NAIROBI, KENYA —
Hamida Malahassen runs a successful business in Kibera, Kenya’s largest informal settlement, but her case is unique. Being Nubian, she has faced lots of challenges in applying for citizenship.
And without a Kenyan identity card that enables one to be officially recognized as a citizen by the government, getting services is hard. According to Malahassen, her community is held back by this lack of recognition in Kenya.
“You don’t have security of tenure," she said. "You cannot take loans, bearing in mind that loans are taken with guarantees. If you don’t have title deeds, you don’t have guarantees for bigger loans whereby to develop - the bigger the loan, the bigger the potential, definitely. So those are some of the limitations we have as a community. We cannot develop."
East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years. Originally from the region south of Egypt that today is known as Sudan, Nubian peoples migrated and occupied lands along the Nile River.
Malahassen is one of the approximately 100,000 Nubians in Kenya. A century ago, Nubian soldiers and their families who worked for the British colonial army were settled in Kibera.
However, they never owned the land in any formal way. Today, Nubians living in Kibera don’t possess deeds to the land that was originally theirs, and they face eviction.
Shaffi Ali Hussein, a human rights advocate of Nubian descent, has been fighting for the rights of his fellow Nubians for the last 10 years. Through the Nubian Rights Forum, Hussein has been lobbying the government to award not only citizenship rights to the Nubians but also grant them a communal title deed to the land in Kibera.
But they remain stateless because citizenship requires recognition by the government, and establishing the identity needed to gain it is a great challenge, he said.
"When a Nubian goes for an ID card, he or she will be asked to bring so many documents," Hussein said.
The country’s National Land Commission has been tasked with undertaking land reforms in a bid to rectify historical injustices. However, Mohammed Swazuri, chairman of the National Land Commission, downplayed the situation, refuting claims by the Nubians on their statelessness.
“They may not have title deeds, but there are many other Kenyans who have no title deeds and you can’t call them stateless. These still are Kenyans," he said. "Not everybody is expected to have and own a parcel of land, so without a title, it doesn’t mean you are stateless."
But for many of the Nubians in Kibera, the struggle continues.