The Kenyan government has granted citizenship to nearly 1,700 people of Shona origin.
The Shona people settled in the country from Zimbabwe in the 1930s as missionaries. They carried British passports and were registered as British subjects. However, after independence in 1963, they had a two-year window to register as Kenyans, which many missed.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency in a statement said it welcomed Kenya’s decision to grant citizenship to 1,670 stateless Shona and 1,300 stateless persons of Rwandan descent who qualify under the law as Kenyan citizens.
“This is a life-changing development for thousands of people,” said Fathiaa Abdalla, UNHCR’s Representative in Kenya.
“Their recognition as citizens secures their rights, such as access to education, health care, employment, property ownership and access to financial services,” said Abdalla.
On Jamhuri Day, I @UNHCR_Kenya witnessed the ceremony where the President & @FredMatiangi handed the Shona & others, certificates as citizens of Kenya. This is a life-changing development for the thousands. Thx to the Government of Kenya's decision to grant them citizenship. pic.twitter.com/g46chAga7e
— Fathiaa Abdalla (@Fathiaabdalla) December 12, 2020
The Kenya Human Rights Commission through their Twitter feed said, “The Shona Community have lived with the consequences of statelessness for over 60 years. This is a historic step towards redressing statelessness.”
Granting citizenship status to the Shona and Rwandese community is a necessary, humane and progressive step on the journey to fully redress the harms of statelessness.”
End of #statelessness in sight as the govt of Kenya sets a prescedent today as it awards citizeship status to the #Shona who arrived in Kenya from Zimbabwe b4 independence ending 60 yrs of #statelessness for the #Shona#JamhuriDay2020
Everyone has a right to nationality pic.twitter.com/XijAuEswBG
— KHRC (@thekhrc) December 12, 2020
A study, ‘African Missionaries in Identity Limbo’ conducted by the Kenya Human Rights Commission between October 2018 and September 2019, on an assessment of the Shona community living in Kenya, they found out that they neither Kenyan citizens nor Zimbabwean citizens.
“A person is considered a Zimbabwe citizenship if they were born in Zimbabwe to a father and in case of a single mother to a mother who is a Zimbabwean citizen by birth. Persons born out of the country are only recognized as Zimbabweans if their parents were away on official duty sanctioned by the Zimbabwean state and thereafter is lawfully resident in Zimbabwe and their parents were not citizens by descent.
Similarly, they are not considered Kenyan citizens because they were not considered amongst the indigenous communities in Kenya at independence on December 12th 1963.”
Citizenship in Kenya is acquired by birth or by registration.
However, KHRC notes that “Citizenship by registration is more clearly defined in law than citizenship by birth; however some of the sections on citizenship by registration proved very difficult to implement.”
As a result, in the report’s conclusion, KHRC had said, “The lack of recognition of the Shona makes their lives to be invisible. As a result, they face severe difficulties accessing all human rights under the bill of rights in the constitution and basic socials services.”
According to UNHCR, Kenya is home to an estimated 18,500 stateless persons, most of whom are members of ethnic minority groups.