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Chairman of Mombasa based Frere Town Nyasa Community Price Uledi (left) and elder Jimmy KItao display the map of their original settlement at Frere Town in Mombasa County on October 39, 2019. [Philip Mwakio, Standard]

Nyasa people living in Mombasa and Kilifi counties now want the national government to grant them full citizenship.

Nyasa spokesman Price Uledi said despite living in Kenya for over a century, they were not fully recognised as Kenyans.

"We have had issues with acquisition of the mandatory national identity cards and land ownership documents, as they are not readily available to us," Mr Uledi said yesterday.

The Nyasa, who trace their ancestry to Malawi, are descendants of slaves captured by Arab slavers and freed by British naval forces in the 1890s.

Many were settled in Kenyan coastal cities and converted to Christianity by missionaries. And while a number of them later rose to prominent positions, most still live in shanty towns in the region.

The spokesman, who was accompanied by another slave descendant, Jimmy Kitao, spoke on the sidelines of a workshop in Mombasa on the "Dissemination of content on the subject of slavery in Africa in the 21st century".

Uledi said information that was "readily available" indicated that the original freed slaves were allocated 663 acres around the present Frere Town area in Kisauni Constituency.

This was done, he added, after British colonial administrator Battle Frere, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) acquired land from Sultan Barghash bin Said to settle freed slaves.

Missionary work

"When the CMS left for the deep hinterland to conduct missionary work, our land came under grabbers' hands and reduced drastically. In the present day, we only have 50 acres at our disposal," Uledi said.

Mr Kitao said since the 1930s they had not known peace, as their land continued to shrink. Things were not any better when the defunct Mombasa Municipality held their land in trusteeship soon after Kenya attained independence.

"To date, our land has shrunk to a level where even our own public cemetery is full. We are contemplating resorting to cremation for our people, as we have no land to bury," Kitao said.

On the matter of registration of persons, Uledi said those who acquired national identity cards had to state their mothers' tribes to get the important document.

"When the freed slaves were brought, the majority were men, who later married local women to make it easy for their children to get identity cards."

Uledi, who revealed that he used to work as an assistant administrative officer with the defunct Mombasa Municipal Council, said their children were still subjected to discrimination, hence their plea to the government to consider them as another ethnic tribe.

"Our contribution to the national economy is there for all to see. We have been law-abiding citizens. We are not very different from the Makonde and Indians who got the nod for recognition as Kenyan tribes."

Haki Africa, a Mombasa-based civil society group, issued a statement saying there was need for structured dialogue to ensure the grievances of freed slaves were heard and addressed.

Divided nation

"We cannot have a divided nation. We have one thing in common that binds us all – the Constitution – which must be followed to the letter," the statement read.

It continued: "It is common knowledge that reparations are restitution for slavery – an apology and repayment to black citizens whose ancestors were forced into the slave trade."

Haki Africa said while many people, including academicians and human rights activists, had long agitated for reparations, the political elite appeared to have given it the cold shoulder.

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