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In the Press   |  News & Blogs

Huduma Bill: Opportunity to Shape Law on Identification Systems and Inclusion


An edited version of this blog originally appeared as an op-ed on Business Daily, a Kenyan news outlet. It is re-published here, in longer form, with their permission.


The Kenyan National Assembly introduced the Huduma Bill of 2021 to the floor of parliament for its first reading and opened it up for public participation amid the festivities of the year-end. Debate over what is contained in the Huduma Bill has since filled the discourse in both the main media outlets and social media

Previous Huduma Bills 2019 and 2020 failed to address key issues of inclusivity raised in court petitions, court orders, and memorandums civil organizations and the public submitted — but now we have the chance to shape these in the Huduma Bill 2021.

As a nation it is very important to reflect on this and what changes we need to see in the National Integrated Identity Management System (popularly known as Huduma Namba – Swahili for ‘service number’) — and in Kenya’s identification system as a whole. It is a blessing for the nation to shape the next steps in ensuring inclusive identification of persons, including ensuring the government responds to the judiciary’s pronouncements to having a comprehensive legislative framework on privacy and inclusion.

But what is inclusion, and how does it look like for the common citizenry? Inclusion is the ability for everyone to equally access documentation despite their diversity. It is a good opportunity as a nation to consider at-risk communities that are left at the mercy of the registration clerks to have a final say on whether they can get legal identification or not.

Some of these at risk communities are street children who have no documentation and even if they were to get they may not want to be associated with the families that they ran away from. Some of these street children come from what could be abusive homes. Then how do we ensure they have equal access to legal documentation?

Then there are ethnic and religious minorities, like the Nubians and other Muslims, who for years have a bigger burden of proving they are Kenyan to acquire an ID card just because of their names or tribe — even when they have their birth certificate and parents’ ID cards in hand. We need to ask ourselves is it now time to have an ultimate proof of nationality? 

Also note that an ID is not considered proof of nationality neither is a passport, as the current laws on identity stand. A passport is a mere travel document. Minority groups such as Muslims can attest to this because they get vetted to get an ID and still get vetted to get a passport.  It is also clearly indicated on all Kenyan birth certificates that it is “not proof of nationality”.

PROOF OF NATIONALITY

The Bill proposes to repeal the Registration of Persons Act and the Kenya Citizens and Foreign Nationals Management Service Act 2011 both very key acts in terms of nationality rights and identification in Kenya. The Bill further plans to introduce a passport as the ultimate proof of nationality and residence in Kenya. This is an important move though wrongly placed as not everyone can access or needs a passport. 

The high costs of a passport, of more than 4,000 shillings, is already prohibitive and making it the only proof of nationality is unfounded. Proof of nationality should be available to all Kenyans at birth and not when one wants a travel document. Just like proof of nationality for citizens by registration is upon registration, proof of nationality by birth should be upon registration of birth thus should be placed on a birth certificate. 

For many years nationality rights advocates have been championing for proof of nationality to be at birth and the Bill now offers an opportunity to influence this by ensuring the public weigh in on this issue. 

Media reports have run to publish how Huduma Namba will be a requirement for taxation and voting purposes. While these are indicated in the 2021 Bill, there are other issues of concern including proof of nationality, proper governance and oversight, and clarity on transition from old to the new identification system, that need to be highlighted for the public and lawmakers attention.

Another section of the Bill we need to look at closely is the penalty section for mutilation and failure to register for Huduma Namba. For mutilation the previous version of the bill was heavy on mutilation yet they are planning to issue these cards to children. The same children who go out to school with a blue mask and go back home with a pink one. Well, we know what to expect.

The most important thing is that this Bill presents an opportunity to shape the law that governs our registration system. 

Lest we also forget that we have millions of uncollected Huduma Namba cards in the hands of chiefs and other administrative offices. Let’s not be quick to judge what we cannot access without a Huduma card and focus on how to align the system with the Constitution. As it is now, it contravenes two major constitutional principles of inclusion and right to privacy. This has been ruled in several court judgements and it is good that we now get to consider this Bill as a nation and hope it cures these and other ills plaguing our identification system.

 


February 19, 2022 | Mustafa Mahmoud Yousif


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