The State recognition of the Shona tribe at the 57th Jamhuri Day celebration is commendable. It was the second such after the 2017 recognition of the Makonde and Hindu as Kenya’s 43rd and 44th tribes respectively.
The Makonde came to Kenya from Mozambique in 1930s to work on sisal plantations at the Coast. After Kenya’s struggle for independence, those who had settled at the Coast opted to stay behind and their offspring have known no other home but Kenya.
The Shona came to Kenya from Zimbabwe in the 1960s. Like the Makonde, they were classified as stateless citizens and had over the years petitioned the government to give them citizenship. The granting of their request therefore makes them Kenya’s 45th tribe.
Statelessness is not an enviable classification to live under. Ideally, it denies one access to what citizens consider birth rights. Lack of the national identity card, the single most important document that any citizen must have to access services, is a serious handicap.
The Makonde and Shona have had to endure living under dehumanising conditions that deny them the means to start businesses that require licences. Their children could not sit national examinations because of lack of birth certificates. They could not get passports or open bank accounts because an ID is a prerequisite, yet most are Kenyan by birth.
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Kenya’s recognition of the two tribes is in keeping with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) undertaking to end statelessness by 2024. The resolution was adapted at the 1961 UNHCR Convention in New York, USA.
The removal of limitations on, and assimilation of the Shona into the assembly of Kenyan tribes means they can now fully participate in nation building and enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.