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Overhaul process of registering persons

OPINION
By Mohammed Guleid | September 29th 2014

According to the Kenyan law, everyone is required to be registered either as a Kenyan or a foreigner. It is not a matter of choice for one to acquire identification documents.

For purposes of getting employment, renting a house or even opening a bank account, every person that lives within the borders of Kenya is required to have recognised identification papers.

The amendments to CAP 107 of the laws of Kenya have included passports, alien identity cards and military IDs as identification documents for official purposes.

Personal identification in Kenya and the law that governs this legislation can be traced back to the colonial period when adult males were required to walk everywhere with a copper-plated metal around their necks.

This metal was then infamously referred to as ‘kipande’, a term that is still used today to refer to the current identification card that every adult aged 18 years and above in the country is required to carry.

The legislation referred to then as Native registration Ordinance was passed in 1915 with the intention of controlling the movement of the natives.

In independent Kenya, the registration of persons act CAP 107 was amended in 1978 to require both male and female adults to register themselves and carry an identity card at all times.

Every Kenyan therefore must ensure that he or she gets this very important document. Failure to acquire an identification card under the law is an offence.

However, many Kenyans suffer in the process of acquiring identity documents.

It takes almost a year to get an ID and sometimes one might not even get it.

Youths from border areas, and especially Northern Kenya, are the most affected.

The application process involves appearing before committees that have to identify the person and ascertain his or her origin.

This is ridiculous because even though someone might originally have come from a certain area, it does not mean one is forced to live in that same area.

In fact, the methods used to identify people are so primitive that it could disadvantage someone if there is no positive identification.

A committee might simply fail to recognise someone for the simple reason that through migration, one might be domiciled elsewhere in Kenya.

In more developed countries, issuance of identity cards is much more straightforward and entails very little effort.

Citizens of these countries only need to appear at the identification section of the local municipality and acquiring an identity document is assured.

This is made possible by an efficient basic registration system by the local authorities. Modern technology has made it possible to manage this process without depending on human knowledge.

Methods used in Northern Kenya counties of identifying young people are not only cumbersome, they create room for corruption. Since the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall, it has become clear that we need to drastically improve the ways of identifying our people for issuance of identity documents.

A database that interlinks different counties using computers could make issuance of identity documents very easy and efficient.

This could in the short-term appear to be expensive, but in the long term it would improve our security and help cut down the amount of time it takes for one to acquire an identity card or a passport.

Different stakeholders and State organs including the security agencies, the customs department, health agencies and even disaster management departments are in a good position to make this system a success.

In particular, the Kenya Revenue Authority has an important stake in improving the database upon which people who default on payment of taxes can easily be traced.

In Kenya, even though a physical address system that is well developed might not be possible, the village approach can be used.

The Government should invest and ask the public to contribute in this venture to make Kenya habitable for us all.

The national census day would provide a suitable moment to capture and create a good database since everyone is expected to participate in this exercise.

If all the people are captured in the database, an expensive exercise like a national census would not be necessary and could become a thing of the past.

It is therefore necessary for the national government, with the assistance of the county governments, to embark on a pilot study of several counties to see whether a better database for our population can be created.

This process will not only improve revenue collection, but also reduce crime since everyone can be traced easily to the position where he is domiciled.

In case one plans to move to another area, the authorities need to be informed so that the database can be updated.

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