The Makonde ethnic group, until yesterday was not an officially recognized ethnic group in Kenya. Despite their existence in the country before independence, and the promise by Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, to officially include them citizens of the country, it was only yesterday that that promise was fulfilled.

President Uhuru Kenyatta issued Kenyan identity cards to more than 1,076 members of the Makonde community, officially making the Makonde community the 43rd ethnic group in Kenya.

The Makonde suffered as a stateless people for over a half-century. The Makonde people whose ancestry can be traced to Mozambique have a smaller population in Kenya than in Mozambique and Tanzania.

With the enforcement of identity cards in Kenya, the Makonde have been a target of police harassment. The issuance of the identity cards was due in December last year. The issuance of the identity cards coincides with the ongoing voter’s registration for this year’s election.

Makonde Chess Set from East Africa African Blackwood and Blond hardwood 20th century CE. Photo: Flickr/ Mary Harrsch
Makonde Chess Set from East Africa African Blackwood and Blond hardwood 20th century CE. Photo: Flickr/ Mary Harrsch

With the promise for land and recruitment into the police and military, the Makonde Community Chairperson Thomas Nguli urged President Kenyatta to also tackle unemployment among the youths of the Makonde community.

The Makonde are known particularly for their remarkable artistry as woodcarvers and make their living by selling their carvings to tourists.

Found mostly along Kenya’s coast, the Makonde came to Kenya in the 1950s. The Makonde are a matriarchal society and mostly follow traditional religious practices.

Other unrecognized ethnic groups in the country include Pemba, Warundi and Warwanda.