Ghariba Hamisi is one of the members of the stateless Pemba tribe that forged Kenyan identity cards and birth certificates to enable them to get formal education. But all that is in the past as the forged documents have been destroyed.
Hamisi and other members of the Pemba community have since obtained official IDs and birth certificates for free after President William Ruto declared the Pemba as the newest tribe of Kenya.
“I forged an ID card using the names of my foster parents. It was an expensive and agonizing process since I had to drop my original names and adopt names of another tribe,” said Hamisi.
Celebrations rocked Mayungu village in Kilifi north sub-county where most Pemba residents received the IDs.
“We thank President Ruto for restoring our dignity and burying our sorrows,” said Hamisi. More than 8,000 members of the Pemba community live in Mombasa, Kilifi, and Kwale counties.
The Pemba, traditionally fishermen from Pemba island of Zanzibar, claim they came to Kenya before the second World War. In the early 1990s, the 10-mile coastal strip, the Island of Zanzibar, and Pemba Island were under the administrative control of the Sultan of Zanzibar.
They are predominantly fishermen and rice farmers who moved freely for trade and inhabited places they chose without restrictions. In recent years, the Pemba have been agitating for recognition as Kenyan citizens.
The Makonde people, who were also stateless, were in 2016 given state recognition after decades of agitation. Makonde and Pemba lived without ID cards and birth certificates, making it difficult for them to get crucial government services or engage in contracts.
Yesterday, officers from the Immigration department pitched tents at the Mayungu police post where the registration exercise is ongoing.
Time Hije, 30, narrated how police officers stormed in to arrest them for being aliens.
“My parents and grandparents have never been to any country. It was degrading to be called aliens,” said Mrs Hije, adding that they could not seek government services and feared arrest.
“Some relatives died because they could not seek medical services at public hospitals, fearing arrests. We depended on herbs,” said Hije.
Said Kombo is another resident whose Duruma grandfather married a woman from Pemba in Tanzania and settled in Shimoni, Kwale.
“I was born in 1964 at Kichaka Mkwaju village in Shimoni area, Kwale county, and I have never been to Tanzania at any point,” Kombo said. He left Shimoni and settled in Kilifi’s Mayungu village in 1972.
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He said most community members abandoned their culture and names and assumed Giriama identities, including names, to get the IDs.
“We could not get fishing licenses, and so we had to hang on the backs of our fishing colleagues from other tribes to survive,” he said. Kombo said most of those who had forged IDs acquired them for not less than Sh10,000.
Kombo noted that government opportunities in the Blue Economy have not benefitted them because of their stateless situation.
“There were Blue Economy jobs that came through our Beach Management Unit (BMU), but we never got the chance since we don’t have identification documents.
The Senior Chief of Chembe Kibabamche, Chula Mwadena, said it was a relief for administrators in the area since they will no longer live in fear of constant harassment.
“It was initially sad that these people could not benefit from government services and they used to hide a lot. Even those who forged identity cards were forced to hide from public barazas because of intimidation and victimization from other Kenyans,” he said.
Kilifi North MP Owen Baya said that statelessness was a painful experience, and that the Kenya Kwanza administration was rushing to regularise all stateless people residing in Kenya.
“We have several other communities that are still stateless despite being born and raised in Kenya,” said Baya.
“They include the Watha who have national identification documents using another tribe, and they need a code, the Rundis residing at Tezo in Kilifi County, the Galchi community and many more. We are going to be champions to end statelessness,” he added.