The issues surrounding the rollout of the government database for Kenyans under the National Integrated Information Management System (NIIMS) program was highlighted at the start of the past week, when the High Court of Kenya passed a directive that the exercise was not mandatory, among other rulings that were given on that Monday.
It should be noted that the exercise was subject to a series of controversial issues. To begin with, it was promoted as a mandatory registration program that, at its initial staging, aimed to collect biometric data samples from citizens – a sensitive issue owing to the shaky nature of Kenya’s data protection laws. The earlier explanation was that the government was planning to hone the delivery of services using the new system, but as rumblings would have it, registration was halted after the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC), among other for-the-people institutions questioned the legality of the matter.
After the ruling, which was in favour of the people, it was particularly communicated that Kenyans could choose to register for the unique ID, or not. This was a relief to a lot of people, who have since faulted the government for engaging in unclear activities that do not explicitly state the true use of the new identifiers.
Most of us watch televised news once in a while, and for the past week, we have seen prominent politicians lobby for Huduma Namba. Day-to-day news coverage appears to conflict the High Court’s ruling as the President and opposition leader Raila Odinga have uttered statements that suggest registration is actually compulsory. According to the Standard, government administrators, including chiefs and country government officials are on a campaign to convince as many people as possible to take part in the exercise. In fact, it has been reported that workers in some counties have been told that they will not receive their monthly salaries if they do not have the number.
Generally speaking, this development highlights an issue that we have come to accept as Kenyans: blatant ignorance of court orders by people up in the government food chain if the matter under conflict serves a bigger purpose.
A few days ago, President Kenyatta said that the government was readying a financial institution/platform christened Wezesha that will offer subsidized loans to small and medium enterprises, which, predictably, could edge out similar institutions.
While it is yet to make its way here, Wezesha, which will under the leadership of CBA, will allegedly leverage Huduma Namba data to meet massive signups. We do not have any details about the real plan of the system (in fact, it was even hinted that MasterCard was planning to issue Huduma Card using the NIIMs, although this has since been disputed), but it is only a matter of time before the connection is made or refuted.
By the way, the High Court forbade the government from linking any public services with Huduma Namba, so we will see how this will play out. If at all the order is ignored then we will find ourselves queueing at a registration centre for another number that ought to be optional. The only good thing is that registration has no deadline.