Inside the Controversial Huduma Namba, Kenya’s Exclusive Digital Identity Scheme - Identity Review - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

With 38 million people enrolled as of May, Kenya’s forthcoming biometric digital ID, Huduma Namba, will be a card of distinct capabilities—authorities have described it as a precondition for Kenyan citizens over the age of 18 to enjoy critical government services, obtaining SIM cards, a passport and land titles among them. The government has begun rolling out the card in droves. Local right organizations, however, have criticized Huduma Namba, deeming its distribution exclusionary. The Nubian Rights Forum predicts that 5 million Kenyans will be excluded from the scheme, alongside citing concerns over data privacy and illicit data usage.

The Card’s Origins

Huduma Namba has been in the works since 2005, when the Kenyan government released its plans for their National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS). Its mission is “to create and manage a central master population database which will be the ‘single source of truth’ on a person’s identity. The database will contain information of all Kenyan citizens and foreign nationals residing in Kenya and will serve as a reference point for ease of service delivery to the people of Kenya,” according to the Kenyan government. Backed by multiple adjacent government bureaus, the government is poised to continue distribution despite activist backlash.

The Controversy

Though the Human Rights Commission of Kenya has embarked on fronting campaigns against Huduma Namba, the NRF has long been advocating for a more exclusionary approach to the project. In tandem with its concerns on privacy and government overreach, the organization is now also accusing Nairobi of violating a High Court order on the card’s issuance, which asked that all issues related to risks of exclusion be addressed before the government can go ahead with delivering the cards. The NRF and other advocacy groups have continued to press the government into following their demands while they have repeatedly ensured that the project is executed within a legal framework.

“It is unfortunate that people in remote areas have no idea on what the Huduma Namba is. They have no say in the process and will likely be shocked once issuance of cards commences…” the NRF told Biometric Update. “Due to lack of documentation, these communities are at risk of statelessness especially when the government ties identification and government services to NIIMS. There are also other factors that affect acquiring of ID cards even for normal citizens such as distance and costs. Moving forward with a new system without addressing current issues risks further marginalising these communities.”

Huduma Namba, Onward

The NRF is adamant on reforming Huduma Namba’s issuance process despite proposals being cast aside.

On the Kenya government disregarding them, an NRF representative told Biometric Update that “[it] sets a bad precedent and the government needs to set aside selfish interests, follow court orders and the constitution for a properly functioning system.”

The NRF also envisions the documentation requisite be addressed before the rollout of the card. “There needs to be policies in place that ensure Kenyans can first get the recognized documents of registration and identification before moving to the centralized system—the NIIMS,” they said. “Otherwise, anyone without an identification card or birth certificate, in spite of legally being born in Kenya risks being declared stateless.”

Finally, NRF rejects, given its qualms, that certain vital government services can only be accessed with Huduma Namba in possession. “Government services and basic human rights must not be linked to Huduma Namba unless all issues submitted are addressed,” the organization said.


Olivia Baker is a Tech Innovation Fellow at Identity Review from Columbia University, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.

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