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Lobby groups warn government over Maisha card

Activists have implored the government not to make the digital ID, commonly referred to as the Maisha card, a mandatory requirement for Kenyans.

In a statement to the media, ten civil rights groups argued that contrary to earlier remarks made by Immigration Principal Secretary Julius Bitok that the third-generation cards would not be mandatory, the government is now issuing the Maisha Cards to Kenyans who are replacing their ID cards.

“The government has spurned the printing of the 2nd generation national identity cards to exclusively issue Maisha Cards effectively forcing all Kenyans seeking IDs to sign up for Maisha Namba,” they explained.

The lobby groups say the government is issuing the new cards yet there are cases before the courts, which will determine the fate of this exercise.

“Katiba Institute had filed a case with the High Court challenging the legality of the Maisha Namba project, but the matter has now been transferred to the constitutional and human rights division of the High Court for hearing and determination. It is because of this transfer to another division of the court that the interim order halting the rollout of Maisha Namba was lifted,” part of the statement reads.

According to the civil groups, the issuance of digital cards raises the prospect of Maisha Namba grievously disrupting people’s lives and having a profound impact on equity and access to ID cards for many Kenyans, particularly for about five million people, who are indiscriminately locked out of or delayed in obtaining national ID cards.

Also, the lobby groups have alluded that this could create a situation where the Maisha Namba digital ID becomes mandatory to access public and private services as was the case with Huduma Namba, which would disproportionately disadvantage those who don’t have Maisha Cards.

“Given that multiple cases challenging the constitutionality of the Maisha Namba project are still due for hearing and determination before the court, any court decisions declaring the project unlawful would have a serious effect on people’s ability to acquire nationality documents.”

They have also raised the concern that Maisha Namba does not address well-documented flaws under the previous Huduma Namba project and the current citizenship processes that actively discriminate against minority and marginalized communities in Kenya.

The ten groups that signed the statement include the Nubian Rights Forum, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Article 19 Eastern Africa, Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), Namati Kenya, Defenders Coalition, Haki na Sheria Initiative, Access Now, Protection International – Africa, and Haki Centre.

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