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Provision of ID cards is a basic right of all Kenyans

By Edwin Sifuna | May 10th 2015

We have had a lot of commentary on the Okoa Kenya draft Bill and that was just what the Okoa Kenya team wanted. The draft Bill is an invitation for a public debate on issues therein.

A lot of criticism of the bill are misguided and fail to contextualise the history of the process from its inception to where we are now.

One of the key proposals contained therein is a requirement for the Government to issue Identification Cards within 60 days of the application being made. Under Article 12 (1) (b) of the Constitution, every Kenyan is entitled to a registration/identification document including a passport and National Identity Card (ID). Last weekend at a meeting with young people from some universities within Nairobi, the students underscored the importance of putting the proposals in the Bill in “a language they could understand”.

Well it can’t get simpler than this; without an ID, one cannot vote, open a bank account, register a business, acquire a driving licence, transact mobile phone banking, purchase property, access higher education or even obtain formal employment; further, without this vital document, one finds oneself a victim of arbitrary arrest and extortion by the police on spurious grounds.

Needless to say, hindrance to easy access to critical documents like the Identity Card which enhance the enjoyment of rights and freedoms, is a violation of these very rights. Our experience with many of these constitutional entitlements has shown that they largely remain hollow because of our peculiar realities. It is one thing to have a right in this country and a different thing to actually enjoy the it. It is great irony for instance that the government has been touting programmes such as the Uwezo and Youth funds, and government tenders for youth, while fully aware that there are millions of youth unable to take advantage because they have been waiting for the all important ID card for eons.

Recently, the government put out a notice saying that issuance of IDs had come to a halt since “we had run out of photo paper”. These are the sort of unbelievable stories that lead one to conclude that something is afoot. It is clear that games are being played. Delaying of IDs is a weapon of economic subjugation aimed at keeping swathes of the population poor to ensure they continue to be politicians’ poodles.

Further, because registration as a voter is linked to possession of an ID, issuance of IDs has become political as well. The efficiency of registering Kenyans varies from region to region depending on whose political backyard it is. In opposition strongholds, issuance of the all important document is at best lethargic.

This is not a random occurrence. As I have said before, I do not believe in coincidence. Having noted that the opposition has invigorated the grassroots and sensitised the youth on the need to make their voices heard, a containment strategy has been crafted which involves a deliberate go slow on the issuance of ID cards.

The figures tell a story of their own. According to the Kenya Facts and Figures 2014, an official publication of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the number of IDs issued in 2011, a year before the elections was 1,413,842. The following year which happened to be an election year, the number of IDs issued ballooned to 2,282,378. The phrase tyranny of numbers takes on a whole new meaning. Having inflated the correct voting banks and made away with the election, the number of IDs made mysteriously dropped to 1,723,186 in 2013.

This sort of pattern would puzzle observers at a distance, but it is readily recognised by any Kenyan. It’s an advanced game of pre-emptive election rigging. The proposal by the Okoa Kenya team should help put a stop to these shenanigans.

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