The first time Samson tried to get his identity card, he was 19. He and his friend went to the registrar’s office where they were both asked to “give something small” (a bribe) if that wanted to be attended to. His friend complied, but Samson did not have any money.
A few weeks later, he went back. He was not asked to pay a bribe, but the registrar turned him the away nonetheless, declaring—despite his birth certificate—that he was clearly “not from this community”.
It seemed to Samson that the registrar’s office was now an impossible avenue for him to secure his ID, but he did not give up. “I kept listening around whether there were any other opportunities that I can access outside the registrar’s office,” says Samson. “Because I knew if at all I will be coming to her office then she might send me back since I had tried earlier and she kind of marked me.”
A few months later, he heard about a mobile clinic. He tried that and yet again he was denied—as he was the time after that, and the time after that. On each occasion, there was a different reason or request.
Samson’s frustration turned to hopelessness. There seemed to be no avenues left for him to pursue. After years of trying, Samson gave up.
Life without an ID in Kenya was limiting, but it became infinitely more distressing when he became a father.
At 23 he married his wife and soon after had one daughter, followed by a second. Providing for them without an ID proved to be a struggle. “I tried to look for a livelihood as a laborer, but everyone interested in the job was asked to present their IDs and I did not have one,” says Samson. “I was hustling doing odd jobs, even if it meant farming at someone’s farm for payment or just asking people to carry their luggage. Anything that could enable me to take care of my family.”
“I tried to look for a livelihood as a laborer, but everyone interested in the job was asked to present their IDs and I did not have one.”
When his eldest child turned 5, Samson tried to enroll her in school but was told she needed a birth certificate. He couldn’t get her one without having an ID himself. The sympathetic teacher gave him a year’s grace period. “I was so happy that the head teacher was considerate enough,” recalls Samson. “But after one year, unfortunately, I did not have the birth certificate because I did not succeed in getting my own ID, and my daughter was chased from school. This really frustrated me.”
It was around the same time that an old knee injury that was never properly treated (due to his lack of ID) flared up. “It was evident that I needed to access a health facility immediately,” says Samson. But the health center was in the next county and traveling there required an ID. The police had checkpoints at the boundary.
“My father decided to sell his piece of land to ensure that I will get the medical attention I deserve, and this entailed paying a private doctor to come to my hometown from Mombasa every day to treat my knee. My family was fully dependent on my father for everything since I could not take care of them at that moment.”
“My family was fully dependent on my father for everything since I could not take care of them at that moment.”
“After going through all that, I finally reached a point in my life where I [realized] I needed help to salvage myself from this predicament and get an ID.”
“At that point is when I started looking for help and many people were talking about Gideon, a paralegal who assists community members with the application process. When I was directed to Gideon, I was a little skeptical that I would get help. But when I met him and shared my story with him, he assured me that we will work together.”
Gideon and Samson indeed worked together. Gideon helped him to understand his citizenship rights, what documents he needed and did not need to apply for an identity card, and how to navigate the administrative process. With this information and support, Samson secured his lD card in six weeks.
“When I got the ID I certainly did not believe it,” says Samson. “I kept on looking at it time after time and when I went home since it was something that I had longed for having for such a long time. The first thing I did when I got home: I opened the door I put it on the floor and kneeled down in prayer, and finally told my wife to slaughter a hen for celebration.”
Both of his daughters now have birth certificates and are in school. And while he has not gotten permanent employment, steady work, says Samson, is much easier to come by.