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Why some Kenyans are against Huduma Namba

Wednesday February 20 2019

Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang

Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang (facing camera from left), Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno, Uasin Gishu County Commissioner Abdi Hassan and Turbo Sub-County Administrator Wilson Sawe give their details to workers from Huduma Namba on February 18, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PETER MBURU
By PETER MBURU
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A section of Kenyans have taken issue with the government’s ambitious Sh6 billion digital registration exercise that seeks to give everyone in the country a unique code dubbed Huduma Namba.

Kenyans particularly took issue with the threat that those who fail to register will not access essential government services.

“Every Kenyan has constitutional entitlement to public services. It is not a government privilege,” Mr Ndung’u Wainaina said.

Economist David Ndii, who is one of the key critics campaigning against the project on social media, said the government veered from the original intent that was to upgrade the country’s outdated identification card system.

“‏I followed the original “single source of truth” project closely since it was my wife leading it, even contributed a few ideas. Its objective was to upgrade the national ID from biographic to biometric, meaning that our ID numbers would be linked to the biometrics as opposed to names. The final product of the project would have been a new clean pop database to replace IPRS and a digital/biometric 4th generation ID. All other registries/cards would be linked to that,” Dr Ndii said on Tuesday.

“This has now morphed (pun intended) to a new-fangled parallel system which sounds like a social security cum surveillance system with commercial interests lurking in the background. If this was upgrading the ID system, there would be no need to threaten people with denial of services in order to comply. We are already accustomed to upgrading our IDs every so often.”

'MANIPULATION FEARS'

The economist urged Kenyans to resist the new system because the government failed to conduct public participation forums and there is a risk the system can be manipulated by parties with vested interests.

Kenyans have created twitter hashtags #ResistHudumaNamba, #HudumaNamba and #IamNotBoarding to campaign against the project.

Oxford and Harvard-trained lawyer Nanjala Nyabola aslo faulted the government for not conducting public education on the importance of the new card before rolling out the project.

“…If the thing had been rolled out properly instead of through roadside declaration, we wouldn't be asking these questions so that's another layer,” said Ms Nyabola in a thread on concerns the card will be used to pay for government services.

Deported lawyer Miguna Miguna also joined the debate, claiming the system could be used to “create fake IDs and voters’ cards for purposes of stealing elections and referenda.”

However, others said the card will reduce the burden of having to carry many documents from various government agencies just to access critical services.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the project earlier this year, he said the new system will be “the authentic single source of truth on personal identity in Kenya”, meaning the card will in many ways replace the existing identity cards.

PILOT PROJECT

The government started testing the plan to register nearly 50 million Kenyans for the digital database on Monday.

Some of the counties in the pilot project include Kisii, Kisumu, Wajir Nairobi, Uasin Gishu, Kajiado, Baringo, Marsabit, Embu, Makueni, Busia, Nyandarua, Kiambu, Kilifi and Tana River,

Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho said 31,500 kits have been distributed in readiness for the mass rollout covering the country’s 8,500 sub-locations next month.

Controversy hit the procurement of the biometric kits in July last year when it emerged that three companies were invited to bid instead of going through competitively.

Questions were raised on why the Sh3 billion tender was conducted through desk research.

The tender was eventually awarded to Idemia, a merger of Oberthur Technologies (OT) and Safran Identity & Security (Morpho), which supplied the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission with the Sh3.8 billion Kiems gadgets used to identify voters during the August 8, 2017 General Election.