NAIROBI : Kenya said on Saturday it had granted formal recognition to citizens of Indo-Pakistani origin, with President Uhuru Kenyatta making them a 44th tribe.
“I do hereby recognize, proclaim and order, 1.that Kenyans of Asian Heritage constitute a Community that is one of the Tribes of Kenya;
2. that from now henceforth the Community of Kenyans of Asian Heritage are Kenya’s 44th Tribe,” declared Kenyatta in a proclamation which appeared in the official presidential journal made public on Saturday. The term “Asian community” in Kenya generally designates those of Indo-Pakistani origin who made their homes in the east African nation from the late 19th Century as the then British colonial power was constructing a first railway link from the port of Mombasa to Kampala in Uganda.
According to Kenya’s most recent census of 2009, the South Asian community numbers some 46,000 people. Estimates suggest there are a further 35,000 in the country who do not have citizenship.
Earning constitutional recognition as an official tribe of the nation will make little material difference to those concerned in that they already enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as fellow citizens.
Many are prosperous entrepreneurs in major urban centres in sectors such as medicine, the pharmaceuticals industry or import-export.
But the decision, which follows several formal petitions from the community, is still of symbolic importance.
“No one should discriminate against you, intimidate you or exclude you unnecessarily from all the affairs of our nation,” acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi told a Nairobi ceremony following the proclamation.
He added that the recognition would facilitate greater involvement at the highest echelons of society, including political decision-making.
“The government commends the community for its great sense of civic duty and its key role in setting up learning and health institutions which serve to supplement the government initiatives in that sector,” added Matiangi.
Kenyatta’s proclamation comes three weeks ahead of a general election slated for August 8 as he seeks to win a second mandate at the expense of opposition rival Raila Odinga.
Polls suggest a tight contest, with some observers warning of potential for unrest.
A decade ago, Kenya, generally known as a beacon of regional stability, suffered two months of violent ethnic political unrest which left around 1,100 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more.