They came in their dozens. Women in their signature white robes and headscarves all assembled at the Gospel of God Church in Hurlingham, Nairobi. They only had one request, to be recognised as Kenyans.
According to the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), the Shona that makes up almost 4,000 members, have lived in the country for decades but are yet to get Kenyan citizenship.
Their ancestors moved to Kenya in the late 1950s from Matebele, Zimbabwe and settled in the country. Since the Kenyan Shona were not born in Zimbabwe, a country that only grants citizenship to those born within its territory, the Shona in Kenya are neither Kenyans nor Zimbabweans, making them stateless.
For years, the community has petitioned for Kenyan citizenship but their efforts have not yielded much.. The most tangible progress was in July last year, when the Government issued 597 Shona children with birth certificates. For the rest, intermarriages with Kenyans is a more direct ticket to citizenship.
The KHRC report released recently titled ‘African Missionaries in Identity Limbo: The Shona of Kenya’ paints the plight of the community in their quest for identity.
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KHRC chronicles the origins and tribulations of Kenya’s Shona, beginning with the entry of the first batch of missionaries sent by Johane Masowe. Masowe founded the Gospel Church of God in 1932.
The first group of Shona missionaries, comprising 16 evangelists and their families, arrived in Kenya between 1959 and 1961. Upon reaching Kenya, the group split, with some settling in Ngong’ and others in Juja.
The group started their evangelism in Karen, Nairobi, Kinoo and Juja, registering the Gospel of God Church in Kenya.
“By 1975, their population had spilled to Kinoo. Presently, scores are settled in Lenana, Githurai, Kasarani, Nyahururu, Meru, Nakuru, Kericho, Kitengela and Malindi, where the Gospel of God Church has branches,” says the report.
The highest populations of Kenya’s Shona, however, are concentrated in Kiambaa, Kinoo and Githurai in Kiambu County and Hurlingham in Nairobi.
Oliver Muregerera, the Secretary-General of the Shona community in Kenya tells The Standard on Saturday that the Shonas’ problems began after the death of the nation’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta.
For the community, whose men are known for their excellent carpentry and masonry and their women impeccable weaving skills, being stateless has hindered them from progressing socioeconomically.
“Because Shonas in Kenya are not recognised as Kenyans they do not have critical identification documents. As a result, many drop out of school and cannot even open businesses. Many have to use the details of their Kenyan friends to register businesses,” said Muregerera.
In addition, Shonas are unable to sit for national exams, are ineligible to enroll for NSSF and NHIF. As the report revealed, no Shona has ever been enrolled in university, owing to these hindrances.
“It is time these unresolved issues and the injustices and afflictions of the Shona community are dealt with,” said Davis Malombe, the Deputy Executive Director of KHRC.