They were taken to Kenya in the 1940s in different regions including Kisii and Kericho where they worked on tea plantations. They were settled in Kenya at different times respectively in 1930, 1945 and 1957.
Elizabeth Nyirabatware is one of Rwandans taken to Kenya during colonial times.
She was 93 years in 2017. Nyirabatware was taken to Kenya in 1945 along with her husband Joseph Rwasa Nyabenda who later passed on. At the time, she was 21-year old in early days of marriage. They were childless at the time.
They had been recruited to travel to Kenya by Belgium colonialists to work in the expansive tea plantations in Kericho and Bomet owned by white settlers.
As she spoke to the East African in 2017, Nyirabatware explained that she and her husband got a rewarding job experience working for the colonialists who paid attractive salaries and other benefits.
She explained that she received other incentives including promotions, free rations of grain and blankets from the colonialists for their services. She described the work as having been difficult but rewarding. She used to pick over 30 kilogrammes of tea leaf a day in the tea estates in Kericho and Bomet.
Talking about life in Kiropket Village in Nandi County, she had reservations about the “manner” in which subsequent post-Independence Kenyan governments treated the families of over 1,000 Rwandan nationals who took the trip with her in the 1930s and 40s.
Nyirabatware said she is the oldest surviving Rwandan national taken to Kenya to work at the tea plantations in colonial times, but lamented Kenya’s reluctance “to recognize us as citizens” despite “spending our entire lives in service to the government.”
Nyirabatware appealed to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his government to recognise her and the rest of the Rwandan community. “Before I die, I appeal to President Kenyatta and his government to provide me and other Rwandan nationals with ID cards,” she said.
Rwanda’s ambassador in Kenya, Amb Dr. Richard Masozera has told IGIHE that the Government of Rwanda advocated until the first batch received citizenship during a ceremony held on 12th December 2020 to celebrate Kenya’s Independence.
“You know that there are Rwandans who were brought to Kenya in the 1930s by Belgian colonialists to work on tea plantations in Kericho counties. Since then, colonialists used to give them identifications helping them on cross border movements which host countries withheld gradually after independence,” he said.
Amb Masozera explained that Rwandans fall within such category that failure to get citizenship deprives them of some rights.
“These Rwandans in Kericho fall within this category. They are deprived of rights; fail to take children to public schools and access loans to implement projects,” he noted.
The plight pushed Rwandans living in Kenya to appeal for nationality so they could enjoy equal rights. In the 1980s, they sought to return to Rwanda but the then leadership claimed they were not known.
In the past four years, those Rwandans increasingly appealed for nationality after 100,000 people from Makonde tribe were granted Kenyan citizenship.
At the time, former Rwanda’s ambassador in Kenya, James Kimonyo visited these Rwandans, interacted with them and promised advocacy.
“They have spent over 80 years in Kenya. It means they don’t know relatives in Rwanda. At the time, Amb Kimonyo promised them advocacy to both Governments to fix the problem. I replaced him and took on the advocacy for the issue which they promised to solve,” said Amb Masozera.
During the celebration of Kenya’s Independence known as “Jamhuri Day”, President Uhuru Kenyatta granted citizenship to 1300 Rwandans. Ten of them got identities instantly while others will get them gradually from January 2020.
Amb Masozera explained that the government of Rwanda made all efforts to put an end to this problem.
“The Government knew the case and provided necessary support. I used to interact with elders in Rwandan communities living in Kenya. They were happy with Rwanda’s support in addressing the issue,” he noted.
Majority of these Rwandans hail from Southern Province in former Gitarama and Butare prefectures as well as Rubavu district in Western Province.