High Court slams break on Maisha Namba roll-out

Immigration and Citizen Services PS Julius Bitok (center) addresses the media after a stakeholders' engagement forum on the digital ID and Maisha Namba at the Nairobi Serena Hotel on November 1, 2023. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The High Court in Nairobi has slammed the brakes on the government’s plan to roll out new generation identification cards dubbed Maisha Namba.

Justice John Chigiti directed the Kenya Kwanza administration not to register or issue the cards.

The case was filed by human rights lobby, Katiba Institute.

Katiba’s lawyer Dudley Ochiel argued that Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki was committing the same sins done during a similar exercise for Huduma Namba when millions of Kenyans were forced to register in 2019 only to end up having a card that is not recognised.

New exercise

The lawyer said the government rolled out the new exercise even before the appropriate law is enacted.

Ochiel said the government has not conducted a data protection impact assessment as required by Section 31 of the Data Protection Act.

The court further heard that the government did not conduct public participation.

According to Ochiel, Kenya Kwanza is dodging the law the same way the Jubilee government did with Huduma Namba.

He asserted that President William Ruto-led government wants to illegally use the data collected by the former Jubilee administration.

“For a second time, the respondents have ignored this court’s rulings and have violated Section 31 of the Data Protection Act. They remain intent on building the Maisha Namba on the shaky foundation of data illegally collected and processed through Huduma Namba,” argued Ochiel.

The High Court had declared the collection of data during the Huduma Namba exercise null and void.

Two cases were filed against the project launched by former president Uhuru Kenyatta.

At the heart of that cases was whether the data collected from millions of Kenyans was secure and free from manipulation by government operatives.

At the same time, there were questions whether there was public participation, and if the same was anchored in law or not.

In the case filed by the Nubian community, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Kenya Human Rights Commission, the court heard that National Identification Integrated Management System (NIIMS) was passed through the backdoor as the public was neither consulted nor involved. Also, no tender was floated to ensure competitiveness.

The State disputed the same, saying the Interior Ministry was just collating information from all other government agencies and storing the same in a centralised server. 

The High Court judges Mumbi Ngugi, Pauline Nyamweya and Weldon  Korir allowed the government to proceed with the exercise but barred it from collecting DNA.

Nubian Community

However, Nubian Community appealed the decision.

In a twist, judge Jairus Ngaah invalidated the project, noting the National Assembly failed to consult the Senate before enacting the Data Protection Act.

Justice Ngaah faulted the government for collecting and processing data based on the invalidated Act.

Kenya Kwanza government is planning to use Sh1 billion for Maisha Namba project.