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When Kenya almost had two national Identity cards

 KANU executive officer Mwai Kibaki, KANU VP Oginga Odinga and the new Kenya Party leader Michael Blundell at Parliament Buildings, March 8, 1961. [File, Standard]

If all goes according to plan, Kenyans will have a new form of identification before end of the year. The Universal Personal Identification, the new ID, will join a long list of identification documents.

In 1957, when Kenya proposed to introduce a universal form of identification, there was a revolt. All the Europeans in the colony rejected the idea of having their fingerprints taken.

The whites who had demanded that all Africans be issued with identity cards, containing their bio data and records of employment, could not fathom carrying around a similar document.

When the government first mooted the idea of taking everyone's fingerprints for issuance of a new identity cards in 1946, a committee comprising of members of the Legislative Council went round the country collecting views.

During the time the committee chaired by Bertland Glancy was going round collecting views, there had been a universal proposal for fingerprints.

The views were presented to the Labour Advisory committee in October 1946 recommending universal fingerprinting for purposes of compiling a national register.

The following year, in July, the legislation was presented in the council and went through the first and the second reading without any hullabaloo. However in 1949 just as the Bill was about to be enacted into law, hell broke loose.

Trans Nzoia representative Charles Mortimer moved a motion for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to review the ordinance. He was supported by extremists such as Michael Blundell.

The proponents of the commission of inquiry wanted to force the government to consider alternative methods of identification other than fingerprinting which the Europeans associated with illiteracy and backwardness.

The government was put to task to explain why it had not acted on the recommendations of introducing two IDs, one for those who had no education and the other for Europeans who abhorred the idea of being finger printed.

The issue became hot, forcing the government to defend itself against accusations of undermining the authority of Parliament by ignoring the findings of a commission of inquiry.

A lot of water has since passed under the bridge and when the post independent government issued the ID in 1979, everybody including the president had to be fingerprinted. Women too were for the first time issued with IDs. The politics of ID still persist 76 years later.

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