concept, a person can obtain citizenship if they are born in a specific country while with jus sanguinis, a person gains citizenship by virtue of the origin of their parents.
The issue now is, countries that base their citizenship laws on ‘rights to soil’ hinder people who are away from their ‘historic’ homeland rights to citizenship of their ‘new’ country, and unfortunately, they are also denied nationality of their new country of residence because of laws based on ‘right of blood,” according to a report by DW.
Thus, the Shona, without proper recognition, are stateless, meaning, they cannot hold Kenyan citizenship or identify as Kenyan nationals. Their ties in Zimbabwe or Zambia have been severed as well, hence, they cannot identify with those countries as well.
In international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”
In recent months, hundreds of Shona people have been going on peaceful marches in the streets of Kenya to draw the attention of the government to their statelessness; they simply want to be recognized. Although they have fully integrated with the Kenyan way of life, they will not truly belong unless they are recognized formally as citizens.
There have been efforts by the Kenyan government to resolve the statelessness of the Shona people and in August 2019, 600 citizenships were offered to some of them although there is more work to be done.
According to a UNHCR report, there are about 19,000 stateless people in Kenya and approximately 12 million in the world of which 715,000 are in Africa. Statelessness is seen as a major problem in Africa, however, there are ongoing works to tackle the issue across the continent by individual governments and the African Union.