The urgency and insistence of the government for citizens to register for the Huduma Namba has had several Kenyans patiently make the long queue to register. However, the truth of the matter is many Kenyans do not actually know what the huduma Namba is or what it is for. Many have been registering simply because they did not want to deal with the consequences of being denied government services as stated by Cabinet Secretary of Security, Dr. Matiang’i.
But what really is the Huduma Namba and what is it for? The Huduma Namba is an initiative by the government through the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS). According to the government, the purpose of this initiative is to create and manage a central master population database which will be the ‘single source of truth’ on a person’s identity. The database will contain information of all Kenyan citizens and foreign nationals residing in Kenya and will serve as a reference point for ease of service delivery to the people of Kenya.
What do you need to register?
To register under NIIMS and attain the Huduma Namba, you are required to carry original copies of identification documents. These are National Identification card (ID), Birth Certificate, Driving License, KRA pin and more importantly one must be physically present at the Huduma Namba station. Read more here.
While the initiative signals a determined effort to move the nation’s service provision responsibility to the digital age, with the vast possible uses of the database ranging from passport registration and renewal, social security allocation and disbursement, health insurance provision, taxation and much more, the query is why must this exercise have a deadline for registration and to what gain is it for the citizen?
The President said that the biometric registration exercise builds on the Integrated Population Registration System(IPRS) which has been providing a platform to link civil data. However, this has been inadequate with the demanding needs of the citizens. He further said that the digital population register will aid in the following:
- Birth and death registration
- National planning
- Facilitate the Big 4 Agenda faster
- Reduce transaction costs; Kenyans won’t need to carry multiple identification cards
- Reduce cases of identity theft
- Reduce lays of corruption during Passport registration,border crossing, cash transfer for elderly people.
He said that while many might be worried about the privacy of their personal data, parliament will pass a bill that will give every citizen a right to a copy of their particulars of personal data in the NIIMS database and restrict data sharing.
The Cabinet Secretary of Security Dr. Matiang’i emphasized that the exercise was necessary because not all Kenyans have the NHIF, NSSF, KRA pin thus having the huduma Namba will ensure that they can have access to these documents easily. He said that the government will put all these records together on a digital platform to ensure that they do not get lost.
The huduma Namba initiative may be borrowing the concept from the Aadhaar which is a 12-digit unique identity number that can be obtained by residents of India, based on their biometric and demographic data.
According to an article by the Business daily, In his paper, ‘‘Biometric identification, financial inclusion and economic growth in India: does mobile penetration matter? analyzing the impact of Aadhaar (the biometric identification process), Inclusion and Mobile’’, Saibal Ghosh established that there was evidence pointing to the fact that Aadhaar is making its impact felt on financial inclusion, primarily by improving financial access. Champions of the system, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, say that Aadhaar “is India’s ticket to the future, a universal, easy-to-use ID that will reduce this country’s endemic corruption and help bring even the most illiterate into the digital age.” In a New York Times article, ‘‘Big Brother’ India Requires fingerprint scans for food, phones, and finances’’, officials were reported saying taxpayers have saved at least $9.4 billion from Aadhaar by weeding out “ghosts” and other improper beneficiaries of government services.
Perhaps then, the Huduma Namba’s benefits, which carries a similar approach to Aadhaar outweigh the risks that come along with it. A paper by Kipperman defined technology as the basis for improving on the past and creating the future. Kenya has been known to have the worst cases of corruption in Africa. Here we see the government of Kenya attempting to use technology to redefine the future of Kenya through the huduma Namba. From the above study on India, it is evident that the Huduma Namba may not have a direct advantage to the citizen of Kenya however, in the long run, it may benefit the country at large.
Over the years, the Government has been keen to align itself with technology for digital transformation. The fact that the sanctioned firm Cambridge Analytica was used by the current government during the 2017 election affirms this. But perhaps it was the spark that was necessary for the government to realize that the digital age is here, and could propel the country forward if used appropriately.
By Muthoni Muchiri