There was excitement in Makongeni Village in Msambweni, Kwale County on Monday afternoon as more than 400 members of the Makonde community prepared to receive their first Kenyan national identity cards, documents they have yearned to have for decades.
The community’s leader Thomas Nguli led a group of dancers in making final touches on a traditional dance while women discussed the final phase of how they will receive the valued document on when President Uhuru Kenyatta visits on Wednesday.
Groups of excited women throughout the village Wednesdaysat together on mats under mango trees discussing the issue as young men practiced at one corner of the village with traditional drums for the big day.
Speaking during an interview, 74-year-old Ms Besalisa Mchewa said she is waiting for the ID with enthusiasm and “it feels like I am being born again”.
“I have lived in this village for many years. I came here with my husband from Mozambique when I was hardly 15 years. He came here to work in the sisal plantation that was under white people,” she said.
She said that the villagers were constantly harassed and arrested by the colonial askaris for not having Kenyan identity cards following frequent raids.
“Quite often, the entire village fled and spent several nights in the bush to escape being arrested. I remember one particular incident when I had to run for dear life with a young baby on my back,” she said.
The elderly Mchewa, who said she considers herself as Kenyan, said she and other residents have all along fought to have official Kenyan IDs and “the prospect of acquiring one is a rebirth for all of us,” she said.
“I am eager to acquire the vital document but more so, doing it for my grandchildren and their children,” said the mother of eight and “uncountable grandchildren and great-grandchildren”.
Their spokesman, Mr Nguli, said 470 members of the community are set to acquire the IDs which will subsequently allow them to register as voters “and participate in the August 8 general election for the first time in our lives”.
“The IDs will grant us new freedom. They will open the world before us and enable us do what we have not been able to do for decades,” he said.
He said that without IDs, the community has been isolated and locked out from many basic services such as registering for mobile money transfer services.
“My phone number is registered under the name of my friend whose ID I use when I withdraw cash. From Wednesday, all this will be over.
“I will register using my own ID and this is new-found freedom,” he said.
Nguli said that young men without the documents could not get employment, access bursary funds, open bank accounts, and acquire birth certificates, among many other services they need.
“The battle for recognition has been long and we thank President Uhuru Kenyatta for accepting us and formalising our citizenship.
“We have always regarded ourselves as Kenyans because we belong here. We don’t know any other home. Only our forefathers were Mozambicans, not us,” he said.