Pemba community cries for recognition

Simba Mwano Jumbe smiles after registering for identification at Kaya Kinondo village in Kwale, 2015. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The happiness of life is being able to be recognized as a citizen of a country. But for hundreds of members of the Pemba community that has been a nightmare, at least in Kenya.

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.

Rahma Aboo, a mother of five from Mayungu village in Kilifi North sub-county, narrated how she has suffered over the years in the hands of security personnel yet she was born in Kenya. “I was born here in Kenya and I do not know any other place to call home. It is sad that I am suffering in my own country and have been denied even the national identity card,” he told the National Assembly Committee on security three days ago in Kilifi town. The team headed by MP Peter Kaluma also collected views from the community members living in Kwale county.

She added that doing business and even owning property has been a nightmare for her and many others and they regularly face intimidation and persecution from police officers who demand hefty bribes from them or face deportation to Tanzania. “Last year the police arrested me and they took me to Lunga Lunga border and ordered me to cross over to Tanzania yet I even do not know how Tanzania looks like. I was rescued by members of my community there and traveled back to Mayungu the following day only to find my children had gone without food for three days,” she adds.

For a Pemba to own property or his or her child to go to school in Kenya, they have 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.

Rahma says she bought land and was forced to register it in another man’s name who later dispossessed her of the property. “My children find it hard to learn even after I registered their birth certificate using a foster father. We are forced to abandon our names for those of other communities,” she says.

Yusuf Jumaa said he had to scheme his way out by using illegal means to acquire his Kenyan identity card and he was not sorry about it because he was avoiding constant persecution. He told the MPs that some members of his community have obtained national identity cards using shortcuts to avoid arrests by the police. “I had to do whatever I could to fend for my family without stress since my children could not even sit for examinations for lack of birth certificates and so I had to obtain an ID then process for them the birth certificate to enable them to sit exams,” he says adding that the document has enabled him to transact business freely and open a bank account.

His case is no different from Samira Omar who sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) using documents of a foster parent who was hired by her parents. She produced a birth certificate with the names of ‘Good Samaritans’ as her parent's identity and added that despite being born and raised in Kenya, she was regarded as a non-citizen. “I have been to Tanzania before but that is not my home because I only visited a hotel for holiday. My home is in Watamu,” she said.

Hassan Hamadi narrated to the MPs how he has been arrested on several occasions and taken to court for working in Kenya without a work permit. “I have been beaten up by the police on several occasions with my mistake being not having an ID. Seven months ago I was hospitalized at a Malindi hospital and people had lost hope thinking I was dying due to the level of injuries I sustained in the hands of Kenya police,” he said.

Diana Gichengo from the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) said that the organization intervened on behalf of the ‘stateless’ communities after carrying out extensive research that indicated they are indeed Kenyans. “The Pemba community has in the past petitioned the Kilifi and Kwale county assemblies to be recognized as citizens but all that has failed and that is why we came in,” she said.

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.

She added that from their research they found that a Pemba community member was the founder chief of Mombasa several decades ago. She said they wondered why the community was being persecuted adding the intention of KHRC was to have the Pemba community incorporated and accepted into the society as Kenyan citizens just like the Makonde community.