Kenya: Human Rights Groups call for a halt to Maisha Number Rollout. A coalition of 10 local human rights organizations wants the government to block the September 29 Maisha Number, Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) rollout.
Poor public engagement and a weak legislative framework establishing the Maisha number were among the groups’ primary concerns as the country transitioned to third-generation identity cards.
Their appeal comes two days after the National Steering Committee for Digital Identity endorsed the technical committee’s suggestions for a National Digital ID.
Nubian Rights Forum, Namati Kenya, Centre for Minority Development, Kenya Human Rights Commission Defenders Coalition, Access Now, Katiba Institute, Haki Na Sheria Initiative, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, and Pastoralists Rights and Advocacy Network oppose the ‘rushed’ Maisha Number rollout.
“We reiterate that the opaque rollout, lack of public engagements, and lack of procedural and legal safeguards associated with the Unique Personal Number rollout would wreak havoc on citizens’ nationality document access,” they added.
The organizations say the Maisha Number neglects crucial identification system upgrades and changes.
They also worry that the government’s digital ID system development is entering the same problems that delayed Huduma Namba.
Similar to Huduma Namba’s “flawed” implementation, the rights groups warn that failing to close the gaps might lead to discrimination, privacy loss, and exclusion for communities historically unable to obtain paperwork.
Rights groups urged the government to start a cross-stakeholder approach with a transition time to enable a seamless digital ID deployment.
They also urged the government to expand registration and identification offices and reinvest in them to guarantee all Kenyans have access to birth certificates and ID cards before digitizing.
They also want a thorough Data Protection Impact Assessment and Human Rights Impact in underserved Kenya.
Civil Society organizations also desire an inclusive process.
“We also demand inclusion of civil society and members of the public, including minorities and marginalized communities, in any relevant working groups or committees, including the National Digital Identity Technical Committee and National Steering Committee for Digital Identity,” they said.
Before implementing the National Digital Identity system, they asked for improving infrastructure like energy and internet nationally and any other needs recognized by the Kenyan population.
On September 29, President William Ruto will launch a Sh1bn effort to convert the country into a digital UPI-based national identity database, Citizen Services Principal Secretary Julius Bitok announced on September 12.
He explained that the National Digital Identity comprises four parts: UPI (Maisha Number), Maisha Card (a third-generation ID card), Digital ID that may be linked to a mobile phone, and a National Master Population Register of all Kenyans.
The Immigration PS said the technical committee will implement national digital identity within 90 days of the president’s order.
When allocated at birth, the Maisha Number becomes a lifelong UPI, simplifying documentation.
“We name it the Maisha Number since it is a lifetime Unique Personal Identifier. He claimed all paperwork will utilize this lifetime number from birth to death.
PS Bitok explained that the Maisha Number will be generated utilizing civil registration databases, unlike the Huduma Number, which requires public biometric data.
Maisha cards will replace IDs, with the government switching to third-generation cards.
Cutoff: September 30
He said new applicants would get Maisha Numbers, and second-generation cards would be discontinued after September 30.
“We will instantly issue Maisha Numbers to 18-year-olds. We’ll issue lost ID holders new digital ID cards without starting over like Huduma Number “PS explained.
Bitok stressed that the Maisha Number will have an ICAO-compliant Machine-Readable Zone.
PS Bitok says this upgrade distinguishes the Maisha Card from the Huduma Card.
The Huduma Card lacked a Machine-Readable zone. Maisha Card will capture that part, which is vital according to ICAO regulations and is a different product, “he said.