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17.05.2019 Kenya

Focus On Africa: Kenya Introduces Controversial Dna Database

By William Niba - RFI
Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
MAY 17, 2019 KENYA

Kenya has registered millions of citizens in its new digital database, with rights groups set to take their fight to court to block use of DNA data.

There is growing controversy in Kenya over a government scheme, known as Huduma Namba, to create an electronic register of all the country's citizens, which it claims is needed to facilitate access to public services.

The Kenyan papers are all about the long queues forming around the country, as citizens try to leave their finger prints and have eye scans before the 45-day deadline expires on Saturday.

Every Kenyan aged six and above is required to take their IDs and birth certificates to data processing centres set up in their communities where the registration is taking place.

According to Daily Nation, Kenyans braved the scorching sun hoping not to be locked out of the Huduma Namba operation.

The Standard reports that some unscrupulous agents were taking advantage of the rush by offering to speed up the process, for a fee. The publication carries a video that has gone viral on social media in which one registration agent is seen charging Sh300 for people who don't want to queue.

The Standard says that earlier this week Interior Ministry Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i noted that plans were in place to register 40 million home-based Kenyans before Saturday and 9 million in the diaspora by 20 June.

Matiang'i warned that citizens who don't register risk being denied access to certain government services”. He also noted that there were no provisions for an extension of the process for which the state paid each agent Sh1000 per day.

Biometric data business

In their petition to stop the registration, the plaintiffs led by the Kenya Human Rights Commission argued that the mandatory collection of citizens' DNA data as well as the coordinates of their residences was exposed to abuse by unscrupulous officials with links to the business sector, since there was no data protection law in the country.

For its part Business Today claims that even as Kenyans thronged Huduma Namba centres, ahead of the 18 May deadline, the fate of the process is still subject to the determination by the High Court , which puts 'conditionalities' on how it is to be handled, pending determination of the main suit filed by human rights groups.

The controversy over the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) is the subject of a thought-provoking opinion piece published by South Africa's Mail and Guardian.

History of procurement irregularities

In it, Patrick Gathara, an award-winning political cartoonist based in Nairobi, claims that such schemes have always been opportunities for illicit enrichment. He recalls a similar plan to issue new “tamper-proof” passports in 2005 which was allegedly proven to be part of a long-running scam involving some 680 million euros.

Gathara also points to a 2009 plan by the Kenyan government to issue so-called “third generation” identity cards with biometric features and a centralised database, which reportedly also got bogged down in procurement irregularities worth over 89 million euros.

“The government has seemingly employed a duplicitous strategy of scaremongering to get as many Kenyans to register before the 45-day deadline,” says the Kenyan communications consultant.

Cart before the horse

Gathara says that by collecting the DNA of citizens and then proposing a data protection law, coupled with the blatant scaremongering, the registration exercise is a front for nefarious schemes to benefit a small, but powerful clique.

“They must demand a more open and transparent process as well as an inclusive public debate over what information the government is entitled to and the protections that are needed to ensure such information is not weaponised against them,” he concludes.

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