Kenya: NIIMS is operating in jungle land on personal whims of its drivers

Published: 14/Apr/2019
Source: The Standard (Nairobi)

By George Kegoro

I spent the week trying to establish a reliable picture of the experiences around the country in relation to the rollout of the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS). During the week, several officials made statements to the effect that registration under NIIMS was compulsory and those who failed to register would be denied public services. These statements were in breach of two of the orders issued by the High Court in a petition seeking to stop implementation of NIIMS. The court ordered that registration be voluntary and not be linked with provision of services.

During the week, a section of the political leadership finally grasped, and repeated the argument that civil society has been making about NIIMS: it is difficult to obtain official documents on which registration under NIIMS is predicated. The leadership in the North Eastern part of the country drew the attention of the country to the difficulties that people from that region have experienced in accessing existing registration services including birth certificates, and identity cards, on which registration under NIIMS is based. This will, in turn, make it difficult for the area to comply with NIIMS, a more demanding form of registration, and will only further marginalise that part of the country. The rhetoric question was raised as to how the government hopes to register all qualifying people from the region in 45 days when it had failed to give them birth certificates and ID cards in 50 years. Our consultations with senior opposition politicians, whose public support for NIIMS the government recently enlisted, has revealed that the main motivation behind NIIMS has to do with the desire to curb the falsification of the results of the forthcoming national population census, something that affected the previous census in 2009.

The government cancelled the results of 2009 census from the former North Eastern Province after it emerged that the Somali community had become the sixth largest in Kenya. The previous results, in 1999, had established that Kenya had 800,000 citizens of Somali origin. In the ten-year period up to 2009, this number had soared to 2,385,572, an increase of nearly 300 per cent.

Repeat of the enumeration

Claims the census data from this part of the country was contrived were, however, never addressed. A planned repeat of the enumeration in the area had already become controversial before a court case blocked it altogether. Political leaders from the area, including members of the Cabinet, issued a veiled threat that the security of enumerators would not be guaranteed if these were to try and repeat the exercise.  A year after the last population census, the country enacted a new Constitution that introduced devolution and a formula for sharing centrally allocated revenue that is based on local population sizes. While population sizes are, thus, a key factor in revenue-sharing, the country has carried on without resolving the controversies that the 2009 census occasioned. In the intervening period, a new status quo has been established in which communities from the northern part of the country now regard themselves as core members of the political establishment, purely on the basis of numbers.

The concerns about falsified population results are, obviously, important. If the national population census cannot produce accurate results, it is not worth carrying out in the first place. Since experiences of 2009 are important in planning the 2019 census, those experiences must be openly discussed. However, the government does not come with clean hands. Citizens, especially from the north eastern Kenya, may argue that population census is not the only national falsehood that the country is compelled to live with. All recent elections have been based on similar untruths. Why would it be important to address population census issues when the country has remaining so accepting of the falsehoods about numbers in recent national elections?

Unable to register

The implementation of NIIMS has witnessed other difficulties. In response to criticism that the system does not cater for stateless persons, the data collection form was changed to include this category of people. However, reports indicate that these people are still unable to register since they possess none of the documents required for registration. It seems that the government is making it up as it goes along. While the Registration of Persons Act targets people aged 18, NIIMS seeks to bring into registration children from the age of 6. Unlike the age of 18, which is regulated by law, no law stipulates the age of 6 as the starting point. This is another example of the fact that, in terms of legality, NIIMS is operating in jungle land, based only on the personal whims of its drivers. An argument can be made that registering children is a big decision, one that should have been preceded by a public debate.

– The writer is the Executive Director at KHRC.

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Themes: ID Documents and Passports
Regions: Kenya
Year: 2019