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Huduma Namba: Project has had controversies since inception

By Protus Onyango and Cyrus Ombati | September 27th 2020

Interior PS Karanja Kibicho.

Controversial just as it was at inception, Huduma Namba has again birthed heated political exchanges over its intended function.

Otherwise known as the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), the current debate around Huduma Namba was stirred last week by politicians allied to Deputy President William Ruto, who alleged it will be used to rig the 2022 elections.

Their utterances elicited a swift response from the Interior Ministry, which denied the claims, terming them alarmist and unfounded.

“The database logistics and the software for NIIMS are 100 per cent Kenyan government-funded, designed, developed, and solely managed by Kenyans. No single component of the implementation process is handled by foreigners,” Interior Chief Administrative Secretary Moffat Kangi said.

Kangi said over 90 per cent of the datasets collected from the 37 million Kenyans during the mass registration  exercise have been cleaned up and matched, with mass production of Huduma Namba cards set to begin by the end of this year.

The process involved collecting biometric data after which the system generates a unique number (Huduma Namba), which will enable one to access government services, including applying for a driver's licence, national identity card and birth certificate among others.

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The government started piloting of Huduma Namba in February last year in 15 counties, including Nairobi, Makueni, Uasin Gishu, Embu, Busia, Kajiado, Baringo, Marsabit, Kilifi, Kisii, Tana River, Embu, Kisumu and Wajir.

At the time, Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho said the system will be used for, among other things, tracing persons involved in crime.

The registration was aimed at having every Kenyan assigned a unique number at birth, with details of all citizens, foreigners living in the country and refugees stored in the NIIMS database.

According to Kibicho, the initial and second phases cost Sh7.7 billion.

But the process was shrouded in controversy, with the government first having to defend itself in court to answer to concerns on its capacity to protect personal details.

The Nubian community and Kenya National Humans Right Commission had filed a case before High Court judges Weldon Korir, Pauline Nyamweya and Mumbi Ngugi.

They were afraid that people’s details may not be well protected.

“If I give out my personal details and later die, there is a possibility of impersonation. Someone could easily access details such as my bank accounts,” said Aisha Suleiman, a representative of the Nubian community.

They also questioned the credibility of the company that was given the tender to supply the Huduma Namba kits, and also questioned its relationship with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission (IEBC).

Concerns also emerged on a provision that would allow people to change their personal details captured in their Huduma Namba database, with questions on how additional data provided by individuals would be verified.

Kenyans were also worried that they could be denied essential services if they did not have Huduma Namba. The government later denied this was the case. 

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