The High Court of Kenya has issued an order barring the registration and issuance of the new digital IDs. The launch of the Maisha Namba program was set to commence this month. In a sitting today, Justice John Chigiti has ordered that the government should not register persons or issue the proposed Maisha Namba.
The Maisha Number includes a Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) – a random and unique identifier for individuals. The new system uses biometric data, specifically, the iris or fingerprints, for verification. Once enrolled, the identifier will serve Kenyan citizens from birth and enable them to access various government services using a single identity. This means that the UPI will serve as the NHIF Number, NSSF number, and a driving license number. In the event of death, it will also serve as the death certificate number.
The program has been met with public criticism. In addition, the Maisha Namba program has faced various setbacks. The registration exercise initially set for October was postponed with no reasons given, just a few hours after the kick-off announcement was made.
The postponement came to an end in November when the government announced the pilot phase. According to PS Prof Julius Bitok of Immigration and Citizen Services, new ID applicants and those seeking replacement would be issued with Maisha Namba during this pilot phase.
President Ruto would later announce that the launch would kickstart in December 2023 after a two-month testing phase. In his speech, the President explained that citizens would no longer have to carry physical identification papers since verification would be done via smart devices. Ideally, it is meant to replace the second-generation IDs.
The suspension comes after Katiba Institute filed an application seeking the launch to be halted. In its application, the institute cites the lack of a strong legal framework for adopting the new digital IDs. In addition, Katiba Insititute argues that the government did not conduct sufficient public participation before commencing the pilot phase.
The ruling reads in part, “The leave shall operate as a stay, restraining implementation or further implementation by any person of the Respondent’s November 1, 2023 decision to roll out or pilot the Maisha Namba, including the digital card, digital ID, unique personal identifier, and a National Master Population Register, before and without a data protection impact assessment per Section 31 of the Data Protection Act.”