MARGINALISED

Descendants of freed slaves seek recognition

The slaves had reportedly been rescued by the British navy from Arab slave merchants off the coast of Mombasa as they headed to Zanzibar for sale

In Summary

• Mombasa’s Frere Town got its name from a British navy commander Sir Bartle Frere, said to have played a major role in settling the freed slaves.

• The Frere town community members say they have been marginalised and most  are unable to acquire IDs despite their long pre-Independence history.

Descendants of freed slaves in Mombasa have said they will continue their struggle to gain full citizenship status.

The Frere town community members say they have been marginalised and most  are unable to acquire IDs despite their long pre-Independence history.

“If we identify ourselves as Nyasa people, we are told there is no such community in the country,” Frere town community chairperson Price Uledi said.

The 75-year-old fourth generation descendant said lack of government recognition has compelled many of them to identify themselves as Mijikendas to enable them to get IDs.

“Many of our people end up citing their maternal lineages to get IDs. Our forefathers married the Mijikendas and now for our people to be registered they have to say they are Mijikenda,” he said.

They spoke at the sidelines of a forum organised in partnership with the National Museums of Kenya to address the topic of the history of slavery in Africa.

“We are a marginalised community. The government has forgotten us,” Uledi added.

In the mid 19th Century, groups of freed slaves comprising captives from Malawi (formerly Nyasaland), Zambia (Southern Rhodesia), Zimbabwe (Northern Rhodesia) and Tanzania (Tanganyika) were settled in Mombasa by the British.

As a result, Mombasa’s Frere Town got its name from a British navy commander Sir Bartle Frere who was said to have played a major role in settling the freed slaves. The slaves had reportedly been rescued by the British navy from Arab slave merchants off the coast of Mombasa as they headed to Zanzibar for sale.

Uledi said Sir Bartle Frere bought about 600 acres in 1845 for the freed slaves to settle. The land covering the greater Nyali stretched all the way to Shanzu, also known as Frere town colony. However, between 1925 and 1930 there was resettlement and the community was moved to areas around present day Kisimani and VOK.

Also during this period up to Independence, a lot of the land given to them was taken up and they are only left with 50 acres, they say.

“We submitted a memorandum to the Muhammad Swazuri-led National Land Commission, but we have not received justice. We know this is a very sensitive matter, but we will not give up on the fight for our rights,” community secretary Jimmy Kitao said.

“Our community has no place to stay, now they have to buy land.”

The iconic Bango musician Mzee Ngala was among Kenyans honoured on Mashujaa Day as a hero for his contribution to the development of the music industry.

The legendary musician has roots in the freed slaves of the mid 19th Century and continues to live in Frere Town.

Leonard Mambo Mbotela is also from  Frere town.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho recently promised to name a street in the Frere Town ward after Mzee Ngala.