Huduma Bill: Prepare for jail

Thursday July 25 2019

Next week, the government is finally calling for the views of Kenya on the Huduma Bill, conducting a public participation forum at the Kenya School of Government (far enough for people who don’t care enough to not come) on July 31 (mid-week for working Kenyans, who are not likely to take a morning off) from 9 am. This bill that they want to pass will basically make you a criminal for doing anything without a Huduma Namba – and that is not an exaggeration. It’s almost as if the government is redefining what it means to be a citizen by the card, instead of by birth.

The Daily Nation has previously stated that ''The Huduma card shall serve as the official government-issued document for identification and conduct of transactions. This means that you will be required to have Huduma Namba to register as a voter, access universal healthcare, passport, apply for a driving licence, register a mobile phone number, pay taxes, transact in the financial markets and open a bank account.''


The thing is, even though Kenyans were doing all of these things before, we weren’t doing it in a way that is controlled by a central (unguided) database. Even though when you key in your KRA pin, it automatically links to your email address, ID number, phone number, etc. – as does our new driver’s licenses with chips in them, and our passports – but apparently that isn’t enough linking. Apparently we need to once again link our information in another new system that will beat anything we have had before, ignoring the fact that the only things our current systems have managed to beat is a record for inefficiency. For some reason, we are to believe that this new dispensation will somehow offer a whole new world to us, while being run by the same people, with the same computers, in the same companies. But we’ll be made to pay for it again, I am sure, in a bold new budget that makes sure we pay for our debt to China with a whole country 14 times over.


Though the government claims that our information is intact, scandals like Cambridge Analytica and Safaricom’s recent hack spree prove otherwise. Should Kenyans even care if our data is private, if we are willingly on Facebook and Face App anyway? Yes. Yes, we should. Because consent was involved in signing up for Facebook – unlike this card and number being shoved down our throats (also, who asked for a Master Card link? And why Master Card?). And, let’s not forget that the High Court already said that registration was not mandatory: ‘In March this year, the High Court ruled that Huduma Namba registration should be voluntary and no one should be denied services. The government from February to May this year, undertook a voluntary Huduma Namba registration, netting about 35 million Kenyans.’ But denying services is exactly what they are trying to do.


It has been said that among the things that people without Huduma Namba will miss out on include registering marriages, registering for electricity connection and enrolling in public educational facilities. Most Kenyans don’t register their marriages anyway, seeing as most marriages in Kenya are customary. A lot of houses don’t have electrification in the first place, much less need to enlist for it – perhaps if the government fulfilled that promise, then there would be a need for this threat. Enrolling in educational facilities almost seems pointless if you’re not in a major city, town centre or somewhere a former president built a school – because educational resources are not evenly distributed, the curriculum hasn’t been figured out and teachers are working on less than bare minimum, which leads to many teachers doing less than the bare minimum.


People who seek services without the number will be jailed for one year or pay a fine of Sh1 million. For getting services from a government that is supposed to be for Kenyans. It feels like we’re being put in a cage and prodded with electric wiring to see how far they can go. Transacting without a number has the same penalty, as does failure to register a birth. Then there’s a general penalty – which I suppose is for anything a policeman catches you with – put at six months in jail or a Sh5 million fine.
The jail cells are going to be quite full, if the Huduma Namba fiasco is anything to go by. Huduma Namba has been rife with miscommunication, threats, legalese and rampant confusion, topped with an insistence that despite all these things, Huduma Namba and Huduma Master Card must go on. Not only that, the issuing of the basic number has been fraught with appeals for return registration, extended deadlines (because obviously 35 million people did not register for this thing, as earlier lied) and incomplete information. How are they going to manage a countrywide card distribution when they can’t even issue IDs to Nubians in Nairobi?

I guess at some point they’ll get to me too and force me to register for something I care nothing for but will end up paying for regardless, browbeaten into submission by leaders I didn’t vote for, intent on selling my data for the next election and colonisation. It’s a bad idea, and I’m just adding my voice to the collective. Perhaps for once, the government will miraculously care for something other than its fat pockets and runaway borrowing.

Twitter: @AbigailArunga