Lobby groups oppose Maisha Namba roll out

Nubian Rights Forum Executive Director Shafi Ali Hussein, address the press on 14th September 2023 at KHRC office located at Valley Arcade in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Lobby groups have expressed concern about the rollout of the Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) number dubbed “Maisha Namba” by President William Ruto’s administration.

They say that the UPI has no difference with Huduma Namba which was declared unconstitutional by the courts in October 2021.

Immigration and Citizen Principal Secretary Julius Bitok said that President Ruto will oversee the rollout on September 29, 2023.

The group comprising ten Human Rights Organizations say that they wrote to Bitok asking the government to take immediate action to ensure the enactment of proper legislation and meaningful public participation.

In the letter they also sought to have the government ensure that Kenyans have access to critical documentation like birth certificates and IDs as well as adequate data protection measures as well as adherence to the law in the process used to create the digital identity system.

“We further wish to remind the government of the unacceptable consequences of discrimination, eroding of privacy and exclusion for communities that have historically struggled with access to documentation that were witnessed with a similarly hurried and flawed implementation of Huduma Namba,” said Nubian Rights Forum (NRF) Executive Director Shaffi Ali Hussein.

They said that the rollout is opaque, lacks public engagement and that the lack of procedural and legal safeguards will wreak havoc on the way Kenyans access nationality documents.

They argue that the rollout will bring together existing data belonging to Kenyans and foreigners in the National Master Population Register and others whose system they say has not been upgraded yet and needs reforms.

They argue that the government did not involve Kenyans in its new plan to develop digital IDs and risks going down the same route Huduma Namba did with the Jubilee government.

They said that they are not opposed to digital IDs but the government needs to ensure that they get it right and improve access to nationality, data protection and the privacy of an individual.

"We experienced firsthand in our communities the harms of digital identity systems, where it locked out people who struggle with documentation, denied citizens services, excessively collected personal data and impeded fundamental freedoms," said Annette Opiyo a ParaLegal with NRF.

PS Bitok was blamed for negating to involve the public in the process through public participation despite promising to do so.

“The commitment statements made by the PS at the time on public participation, transparency, engagement, and accountability have, however, not manifested in practice,” said Abdi Gedi, PARA Net programs manager.

They now want the enactment of a proper framework to govern the system, conduct public participation and abolish the vetting of some communities when applying for ID’s and an assessment conducted on Data Protection and Human Rights Impact of the UPI.

They also want all people who have been excluded or are unable to obtain identification documents to be issued with the same as well as those who have no access to the same especially those living in underserved areas.

The Lobby Groups have called on the government to include Human Rights groups in the National Digital Identity Technical Committee and as it gears towards the rollout, it should improve infrastructure.

“We will sit down with the team and look for the loopholes in Maisha Namba before challenging it in court,” said Hussein adding that the two identification systems are the same.