Huduma Namba is not a new thing to Kenyans. We were first introduced to the unique number during the staging of Connected Kenya at Bomas by the ICT Minister Joe Mucheru. In the early part of 2019, the government dedicated a significant portion of its time to rally for identifier, citing that it would help it deliver services to Kenyans in a streamlined manner.
A brief history: Phase I
The Huduma Namba concept was introduced in October 2018 at the Bomas of Kenya by ICT CS Joe Mucheru. At the event, Mr. Mucheru announced that Kenyans would be assigned with special numbers or identifiers that to help hasten the delivery of services. The Huduma number would then be given to all Kenyans in an attempt to synchronize citizens’ data with other government services.
In January 2019, the President called for the first registration exercise. At that time, it was also reported that the registration would augment the features and offerings of the Integrated Population Registration System that maintains a national population register for social and economic development as the government continued to develop a central master population database.
The exercise wouldn’t go on as directed. Many Kenyans faulted the government for not being upfront about the goal of the registration. The rumblings were echoed on social media channels and standard media platforms. What was infuriating, at least to people communicating their distaste for the process, was the number of documents required to carry out the exercise (ID or birth certificate, physical presence at registration centres and a limited time of 30 days).
Kenyans also demanded the government to shed light on the number, as well as the Huduma Card. At that time, MasterCard, which is said to develop the Card, had the following to say:
Kenyans will be able to pay for an array of Government services such as the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), National Social Security Fund (NSSF) amongst others. Citizens issued with the smart prepaid card will automatically be enrolled in vital government services such as the National Social Security Fund and the National Hospital Insurance Fund, ensuring all Kenyans benefit from these initiatives.
Towards the end of Feb 2019, the Senate put a stop to the KES 18 billion Huduma Namba registration. The exercise would be picked only after CS Joe Mucheru and Fred Matiang’i made an appearance at the Senate Standing Committee on National Security, Defense and Foreign Relations. Also, the Senate wanted to know why the registration was not examined by MPs. The CSs were also asked to justify the need for sensitive personal data.
Two months later, the High Court of Kenya okayed the registration exercise. the court also introduced some revisions. For instance, DNA data and GPS information were no longer mandatory. The registration process also not a must for the citizens. The government was also asked not to link government services with the number.
Over the course of April 2019, government officials, politicians and grassroot administrators were on a campaign to push the Huduma Namba agenda. Some politicians were also captured by the media telling people that the program was mandatory. In some cases, county workers were told they would not receive salaries if they hadn’t picked up the number. It appeared that the High Court ruling was ignored, and many Kenyans read the room and lined up for the identifier.
It was also mentioned that the CA would switch of SIM cards that had not registered for Huduma Namba. This was, obviously, another attempt to capture as many information as possible during the registration exercise. However, a public outrage forced the ICT Ministry to clarify the matter.
“We wish to reiterate that the Huduma Namba Registration is a voluntary exercise in compliance with the recent High Court ruling. There is absolutely no directive from the Government to institute any punitive measures against those who don’t register,” read a statement from the Ministry.
In yet another confusing development, the State said that Huduma Namba would be used alongside normal ID cards. In other words, the unique identifier would not replace ordinary identity cards. Previously, it had been communicated that the Namba would be used universally for personal identification owing to other identification documents tied to it. By the end of April, the exercise had captured the details of 20 million Kenyans.
In July 2019, Parliament started dissecting the Huduma Bill, 2019. The bill stated that the number is actually mandatory.
Every resident individual shall have a mandatory obligation to present Huduma Namba in order to be issued with a passport, apply for a driving license, register a mobile phone number, register as a voter, pay taxes, transact in the financial market, open a bank account, register a company or public benefit organization, transfer or make any dealings in land, register for power connection, access universal healthcare services, register a marriage…
The following months were mostly quiet, and Kenyans were never given their Huduma Namba. Then in 2020 (Feb), a preliminary Huduma Namba Regulation was introduced. It detailed the interpretations of National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), its structure and components, and how individuals are enrolled in the database. The regulations highlighted the components of the register (the database, Huduma Namba and Huduma Card), the roles of NIIMS, and government agency use cases.
Phase II Registration: New data centre in place
A recent Parliament Committee meet attended by the Interior CS Karanja Kibicho has revealed that the government is prepping the second phase of Huduma Namba registrations.
The phase is targeting groups that did not register for the number during the 2019 exercise.
The CS says that Huduma cards will be issued before the end of 2020. This is still contrary to what the state promised in 2019, and it has been more than one year since Kenyans were promised to receive the document (a month after registration).
Nevertheless, it is reported that the preparations for the second phase have completed. Plans to mass print the cards are also in place.
The CS also said that Kenya has created a robust data centre for Huduma Namba.
The delay to give out the cards has been defended by the CS, citing that the program was undergoing a process to verify fingerprint data from Huduma and that in the primary database.