The registration of members of the Pemba community as citizens of the republic of Kenya kicked off in Kilifi.
This comes four weeks after President William Ruto gazetted their recognition as citizens.
Immigration and Citizen Services Principal Secretary Julius Bitok who launched the exercise at the Karisa Maitha grounds in Kilifi said the registration was intended to end ‘statelessness’ that the Pemba have been condemned to for decades.
“We want the Pemba community to take full advantage of their new status to fully integrate social-economically with the rest of Kenyan communities. We want them to pursue their full potential without the hindrances associated with ‘statelessness,” said Bitok.
In a Gazette Notice dated January, 30, Ruto, through a Presidential proclamation, noted that the Pemba community are part of the 16 Swahili dialects of the traditional Swahili of Kenya.
“I direct that the Pemba people from the Coast of Kenya be recognised as an ethnic group in Kenya and be issued with the relevant identification documents in accordance with the Constitution and the law,” the Head of State said.
The proclamation follows a successful petition by the community under Petition Number 41 of 2020 dated November 19 the same year, regarding their recognition as citizens of Kenya.
The Pembas will now access important documents such as national identity cards.
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“With the recognition of citizenship, the community can now benefit from the rights and privileges of citizenship including access to important registration documents such as Identity Cards (IDs) and the Kenyan passport that the Pemba could not access before,” said PS Bitok.
For many years, members of the community whose population is estimated at more than 8,000 and are scattered across Lamu, Kilifi, Mombasa, and Kwale counties, life has been miserable. Their main economic activity is deep-sea fishing and they contribute immensely to the country’s income from the sea.
Members of the community that is famous for its seafaring and fishing skills has a rich history of interacting and intermarrying with Kenyan coastal communities especially in Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale with many settling in these counties.
For a Pemba to own property or his or her child to go to school in Kenya, they have had to negotiate with a person with a national identity card who will assume parenthood and have to register property in another person’s name to avoid problems.
The community members claim they moved to the East Africa region during the reign of Sultan Abdullah Bin Khalifa of Zanzibar after taking advantage of the 10-mile coastal strip that was placed under the Zanzibar authorities. The area covered Vanga near the Kenya-Tanzania in Kwale county to Kipini in Lamu.
Speaking at the same event, which was also attended by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees representative to Kenya, Ms Caroline Buren, Kilifi Governor Gideon Mungaro said the recognition will protect Pemba fishermen from the alleged discrimination and harassment by law enforcers.
Kilifi North MP Owen Baya who spearheaded the Parliamentary legislation that paved way for the Presidential decree on the Pemba urged the government to consider the community for state jobs under the marginalized groups category.