Ideas & Debate

Huduma Namba: Why aren’t we getting it right?

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Huduma Numba registration kit. FILE PHOTO | NMG

When Kenya’s centennial history is written in 2063, one hopes that a special chapter will be devoted to deciphering the “yin and yang” of our “seven and a bit” year old outgoing Jubilee Administration.

In 2017, I attempted to differentiate the Jubilee election manifesto from that of the National Super Alliance(NASA) by suggesting that, if Kenya was a child, the former was the parent obsessed with buying expensive toys and gadgets, while the latter was the parent concerned with the kid’s basic needs – food, water, health, shelter, even dignity and opportunity.

Notwithstanding the fact that both parents sought our love and attention.

Most commentators at the time felt that there wasn’t much difference between the two, but my nuance was that the pro-business Jubilee political enterprise had infested its manifesto with pro-people language, while the pro-poor NASA political agglomeration infected its economic proposals with pro-markets language.

To be clear, as I quoted then - using the work on India by Rodrik & Subramanian - “the difference is…a pro-market strategy supports new entrants and consumers, a pro-business strategy mainly supports established producers.

Understanding this difference is central to distinguishing Jubilee from NASA”. Today, neither of these political “constructs” exists in any form other than name.

But the “toys and gadgetry” remains. “Irregardless”. Wasn’t the new standard gauge railway(SGR) declared illegal? Isn’t Galana-Kulalu incompetent? Doesn’t Managed Medical Equipment Services sound illegitimate? Isn’t #Covid19Millionaires the height of our immoral? And more. All mired in scandal. Lots of “yin” right there.

Surprisingly, though, both sides in their manifestos supported the idea of a national identification scheme. So, in short post-double election, post-double swearing in and post-handshake order, the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS, also known as “Huduma Namba”) came into being.

If my numbers are correct, we spent Sh7.7 billion on this in May last year, then spent another Sh18.5 billion on the population and housing census a few months later. We’ve heard from the latter, but not the former.

Then, a second Huduma Namba registration phase is apparently planned; press reports put the cost at Sh9 billion. Remember, this is a registration cost, not the cost of the actual IDs.

In the meantime, the High Court, in response to a case filed by human rights groups, conditioned further work on Huduma Namba on the existence of a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework to address, inter alia, exclusion, data protection and privacy, with no GPS or DNA data collection allowed.

It’s not enough, and there’s an ongoing appeal, on issues of system design, discrimination and the infamous “miscellaneous amendment” procedure we love to use to make substantive, not minor, changes to law.

The Nubian Rights Forum hosted a useful Twitter session this week to review where we are now. Privacy protections that are backed by good law were a common concern.

Now, we’ve got politics walking right into the mix. Not so much the “mark of the beast’, but the “mark of the election beast”. Election rigging is underway. Livestock will be counted and taxed.

Consultants have been hired through the intelligence service, not the Interior Ministry. This administration simply can’t buy a “yang” moment if it tried. Or maybe there was a multi-billion ID contract someone didn’t get.

Yet, government tried, warning us to be careful about “misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories” in a presser that raises more questions than answers. Here are a couple of quick ones. How is “data cleaning” going on when the legal and regulatory framework isn’t fully in place yet?

Next, the census says we’re 47 million. Total aged under six equals 7 million. So, out of the remaining 40 million, 37 million registered, and 3 million didn’t? Or maybe we aren’t 47 million, but 51 million, excluding foreign residents, as the UN estimates. In 2019, I argued for a harmonised exercise, but clearly the tenders were too juicy.

The bigger question in all of this is, “what is Huduma Namba for”? As I have written before, there was a moment in 2014 when the so-called “single source of the truth” was a fantastic idea grounded in security, economic and governance imperatives, not “denial of government service” (DOGS) threats.

Phase One envisaged the digital registration of all people and companies in Kenya. Phase Two planned the digital registration of land and assets, as well as establishments other than companies.

It was all consistent with the then 2013-17 National ICT Master Plan; separate but interconnected data infrastructure hubs for persons, establishments, assets and spatial data. Its business logic was simple.

People own or transact assets and land, individually or through establishments. Its vision foresaw enhanced security and public safety, law and order; improved governance and public service delivery and better socio-economic planning for development.

It promised accessible web and mobile portals. It didn’t necessarily require a physical card (an e-ID like this, at $8 per unit is a Sh30-plus billion deal).

It was then called “Umoja Kenya” (One United Kenya). It could have been the “yang” that balanced Jubilee’s excess of “yin”. Then we might not have ended up militarising everything that moves and running around the country inspecting projects, or “toys and gadgets”. It’ll be part of the story in 2063.