Rwanda’s envoy in Kenya has told The New Times that the move by President Uhuru Kenyatta to grant Kenyan citizenship to people of Rwandan origin who moved to Kenya during the colonial era was an important gesture.
During the celebrations of Kenya’s independence held over the weekend, President Kenyatta announced that he had granted citizenship to 1,300 people of Rwanda origin who had lived in Kenya since the 1940s.
Dr Richard Masozera, Rwanda’s High Commission in Kenya, said these people had long lost links to Rwanda and were now facing various challenges because they were stateless.
Granting them citizenship now means they can enjoy life as any other Kenyan citizens with rights to education, bank loans, land rights, and others which they had been deprived of.
A group of Rwandans were moved from Rwanda to Kenya by the British colonial administration in 1940’s to work mostly in the country’s vast tea plantations and engage in other forms of labour in Kenya.
In 1945, they were granted Kenyan citizenship. But, three decades later, in 1975, their Kenyan national identity cards were revoked – like all other naturalized foreigners that arrived in the country under the same arrangement – and they were given three-month renewable “alien identification cards.”
In February 2017, some of them turned up at the Rwandan High Commission in Nairobi and requested the then High Commissioner for help in addressing their plight.
The process of attending to their problem was then initiated since the High Commission engaged Kenyan authorities.
“Rwanda is an open country; it is always helping repatriate and reintegrate many citizens from various parts of the world. But this (group in Kenya) is a special or very unique group. They wanted to settle here because they don’t have any memory or relations they can connect with easily back in Rwanda,” Masozera said.
There are very few elderly people in the group, now in their 90s, he noted.
“This was a very old issue. When I arrived here (Nairobi), I found that my predecessor, Ambassador Kimonyo had already even visited them in Kericho to attend to their concerns. He promised to raise this with the Kenyan government.”
In the past, the Rwandan High Commissioner was informed that in 1980’s, the Kenyan Government of the day, decided to send them back to Rwanda but the then Government of Rwanda at the time refused to accept them saying that they were Kenyans.
Due to that situation, some were forced to use forged identities to be able to get employment or send their children to school. It was hard to do any long-term investment including acquiring land or property.
According to reports, the Kenyan government also granted citizenship to nearly 1,700 people of Shona origin, settled in Kenya from Zimbabwe in the 1930s.
President Uhuru invited them to attend the nation’s independence celebrations, at a stadium in Nairobi on Saturday, when he made the announcement.