It has been a few weeks now since the government launched the Huduma Namba registration process. And now officials have been touting some spectacular number of 11 to 15 million or 18 million registered in the new Huduma Namba system, despite the negative noise that the exercise has garnered in the media.
A lot of the concerns have been about the intrusion of privacy, and the lack of data protection laws and the exercise to collect data that the government already has albeit in different agency databases. Kenyans are already struggling to get other ‘new generation” documents like new passports, new school curriculums, and new driver licenses, so what is the need for one more?
These numbers are impressive, but they are also deceptive. In the 2017 election, there were 19.7 million registered voters; these were adults over eighteen, who wanted to choose their leaders. It is possible that the announced Huduma registered numbers include children whose parents are invited to add their data into the system and Kenyan schools record almost a million new students a year. The Huduma system also includes foreign nationals. Also, unlike with voter registration, which had to be physically done in the constituency in which you intended to vote, and which may have deterred voters who knew they would not be able to travel twice in 2017 from registering, the Huduma Namba registration can be done anywhere in the country, and these circumstances should all result in more uptake.
The idea of Huduma is noble. In a podcast with Africa Report released last week on regional banking, KCB CEO Joshua Oigara described the Huduma Namba as a ''single source of truth'', one that would enable banks to make better decisions about borrowers. It was likened to a giant biometric registration exercise that was done in India.
Part of the image problem with the ongoing registration exercise is that the name 'Huduma' has been used several times before. While companies like Coca Cola, Kenya Breweries and Safaricom, who roll out numerous campaigns, come up with new slogans or slang each time, like Kocho Kocho, Bambua Tafrija, and Dunda Majuu, the Government is more rigid. The Huduma Namba has been confused with Huduma centres, and also with a Huduma payment card that was being rolled out, in partnership with MasterCard.
Would Huduma have worked and been this successful if the government had just made an admission that it wished to clean up and improve the quality of useful data in its many databases of security, health, immigration, education and land and pensions, among others?
There was no need using opposition leaders as cheerleaders and local administration to threaten villagers that they will be denied government services or that their hospital bills will be waived once they have a Huduma Namba.
There could also be a political angle to this. 2019 is the year of the national census. The last one in 2009 had concerns that certain regions had cooked numbers and there are leaders who firmly believe that their opponents still inflate their number during elections. Having a database of verified super citizen data should put this to rest. After all, Kenya’s Planning Ministry had already confessed that they have a good idea of what numbers will result from the August 2019 census.