Ideas & Debate

Why Huduma Namba Bill raises tough queries


Kenyans register for Huduma Number at Imara Building in Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenyans have a compelling task to safeguard their Constitutional sovereign rights on July 31 when government tables the Huduma Bill for a public participation forum at the Kenya School of Government.

This Bill is an affront to liberty and must be challenged right from its title “Huduma Bill” because how do you have a system that regulates access to basic human rights like health care, education which are universal human rights? How do you even fathom the idea of limiting the access to services that you have failed to provide?

Kenyans must step out of their comfort zone and interrogate this proposed law with respect to basic issues such as how they would be affected by the proposals to cap access to services based on a number, which itself requires a document for enrollment.

We also need to ask ourselves how the law would affect our relatives deep in the villages. Would they have equal access to documentation like some of the privileged residents of Nairobi? I say privileged residents because not all residing in Nairobi have easy access to documentation.

I am a testimony of the double standards exercised in the issuance of state documentation. As a Nubian born and brought up in Nairobi I am still subject to discriminative actions. I can only apply for an ID card on a Tuesday and Thursday and wait for up to three months to appear before a security panel to prove that I am a Kenyan. I would then wait for an unspecified timeline for my ID to be issued.

It’s a different story, too, for a Kenyan Somali lady waiting for the past two years in Wajir just to be vetted before she could apply for an ID, needed to register the birth of her child. The drafters of the bill ignore the fact that there are people who for years have actively struggled to get IDs but failed. How will they be able to prove they are Kenyans? How will the new system solve this marginalisation issue?

Section 9 (1) (a) of the draft bill introduces the issuance of a ‘Minors’ Huduma card’. What’s the purpose of this card? Are they going to use it to access play grounds? Are they going to be subjected to the police harassment that the adults have been facing for ages by failing to produce an ID on demand? Since it would be an offence not to register under this Act, are children going to be liable for not registering? Is it right for a child to be denied access to health care just because a panel has not yet determined whether the mother deserves to be Kenyan or not? Let’s say the child gets services because it’s urgent, should the mother be penalized with a fine of 2 million for transacting without a Huduma Namba?

Let’s take an example of our farmers whose finger prints wear out due to the heavy digging they do, and the ‘jua kali’ artists . They have been trying to apply for IDs but every time turned back because their finger prints are not readable. What’s their fate? They were left out of the Huduma Namba exercise and their fingerprints might take time to recover. In the meantime, how will they be able to register? Remember these people and their attempts to register were not captured during the previous exercise.

Reality of access also matters. In Kwale, for example, there is only one registrar serving the entire county. The entire county has been grappling with registration issues because of the travel costs. How do we plan to have them documented as they need these documents to enroll in Huduma Namba? Their children have been locked out of the NEMIS registration due to increased demand that the registration centres have been grappling with. We should not dismiss the facts that for years, various regions have been geographically discriminated by the successive regimes and unfortunately very key services like registration were never devolved. In some regions, people cannot access documentation due to the fact that they have to travel long distances to get to the registration centers. It is costly and they are poor; they have to make a choice of either feeding their families or travel to selfishly get an ID that would not add food on the table.

Enough with the reality check. Now let’s go back to the humanity check. Should these groups of people, be subjected to hefty fines in millions? Should people be fined for being discriminated and being denied equal access to documentation? If this does not talk to your inner humanity as we have been turned to robots by politicians, then maybe we need prayers as a nation.

The whole bill needs your attention as a citizen who will be grossly affected directly or indirectly by the bill.

I strongly feel that every Kenyan has the moral responsibility to participate in influencing this bill’s content because it will affect many generations to come.

The writer is senior program and advocacy officer, citizenship at NAMATI.