State’s determination to roll out NIIMS despite objections telling

The government has gone into extraordinary action to validate the now-controversial National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), including through enlisting the support of Opposition politicians. In addition to Opposition leader Raila Odinga, now an ardent defender of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, especially in the so-called war against corruption, the government has now obtained a public endorsement from the entire leadership of the former opposition NASA. After the elections in 2017, NASA has been less able to speak with one voice with the handshake between Kenyatta and Raila last year, further consolidating the divisions within NASA. However, a way has been found for the entire NASA leadership to express unified support for NIIMS.

A High Court ruling had barred certain parts of the NIIMS rollout. The ruling prevents the government from collecting DNA or Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates from any person. Also, the court vacated the compulsory nature of NIIMS. Further, the court ordered that registration under NIIMSmust remain open-ended, and would not be time-bound as the government had announced. The court also clarified that the government cannot make registration under NIIMS a pre-condition to accessing public services as it had been threatened. Finally, the court barred the government from sharing information collected under NIIMS with any other public or foreign entity.

While the court orders are temporary, likely to remain in force until the case is heard, they have already dealt a fatal blow to the original plans on NIIMS, by changing key assumptions on which the system was predicated and also important design features. As originally conceived, NIIMS was supposed to be compulsory and, therefore, universal.

Court order

The ability to issue “a unique personal identification number to every person registered in the register” was based on the assumption that NIIMS would be compulsory and universal. NIIMS set out to collect DNA, the most private personal information, as well as information about the physical addresses of persons it registered. The court order has now suspended both of these abilities. Its universality, the declared intention to make NIIMS a collating point for all public information on registration and the fixed timeline within which registration was to take place, all served to give NIIMS both authority and finality.

While the endeavor to establish NIIMS as a final and authoritative registration system was designed as the distinguishing strength, it has also proved the weakness and is the source of the concerns that have since arisen. Further, NIIMS was originally exclusive to documented citizens and registered foreign nationals, leaving out other categories of persons found in Kenya.

The excluded categories include undocumented citizens and stateless persons resident in Kenya. Until the Makonde obtained Kenyan nationality in 2017, stateless people had lived in the shadow of Kenyan society, invisible to everybody except themselves. Following the recognition of the Makonde, other stateless people in Kenya have found a voice and are now also agitating for nationality. Because the government does not recognize stateless people, it does not know their number or where they live. The Shona, originally from Zimbabwe and living in parts of Kiambu, where the locals call them Zambians, as well as descendants of Rwandese, Burundian, Somali, and Zanzibari people constitute some of the stateless communities in Kenya.

Following criticism that the NIIMS law does not recognise undocumented people, the forms for collecting information have since been amended to capture data on stateless people. This has been done without first amending the law, as would have been necessary. Because its scheme has now been so badly undermined by the court order and the public opposition, the logical decision would have been for the government to suspend the NIIMS process until it had carried out an assessment on what to do not only to comply with the court order but also address the considerable concerns raised.

Instead, the government has taken the extraordinary measure of enlisting support from the former opposition, and also a media campaign that is designed to whitewash the emerging concerns. Also, rather than obey the court orders, the vapourings from government are that NIIMS will be implemented as originally designed and in disregard of the court order.

In his public defence of NIIMS, President Kenyatta criticised people who equate it with the biblical mark of the beast. Whatever it is, NIIMS threatens the ability of citizens to obtain services in the same way as the biblical mark is supposed to threaten services by curtailing trade. Naturally, the determinedeffort to implement NIIMS, which has necessitated unusual alliance with the opposition, while brushing off all objections, raises questions as to the real reason for such determination. The best answer has been provided by economist David Ndii, in his article in The Elephant, titled, Crony Capitalism and State Capture 2: Documents Reveal the Kenyatta Family’s Plans to Take over Lending to SMEs.

- The writer is the Executive Director at KHRC. [email protected]