Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The forty-fourth

Between the Preamble and Article 250(4) of the Constitution, "ethnic" and "ethnicity" are mentioned fifteen times. However, neither the Constitution nor any written law of Kenya established who the official "tribes" of Kenya are. There is no written law that enumerates the qualifications a community must have in order to be described as a "tribe" of Kenya and, therefore, there is no law that describes the process of "recognising" a community as a "tribe" of Kenya. In Kenya, per the Constitution and the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act, 2011, you are either a citizen of Kenya or a foreign national. Neither the Constitution nor the law on citizenship and immigration categorise Kenyans in terms of "tribes".

No Kenyan enjoys special constitutional or statutory privileges because of his or her tribe, but many Kenyans have been discriminated against because of their tribe -- and others because of their race. It is why the Bill of Rights explicitly outlaws discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity, and directs that the State shall take legislative and other measures to promote the inclusion of traditionally marginalised communities, including ethnic communities, in the public service including in elective offices. If are a citizen of Kenya, the State (or any other person, for that matter) shall not -- or shouldn't -- discriminate against you.

What does it mean, then, that the Government of Kenya has "recognised" Kenyans "of Asian heritage" as Kenya's "forty-fourth community"? When the acting Cabinet Secretary for Interior intoned, "Now you are part and parcel of us formally," what did he mean? His offer that Kenyan Asians should "now participate in Government processes" crowned his declaration that Kenyan Asians were...I still don't know what they have become. 
Kenyan Asians have always been citizens of Kenya. The community has, as many minority and marginalised communities of Kenya, also faced discrimination from Government officials. Many Kenyan Asians have, however, surmounted the hurdles placed in their way by, and succeeded in their endeavours -- many successful Kenyan companies are owned or run by Kenyan Asians and out of one of their most prominent sons' efforts, Kenya's constitution is superior to most others. Of course the community has its share of villains -- the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scandals are the demonseeds of Kenyan Asians.

What remains to be seen is what it means to be officially recognised by the Government as a "community". Will it mean special quotas in recruitment to the public service? Will members of the community enjoy special tax privileges? Will they get a national day of their own? Was it all a political gambit, designed to burnish the "inclusiveness" credentials of the Jubilation? Time, I guess, will tell.

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