Why I will not be signing up for Huduma Namba

President Uhuru Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta display their respective Huduma Namba card during the 11th Mashujaa Day celebrations at Gusii Stadium, Kisii County.

Photo credit: PSCU

What you need to know:

  • The government, specifically the ministry in charge of Internal Affairs, insisted that it was time for all of our information to be collated into one database. A couple of people resisted. Most people paid no attention.
  • The point of this collation was to result in one card – one number, like a social security number, for all of our national information and health needs. One number to rule them all.

Your Parliament is illegal, according to your Constitution – you know, the one we promulgated and feted with great pomp and circumstance – and cost the taxpayer billions of shillings to make back in 2010.

And now, your government is trying to do something else illegal – the Huduma Namba.

I don’t know if you remember this drama from before coronavirus (you know how now everything is so blurry, we can barely remember last month, much less last year. Can you believe October is over, surely?)

The government, specifically the ministry in charge of Internal Affairs, insisted that it was time for all of our information to be collated into one database. A couple of people resisted. Most people paid no attention.

The point of this collation was to result in one card – one number, like a social security number, for all of our national information and health needs. One number to rule them all.

Matiang’i's messaging

This isn’t a bad idea, really – except for the fact that the government already has one number that they can link to everything. In fact, it has four numbers – an ID number, without which you can’t do anything in this country or in East Africa, particularly if you want to travel; a passport number, if Nyayo House has smiled upon you and you have gotten one without waiting for 6 months; your driving licence number, which they made a big to do about when they released a new format and made everyone pay for it, and made the whole system relatively paperless and electrical – and of course, your birth certificate number, which I think it is fair to say a good number of Kenyans have.

In fact, a good number of Kenyans have at least one of the four. If they wanted to collate all the information, they could have just done that in the ministry, by themselves. They already have it.

Which to be fair, they tried to do a couple of years ago, when they wanted to build a system that would do that, but then that money was stolen. That should be the red flag, no?

Still, they chose to not keep us out of it, and then, our beloved Matiang’i started to startle Kenyans. "Oh, you will not get government services without Huduma Namba." "Oh, you will be kicked out of the country like Miguna." "Oh, there is a deadline with dire consequences if you don’t get a number." "Oh, if you don’t get the number, you will be considered a foreigner and – get this – a terrorist!"

I began to get personally offended by the messaging. For one thing, we haven’t even figured out our basic services. Multiple tribes in Kenya, particularly border tribes, and the Nubian community, consistently struggle to get IDs because the government does not consider them fully Kenyan.

This is ridiculous because, of course, these people are Kenyan, and have been so for generations. Then, somehow, they haven’t managed to get IDs, but they will definitely be able to get Huduma Nambas?

Roads can’t reach Turkana but somehow ballots can? It’s the same insulting logic.

Data and privacy

We participated in public forums where the number was being discussed. I have been present at these forums – I have been in the courtrooms where the Nubian Rights Forum and other civil society players are holding this government to task for its unjust declarations.

And yet, the government still insists that the Namba must happen – to the point that the President himself, and his wife, have been given a sample card (a process that will be infinitely easier for them, than for the common man, I’m sure).

The government continues to ignore the fact that the High Court stopped the rollout of the Huduma Namba until comprehensive regulations around data and privacy were put in place.

They still have not been put in place, according to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, as of their press conference this week.

It would seem that we are living in a sham of a banana republic, wallowing in impunity and injustice, not too far from what Nigeria is fighting against today.

Perhaps we can save ourselves the horrors of war and protest, yet. It is too late for us now to participate publicly, because the government chooses privately what it will and will not do (just ask BBI).

I would urge you, therefore, inasmuch as you can, to read the High Court ruling for yourself; to ask your politicians why this number is so very necessary, and who is benefiting from it?

And why they are rubbishing the very Constitution rated as one of the most progressive in the world, as well as the High Court ruling?

And, finally, if you can, I would urge you to not get a Huduma Namba, for as long as is possible – we only do what we can, really, until backed into a corner. But for the time being, I certainly won’t be signing up.

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