In the Press

Digital IDs Make Systemic Bias Worse

Over 5 million Kenyans from various minority groups have to go through discriminatory processes to get ID cards. This essay in WIRED is on how a marginalized community equipped with the power of law fought back against an exclusionary digital identity system in Kenya and won.

The case was not unique; judiciaries of other nations have taken on similar cases in the past. What made the Kenyan case different was the halting of the digital scheme for the risk of excluding a segment of the population. This was a world first.

Digital IDs increase the risk of further marginalizing members of minority communities who struggle to get analog ID cards and birth certificates due to a discriminatory vetting system. Without these physical documents, they would be unable to secure a digital ID. And without a digital ID, they would be denied access to essential government services such as education, health care, and electricity.

Kenya’s digital ID scheme also comes with punitive consequences. Failure to get a child registered in the new database could see parents imprisoned for a year.

While community paralegals such as those from the Nubian Rights Forum have worked with minority groups to help them get IDs and birth certificates, this is not enough to eliminate systemic discrimination. The essay writers call for a new wave of multiethnic movements for justice that use grassroots legal empowerment to further the work by community paralegals, and shift our systems towards equality.

The essay was written by Vivek Maru, Laura Goodwin, Aisha Khagai, and Mustafa Mahmoud.

February 7, 2020 | Namati Author

Region: Kenya