Why some Asians not elated with new status

It was expected that Kenyans of Asian descent would break into song and dance to celebrate President Uhuru Kenyatta’s declaration that they are now Kenya’s 44th tribe.

The reality however is that a number of them are sulking at the announcement made last weekend.

Some feel the declaration was too ambiguous to warrant any celebration while others believe the president was ill-advised.

READ: Kenyans of Indian descent become 44th tribe

Also, the fact that Asian-Kenyans have been enumerated in past census reports — unlike the Makonde who gained the status of a tribe in February — has been creating confusion in some quarters as to what other impact the recognition will have.

READ: Makonde granted Kenyan citizenship – VIDEO

It is also notable that Ms Farah Mannzoor, the leader of the Kenyan-Asian delegation that was with acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i when the gazettement was announced to the media last Saturday, is an outspoken Jubilee Party supporter who was seeking to be the party’s nominee for the Westlands parliamentary seat.

Ms Mannzoor did not pick our calls or respond to messages seeking her comment.

In a Facebook post she uploaded last Saturday evening, she lauded the president’s move as “a living legacy”.

“It’s a great honour. It’s even a greater responsibility on our shoulders going forward,” she wrote.

However, Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir, the first ever Kenyan of Asian descent to be elected into Parliament, told the Sunday Nation that the framing of the gazette notice gave no definitions.

“We also need to know the basis: is it every mhindi who is a citizen becomes a member of a tribe? My answer is no,” Mr Shabbir said.

Part of the gazette said: “From now henceforth, the community of Kenyans of Asian heritage are Kenya’s 44th tribe.”

Mr Shabbir opines that the wording does not exactly explain who those of Asian heritage are.

“Is it all Asians up to Japan; because there are Japanese who have been here for 36 years?” Mr Shabbir, who is defending his seat in next month’s General Election as an independent candidate, questioned.


In the MP’s view, the ideal people to be given recognition are those whose families have been in Kenya for “at least two generations”.

“We need to sit down now and come up with a criteria that is acceptable to everybody,” he said, noting that recognition is good but it has to be done properly.

“The timing looks to be very political,” he said.

Nominated MP Sonia Birdi has in the past been involved in a push in the National Assembly to have all ethnic groups in Kenya listed and defined in law.

Through that, she believes, the Asian community could have got the recognition it deserves.

But the gazettement, she says, was ill-advised.

“I am very sure that the president had been misinformed on this issue,” Ms Birdi, who was nominated to Parliament in 2013 by Deputy President William Ruto’s United Republican Party that was later dissolved to form Jubilee, said.

Ms Birdi also claimed that the group that approached the president clamouring for the Kenyan-Asian tribe status “is not recognised”.

“Myself as well as the Asian Foundation had raised concerns as to who are these people who are calling themselves representatives of the Asian community,” she said, adding that there was no consultation before the gazettement.

“I have nothing against the community being recognised as the 44th tribe.

“I have something very serious with the process that has been used to put it forward because there is ambiguity,” she said.

She added: “But at the end of the day, I must tell you one thing: people should be grateful for being recognised.

“Mhindis should now be grateful that they have been recognised by the president,” she said.

While announcing the incorporation at Harambee House, Dr Matiang’i said it was a sign that Kenyans of Asian descent are “part and parcel of us formally”.

“You are part of Kenya’s great family and we expect that you will continue this integration in all spheres of life: socially, culturally, economically and in participation in government,” he said.

However, the Sunday Nation has seen documents relating to census reports, which suggest that Asians have always been identified as part of the Kenyan society.

For instance, an instruction manual for enumerators who conducted the 2009 census assigns code “801” to be used for Kenyan Asians.

As far back as 1979, archived records show, Kenyan Asians were being enumerated, same as Kenyan European and Kenyan Arab.

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