KAMPALA - After years of living in the shadows of a country they have known as their home, Parliament has set in motion a process that might see the Maragoli people recognized as indigenous Ugandan citizens.
On Thursday, Parliament gave leave to MP Jack Odur Lutanywa (Kibanda South) to table a private member's Bill to amend the third schedule to Uganda's 1995 constitution.
The mooted amendment is tailored to adding the Maragoli to the 56 officially recognized indigenous Ugandan communities.
"It's high time the country discussed and addressed this issue. They (Maragoli) have been coming to my office to enlist my help. The Indians are also complaining," Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga said, adding that the House granted Lutanywa leave.
In support for the motion, Elizabeth Karungi (Kanungu district) noted that it's only fair that people who have been in Uganda for over a century should be granted citizenship.
In his justification for the motion, Lutanywa told the House that there over 30,000 stateless Maragoli people in Uganda.
"These people are living a very hard life. They have been denied national Identity Cards (IDs), passports and are incapable of receiving services like other ordinary citizens," Lutanywa said.
At the inception of the mass registration for IDs five years ago, then internal affairs minister, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima advised Maragoli to get assimilated into indigenous communities where they had settled.
However, the Maragoli flatly rejected the advice.
Around that time, the Government advised them to take the route of naturalization to acquire Ugandan citizenship.
However, the Maragoli community found it unfair since they claim to have been in Uganda beyond the 20 years required to apply for naturalized citizenship.
With National Identification and Registration Authority(NIRA) withholding an estimated 15,000 IDs belonging to Maragoli, President Yoweri Museveni in 2017 directed the ministry of constitutional affairs to include their concerns in the pending raft of constitutional amendments.
While there is a paucity of documentation regarding the origin of the Maragoli, early last year, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHR) under its project - "empowering stateless communities in East Africa" shed light on these people.
According to the report, the Maragoli migrated from present-day Saudi Arabia, through Egypt, South Sudan across the border into West Nile to settle in present-day Masindi and Kiryandongo districts in the 18th century.
A second group, according to KHR, is said to have arrived in Uganda around the 1900s during the construction of the Uganda Railway. Later in the 1950s, a third group arrived in Uganda, on the invitation of the king of Bunyoro.
Parliament's move to address citizenship of the Maragoli comes at a time when Museveni has acceded to a request by Indians to be recognized as a Ugandan indigenous community.
Under the constitution, indigenous communities are people, who were living in Uganda as of the 1st day of February 1926.
The constitution limits the two foremost offices in Uganda - President and Vice President to only indigenous Ugandans.