I stopped taking humans seriously when I learned that a human being needs a birth certificate, as if their existence is in question, and a death certificate when they die to prove that they are dead and buried. When my daughter was born, I was advised to wait for two months before applying for a birth certificate at the Registrar of births and deaths office in Kenya.
I waited, and after two months, the office told me that I needed to wait for another month. I waited for two more months, just in case, because I could not afford to go there and be turned back again. After application, I was told to go back after three months to pick up the birth certificate. I went back to the office after three months, and there was still no birth certificate. I was advised to wait for another month. I graciously waited for two months, because I knew governments are just governments.
When I went to pick the certificate, I had to sit and wait for three hours as they prepared it, only to receive one with a misspelt name. I protested, and they simply asked me to write the correct name on a piece of paper, then they went ahead to erase the wrong name, and wrote the correct name.
One solution to rule them all, or not?
Such is the experience that one gets from government offices in Kenya. Be it about birth certificates, national ID, KRA PIN (which is easy to register but hard to use), NSSF, NHIF, the 5:00 am queue for passport, or senior citizens queuing for hours waiting for Older Persons Cash Transfer activities. Kenya's government has, in my opinion, lousy staff and very poor service delivery.
Now, all of a sudden, the government has had a brainwave, and now has one magic solution to all these problems; Huduma Namba. When I first heard about Huduma Namba registration, my first question was ‘who called it a number?’
A number that you need to have in order to access all government services is suspicious. It did not help any better that the government started coming up with draft laws that would prevent farmers from selling milk to their neighbours, or even using animal manure. The government was saying that you cannot farm or sell your produce, and you need a number.
Citizen data collection drive
Why would a government need a new number when there is already an existing unique identifier?
The ID number is unique, and the government already has the biometric details of 19,7 million Kenyans who registered as voters.
Do you know what is 19,7 million people?
Kenya has a population of 49 million people, with 51,3% of people being 0-19 years. This would mean that the rest of the people, who were over 18 when Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was doing their data collection and registration for elections stands at 23,8 million. In short, the number of Kenyans over 19 years who are not in the IEBC register is about 4 million. Factor in the new people who got their IDs in the last two years and the total becomes 6 million.
That is not the full story. The government intends to register even minors who are between 6 and 18 years. This approach is worrying because we know how poor the government is at securing data, and in this case it is biometric data which can never be changed in case of a breach.
Why also register people in the diaspora?
The government has all their details, including biometric data through the department of immigration.
There are about 2,5 million Kenyan passports that have been issued. Have they changed their fingerprints?
Have they grown horns?
I do not think that plastic surgery is that prevalent.
Why are we spending billions harvesting data which we already have?
I have a few thoughts on this:
- It is easier to build on an existing system than to develop one from scratch.
- No number can make service delivery efficient. A government that is unable to deliver on basic things cannot use a magical number like a magician to solve all problems.
- I have seen politicians who acquired the IEBC register to use in order to contact potential voters. If they already sold the IEBC data to some very low bidders, what about the high bidders who really need this NIIMS data? Remember you can change your phone number if misused, but you can never change your fingerprints.
- In connection to that, why can’t the government first of all finish up with The Data Protection Bill of 2018 in order to ensure that our data is safe? Why does the government want to take crucial data for our children without guaranteeing that the data will be kept safe?
- Timing. When the government has admitted that it is having logistical challenges sending relief food to starving people who are very starving but none has decided to die of hunger yet, it also has 6 billion shillings to reach all the corners of the country for NIIMS
That said, the main thing I see in this Huduma Number is the 6 billion. It is their turn to eat.
We need a savior.
Cover image credit: Huduma Namba website.