South Asian Kenyans Declared Country’s 44th Tribe
People from South Asian countries have been a part of Kenyan society for more than 100 years.
Until recently, the government did not officially recognize them.
But that changed in July, when Asian Kenyans were declared a tribe – just like the Maasai, Luo, Kikuyu and others.
They are Kenya’s 44th tribe.
Fred Matiang is Kenya’s acting minister of the interior. He made the announcement.
“Now, you are part and parcel of us formally. You are part and parcel of Kenya’s great family. And we expect that we will continue this integration in all spheres of life.”
“Part and parcel” means an important part of something.
Matiang encouraged the Asian community to participate in all parts of Kenyan society, including “government and government processes.”
In 2008, Shakeel Shabbir became Kenya’s first Member of Parliament of Asian descent. He is now one of four members of Asian descent.
Shabbir worked on getting the Kenyan government to recognize the country’s Asian community.
Shabbir’s father was one of thousands of Indian laborers who helped build the Kenya-Uganda railway over 100 years ago. Many of those Indians stayed in Kenya. They built businesses and purchased land. But some felt that they were unable to make a big difference in Kenyan politics and society.
Now they have a better chance of doing that, Shabbir said.
“You feel more comfortable now than you did before,” he said. “Now what? It’s a two-way job. You have been recognized by the system, now we want you to take your role in society.”
Not every Asian in Kenya will be recognized, however. The move only covers those who were born in the country.
Farah Manzoor is a fifth-generation Kenyan of Indian descent. She started working on the issue of getting Asian Kenyans recognized in 2010. She explained that Asians will now be included in government employment quotas.
The New York Times recently reported on the push to include Asians as a Kenyan tribe. It said the political party in power often shows favor toward their own tribe. People may receive better work and education opportunities if their tribe is in power.
While some celebrated the move, others criticized Kenyan society’s focus on different tribes.
Zahid Rajan is a writer and a member of the Kenyan Asian Forum. He said Kenyans “as a whole have been marginalized.” He said he believes Kenyan society cannot improve or become more inclusive if only one or two ethnic groups are in charge. He also said pushing for “the rights of a minority community to seek special status is what’s wrong and divisive.”
Kenya’s national election is on August 8. President Uhuru Kenyatta is Kikuyu. His opponent, Raila Odinga, is Luo.
The Kikuyu and the Luo are Kenya’s two biggest ethnic groups.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Rael Ombuor wrote this story for TingVOA.com. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.