Kenya takes a step forward against statelessness by boosting citizenship for the Shona and Makonde communities


With the granting of the nationality documents to the Shona people, Kenya has taken a giant step in resolving once and for all the statelessness situation that affects almost 20,000 people across the country, in what could being the beginning of a 'domino effect' that would make the African country the spearhead to extend these efforts to the rest of the planet, where about 10 million people live without citizenship.

The Shona of Kenya have been living in the country for more than a generation as descendants of a group of Zimbabwean missionaries who arrived in Kenya during the 1960s to found the Church of the Gospels of God. Despite having spent more than half a century in the country, they have not enjoyed the rights granted to them by citizens, such as access to basic services or the formal acquisition of employment.

Kenya takes a step forward against statelessness by boosting citizenship for the Shona and Makonde communities
Kenya takes a step forward against statelessness by boosting citizenship for the Shona and Makonde communities

This situation began to change last August, when the Government finally began to distribute among some 600 Shona children and young people in the country the essential document to begin citizenship procedures: the birth certificate. Among them was Kapota, 25 years old, who a decade ago had to leave school because he lacked the essential documents to take the entrance exam to the institute.

“My teachers tried to help me but they couldn't do anything,” she said. “I had to leave school and become a housekeeper because my family had no money to eat,” he lamented.

The delivery of certificates adds to the intensification of political maneuvers to accelerate citizenship procedures, such as the arrival last Monday to Geneva of a high-level delegation to offer their help in the “I Belong” campaign (I belong) of the United Nations, which has set itself the goal of ending statelessness in the world by 2024.


In this meeting, 55 states have expressed their intention to adhere to or ratify the UN statelessness conventions, facilitate the nationalization of stateless persons, prevent statelessness by ending gender discrimination, guarantee universal birth registration, protect to stateless persons and improve or initiate data collection on stateless populations.

On Monday, Angola and Colombia became the last two countries to join the Conventions, formally presenting instruments of accession and ratification of treaties during the event itself.

“We are reaching a critical mass in the global effort to eradicate statelessness. This week has shown that there is an unprecedented level of political will and commitment to solve this problem and prevent it from arising in the first place,” said the high commissioner of the United Nations for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

“It is crucial that these commitments become actions. We will intensify our own efforts to help states work towards the goal of completely eradicating statelessness, an objective that is within our reach, as long as this momentum is maintained.” , has manifested.

Returning to Kenya, another 2,000 Shonsa adults have also begun the process to apply for the birth certificate, according to the UN stateless person in Kenya, Wanja Munaita, who recalled the precedent established in the country two years ago, when granting the citizenship to the 8,000 members of the makonde community after almost a century of residence in the country. However, there is still a long way to go.


Shona community leader Oliver Muregerera regrets that this decision has come so late. “We have lived a life of poverty and misery because without documents you cannot work here, you cannot buy a property or access the services offered by the State,” he says, before notifying that the distribution of certificates is not an automatic guarantee. of citizenship and that the Government has taken two years to take the first step.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission, a humanitarian NGO in the country, shares Muregerera's concern. “Birth certificates are not enough and we must continue to exert pressure until the entire community receives formal recognition” of citizenship, says its head, George Kegoro.


Both Kegoro and Muregerera demand practical measures to ensure that no shona is left without nationalization, and always from the expected national census, conducted this summer, and will be announced next year.

“We have asked, we have begged the Shona to take a step forward and identify themselves as such during the recount, because the Government has confirmed to us that they will include a specific section on stateless persons,” Munaita said in this regard.

African states are increasingly aware that statelessness represents an improper challenge of the 21st century. A 2017 statement by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a grouping of 15 countries, highlighted the political will of its member states to address the problem not only through the nationalization of applicants, but also to through the persecution of the injustices they suffer.

Proof of this was an opinion issued by the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights, which in 2018 pointed to Tanzania for “arbitrarily depriving a man of Tanzanian citizenship” and ordered the government to update its legislation, which could smooth the way for other countries to do the same.

Similar Posts