Nguli Mchewa is not exactly sure when he was born. He suspects it was 1940, about four years after his parents migrated from Mozambique to Kenya to work on sisal farms owned by white settlers.
The 76 year-old was born in Kenya and lived there all his life, but he has always been effectively stateless. That limbo ended last February when he and nearly 2,000 other members of the Makonde community were issued with an identity card and birth certificate.
‘It feels like being born for the second time,’ says Mchewa. ‘I can finally hold my identification document, walk to an office [for government services] like any other Kenyan and get seen.’
The Makonde people won their citizenship through a long and drawn-out struggle, supported by the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Makonde people settled in Kenya in the 1930s. Since then, the community has lived without official recognition, which condemned people to life on the margins. Without ID, they could not even register a phone SIM card, let alone seek formal employment.
The UNHCR is working with some 18,000 other stateless Kenya-born minorities, including the Shona people (featured in Agenda, NI 492) – originally from Zimbabwe – Somalis, Rwandans and Nubians, originally from Sudan.