Daily Nation 2d
President Uhuru Kenyatta recently assented to the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2018.
Among other things, the new law amends the Registration of Persons Act by inserting a clause that provides for the establishment of the National Integrated Identity Management System (Niims).
The law outlines the immediate purposes of Niims. Its core purpose is to create and operate a national population register as a single source of personal information of all persons resident in Kenya, whether as citizens or foreigners.
Each person in the national population register will be assigned a unique identification number. The Niims will also provide a mechanism for the verification and authentication of the registration and identification information.
In establishing the Niims, Kenya has formally joined the identification revolution that many other jurisdictions already began.
Kenya is now on course to join the company of countries like Estonia, said to have the world’s most fully-developed electronic identification system, and South Africa, which is now in the process of rolling out the Automated Biometric Identification System.
I have read commentaries which make misleading assumptions and conclusions about Niims. The system can be justified from two standpoints.
The first is simply having a national identification system. The second is the contextual justification for harnessing the advantages of technology to overcome the shortcomings of the identification system.
The role of formal identification in any jurisdiction cannot be overplayed.
Alan Gelb and Julia Clark tell us that “the inability to authenticate oneself when interacting with the State — or with private entities such as banks — inhibits access to basic rights and services, including education, formal employment, financial services, voting, social transfers, and more”.
In essence, identification is necessary for one to participate in political, social and economic life. That providing “legal identity for all” by 2030, now a target under the Sustainable Development Goals should, therefore, not come as a surprise.
The practical significance of formal identification manifests itself in many ways. Formal identification assists, for example, in closing the gender gap and addressing other forms of marginalisation.
Social protection initiatives such as grants for the elderly become more efficient and targeted with effective identification systems.
Property ownership is easier to ascertain, and banks are able to enforce the “know your customer rules”.
Our children would be better protected from the dangers of early marriage and child labour, because it is easier to verify their age using a formal identification system.
The danger of losing taxpayers’ money through phoney payments to ghost workers is minimised, if not eliminated, by having effective formal identification.
A dependable identification system also has the potential to eliminate election fraud, by ensuring clean voter registers.
Incorporating technology in the national identification system has many advantages.
First, the “identity gap” — the under-documentation of persons resident in a country — is minimised. Identity gaps make development more difficult and less inclusive.
With the Niims, the story of one’s existence from birth to death is available from a single source of truth. Development planning is therefore better informed and accurately targeted.
Second, technology costs are falling rapidly, and as Gelb and Clark tell us, “it is now possible to ensure unique identity in populations of at least several hundred million with little error”.
The benefits that stem from having accurate and up-to-date records of persons resident in a country are many, and largely, necessary.
Accurate demographic data is also crucial for national security. Kenya has suffered its own share of terror attacks, since 1998.
Some of these attacks, unfortunately, have been the acts of individuals who took advantage of the shortcomings in our identification system.
Some of them possessed fake identities. Others were in the country illegally.
The fourth benefit is that technology will immensely reduce the costs associated with maintaining and operating identification data.
In Kenya, there have been different systems for the registration of births and deaths, taxpayers and voters, for example. These have all coexisted with the national identification system.
As Alan Gelb and Anna Diofasi warn, such “multiple systems drive up costs and hamper interoperability across programmes”.
In sum, the Niims is the much-needed identification system. It portends greater efficiency in the interaction between the State and the individual, and enormous savings for Kenya.
It would now be much easier to realise the imperatives in our Constitution, such as non-discrimination, gender equality and affirmative action, devolution and population-based distribution of national resources.