First time national Identity Card applicants and those replacing old ones are being issued with a Maisha Namba. This is the 3rd generation Kenyan ID that is finally being issued after many setbacks. Originally, the Maisha Namba was set to pilot in December 2023.
However, this was cancelled by a court order. In December 2023, the High Court in Nairobi halted the government’s initiative to introduce the Maisha Cards. Justice John Chigiti instructed the administration to refrain from registering or issuing these cards.
The case, filed by the human rights organization Katiba Institute, argued that the government initiated the project without enacting the necessary legislation. Additionally, the government allegedly failed to conduct a required data protection impact assessment, as outlined in Section 31 of the Data Protection Act.
However, the Kenya Kwanza government has silently kicked off the exercise as it had initially planned. Kenyans who applied for a new ID or a renewal from as early as November last year are now receiving a Maisha Namba.
Officially, the government has not communicated on the matter. In fact, most applicants are shocked on receiving a Maisha Namba after applying for a national ID. .
Notably, Huduma Kenya, the government agency responsible for ID replacement has acknowledged that they have a huge backlog of applications. Very few people are getting ID replacements. Most Kenyans who applied for a replacement about three months ago are yet to get a new card. It’s unclear if the delay is related to the roll out of Maisha Namba.
Its worth noting that getting government documentation has been difficult in the last 14 months. Applicants of driver’s licence, Police Clearance Certificates, Passports are also facing delays.
Maisha Namba Expiry
What stands out is that the Maisha Namba has a lifetime. This is ironic given “Maisha” means life. According to official government documents, Maisha Namba is described as a distinctive personal identification number allocated to each Kenyan citizen during registration, usually at birth.
This number serves as a lifelong identity from birth to death. Given it’s a lifelong identity, the need for renewal is puzzling. The expiry date on the physical card becomes more confounding when we remember President Ruto stating that Kenyans will not need to carry any physical card for identification once the digital ID is rolled out.
Kenyans are split on whether it’s a cash making scheme by the government or indeed, good intentions to ensure ones facial appearance on the card is updated as a person ages.
In addition, renewal cost could be a factor as the immigration department did float a new rate of KES 1000 last year. This new rate was shelved after public uproar and the normal fee of KSH 100 is still in place. However, for a government keen on increasing it’s revenue streams, this remains a space to watch.
The need to rush and roll out Maisha Namba despite legal headwinds is not clear. Kenya, like a number of low income countries, often implements projects that are funded and spearheaded by global institutions.
Nigerian Digital ID Rollout
Last year, it emerged that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is advising the government on the Digital ID rollout. The institution claimed it sees vast opportunities that can be unlocked through the existence of a digital identity in Kenya.
For precedence, it has been established that the World Bank has set Nigeria the goal to enroll 148 million people with a digital ID by end of 2024. It is not hard to speculate that Kenya may have an identical target in regards to the timeline.