Recent weeks have seen the queues at Huduma Number registration stations grow longer in the Capital City. Safe to say that the same is being replicated all over the country going by the President’s Delivery Unit tweet that announced that 20 million Kenyans had registered by 28th April 2019. The number grew by 9 million Kenyans in just 9 days, an average of a million per day.
Now as to whether this is a reflection of Kenyans’ enthusiasm to willfully register or not, is debatable. Reason being that there are a couple of factors that are in play to either motivate or demotivate Kenyans to join the bandwagon.
The conflicting information coming from the government and its agencies has had Kenyans in a limbo. In an article on the popular daily, Daily Nation, Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) threatened to block sim cards of all those who would fail to register for the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS). Shortly thereafter, the State House Chief of Staff, Nzioka Waita contradicted the statement via a tweet stating that the government is focused on upholding the court ruling to ensure the process is voluntary.
For government agencies to have the confidence to issues threats that violate court rulings shows there are more issues to raise concerning NIIMS than the official rhetoric about it. For instance, are there any consequences to those who opt out of the registration process that the government is not communicating? Does failure to register put one in a vulnerable position where they’d be subjected to harassment or extortion when seeking government services? Will the Huduma Number have priority over other forms of identification in the near future? The threats coupled with unanswered questions have resulted in a fear-driven populace that chooses to do what the government says lest they become victimized.
Besides the threats, there are other matters that have raised red flags. ICT Cabinet Secretary, Joe Mucheru came out to reassure Kenyans that the registration would still carry on smoothly despite the company charged with this initiative, IDEMIA formerly OT Morpho, being blacklisted by the National Assembly. How was a company that was in the middle of the controversial 2017 general election still hired to conduct such a weighty and sensitive initiative? The association that Kenyans have with the infamous French company should have been enough to award this tender to someone else. But again the idea of public participation in this whole process has been elusive, given that little is known about the tendering process.
“I have gone through the Bill and I have seen quite a number of major amendments. The amendments are basically good and a lot of them seek to add value to the laws that exist. It is unfortunate that they have come as omnibus; they have all come together, so they may not receive the kind of attention that they require.” These were Kathiani MP’s, Robert Mbui’s opening remarks in support of the Statute Law (Miscellaneous) Bill 2018 that was read a second time on 7th August 2018, attesting to how wanting the whole journey of this Bill from inception to passing had been. Such a weighty issue might have just been denied adequate deliberation and public contribution.
Despite the fact that there are obvious benefits of this new system, you can’t fault Kenyans for being skeptics if the process is shrouded with secrecy. However, if even our lame-duck Parliament has raised questions about the tendering process and how a black-listed company IDEMIA got part of the contract, the whole NIIMS project stinks to the high heavens.