Kibra is a hot furnace of stinging sun rays when I arrive at the deputy county commissioner’s offices to register for my Huduma Namba.
The fierce 11am sun has forced queuing residents to seek shelter on the verandas of three different registration points in the centre. Some are holding discussions, others are lost in thoughts while a few shift on their feet listlessly, as if they would rather be elsewhere.
Among those pensively standing on the queue is 50-year-old Hedmand Mwasaru, a Kibra resident who says it is the radio messages he has been hearing that have convinced him to head here.
He has heard of the many myths surrounding the Huduma Namba, he tells me. But, being the optimist that he is, the father of two has decided that he will “register first and see what next”.
“Lakini wewe na akili yako si ndio utajua vile unajiamulia, ama vipi? Si ati lazima ufuate mambo za redio ama rumours za binadamu kama wewe (You have to decide on your own and not rely on rumours, not even the radio),” says the casual labourer. He is not about to be persuaded by other people’s talk because he has a mind of his own, he says.
In the queues, most people are carrying their birth certificates and, for a moment, I am afraid that I will not be served. Thankfully, a clerk tells me that a national identity card is just enough.
After a while, my turn to register comes. It is a fairly routine exercise that resembles passport application in many ways. But unlike passport registration where big cameras and dedicated scanners capture one’s fingerprints and signature, here every function is crammed into a tablet the size of an exercise book.
A loaded tablet, this. Its camera takes the passport photo. The same camera is used to scan the filled application form plus any original documents the applicant has.
The tablet’s screen provides typing space for the clerk to fill the electronic version of the applicant’s form. At latter stages of the application, the screen also becomes a scanner where the applicant uses a stylus tucked somewhere on the edge to input his or her signature.
At one corner of the tablet is a scanner whose length is nearly equal to the distance between the two holes of an electricity socket. This one emits some flickering red light to scan a person’s fingerprints. As I sit down to provide my details, the officer with the application form sits in front of me as the other with the tablet sits to my right.
“Name? Gender? Place of birth? Living with disability?” The questions keep coming. As one officer writes in the printed form, another keys in the information into the tablet.
Then there is a place for indicating my ID number, birth certificate number, NHIF number, driving licence number, NSSF number, KRA PIN and passport number.
But because I only have the ID and the NHIF cards with me, only the ID and NHIF numbers are entered. For every number you provide, they tell me, you need to physically present the document so it can be photographed.
Marital status next. You can list up to five wives. Has anyone run out of space to list his wives? I ask the clerk.
He says no. This being Kibra where there is a good number of Muslims, he says, there are men who have married up to four because their religion allows it. He has not seen anyone list more than that.
I stutter at the section that calls for identifying my residence in Nairobi to the smallest administrative area. Other than knowing its general name, I have not the slightest idea what sub-county, division, sub-location or village I reside in.
Half-panicked, I call my landlord’s son to ask. He, too, does not have the slightest of clues. Thankfully, an officer available calls someone who gives him a few leads that help identify the details of the place.
Then they ask for my level of education, employment status and whether I am engaged in agricultural activities. Those are dispatched quickly. The longest process is the capturing of my fingerprints. The tiny scanner takes just one finger at a time and it is not uncommon for it to bleep back after pressing a certain finger against it. The message on the screen says the finger has already been captured. But it hasn’t.
After a great deal of thrusting my fingers onto the face of the scanner, nine of my 10 fingers are captured. One stubbornly fails to register in the machine after very numerous attempts and vigorous wiping of both the finger and the scanner surface. I wonder why it has to be the left middle finger.
“Or maybe it is because you are sweating,” the officer jokes. I am not sweating at all.
After about 30 minutes, I am done. They say it should take 15 or less, but the limitations of the gadget cannot guarantee that.
In the end I get a long sheet of paper, almost the size of a ruler, with the heading “acknowledgement slip”. It’s an anti-climax because I thought I could get my number instantly but no, the clerk says.
“We will inform you when it is out,” he says. Somewhere in the application form, I had provided my phone number and email address. So, I am optimistic they will let me know.
As leave the station, Mr Mwasaru is still queuing, waiting for his turn. He says he is ready to wait till the process is finalised, even if it takes the whole day.