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The Huduma Namba

Posted on 6 min read

Huduma Namba has been a running theme in Kenya for almost two years now. This is a biometric digital identification system for Kenyan Citizens, technically known as the National Integrated Identification Management Systems (NIIMS). It was aimed at creating a single source of person’s identity in Kenya with the aim of increasing access to government services and also reduces chances of identity theft.

The system would involve registration of all person aged six years and above in Kenya by the government, by collecting biometric and other data such as fingerprints retina and iris scan, contact information, family, profession and other biodata. This was b

Since its inception, there has been a number of challenges to the project and while the government started issuing the cards in October 2020, there is still a long way to go. First, we look at why this was started in the first place.

Why Identification?

Having a form of legal identity is important. Everyone needs a document or something demonstrate that they are what they say they are. Without such, it is almost impossible to identify oneself outside your local community and this effectively denies one access to many services. You cannot get a passport, you cannot open a bank account, you cannot register a SIM card and in an increasingly digital world, you have little options.

Today, more than 1 billion people in the world lack a form of a recognized ID.

This is why various global bodies have been pushing to get everybody a form of Identification. Article Six of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” This is also in Target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seeks to provide legal identity for all by the year 2030.

The State of Identification in Kenya

In Kenya, we’ve had a form of identification in place – the National ID – which is mandatory for every Kenyan aged 18 years and above. This has always been very useful because it is a unique identifier for every person in the country, making it possible to identify people by their ID numbers. In places where such does not exist, chaos rule. Banks have to figure out which ‘John Doe’ made a bank deposit because there are many John Doe.

However, the system that currently exists in Kenya has a major limitation majorly because it is not digital. It involves information on paper, with a passport photo and a signature as the primary method of identification. There is also an image of the holder’s fingerprint, but this is also on paper and it is not easy to compare one’s fingerprint against a database of fingerprints held on paper. This is where a form of digital identification proves useful, and the government’s response to this was the Huduma Namba.

The Solution

In 2019, the government came up with a miscellaneous act to amend the Registration of Persons Act, allowing for the establishment of a biometric database of Kenyans – NIIMS. From the government, it was supposed to be a system with one card that holds all the information about the person such as driving license, NHIF information, birth registration, tax information and any other data held by government institutions.

Challenges in Implementation

The implementation of the project was at best chaotic and at worst, designed to fail. As Wainaina Mungai from SafeHouse Africa opines, Kenya needed the Huduma Namba, but not in the form that it was presented or the extent of data it sought to capture and store. It would help ensure the integrity of data and reduce the number of IDs required to access services. One challenge in the implementation was the lack of adherence to an enabling legal framework anchored in international best practice and treaties Kenya should ratify.

Limited public participation meant that the public was not fully aware of what the system was about, as well as the potential benefits of the project. Instead of educating people so that they could register based on the perceived benefits, the government resulted to threats, warning people that they may not receive some government services if they did not register.

This undermined the whole process because this is a major change to how people access government services and principles of change management should have been applied. Kenyan could have learnt from the difficulties experienced in Tanzania, India and Nigeria while implementing a national ID system. In all these places, it has taken quite a long time and it is unreasonable to expect that all Kenyans would quickly rush to register for a service they knew little about. The court cases in India dragged on for ten years.

The issue of privacy was also raised. At the start if the process, Kenya lacked the necessary laws to govern the use of the data that was being collected. This is data that could be used to profile people and it was not very clear what was the use of the data. There needed to be a clearly defined use for the data and the users should retain the ownership of the data. The government had also intended to collect DNA and location information, something that would be an infringement of privacy and would make the whole process even more suspicious. Luckily. This part was struck out by the court but damage had already been done.

There was also the challenge with security. This was a serious flaw because when you have biometric data centralized, you attract hackers who can easily get away with the data. The people handling the data could also pose a risk to the same, hence the need to have a platform that is secure, such as the one running on blockchain technology. This has been used in places like Estonia where they have a functioning digital ID. The challenge with biometric data is that it cannot be changed if breached. While one can easily change a password, they cannot change their fingerprint.

Another unintended consequence that could result from the Huduma Namba is exclusion; the exact opposite of what it intends to achieve. If there is one card that will be used to access all government service, lacking that card means that one is locked out from all such services. This was a concern raised by the Nubian community who lack ID cards, hence were not eligible to be registered for the Huduma Namba.

What Next?

No doubt, a functional digital ID is becoming increasingly necessary in a digital world. Kenya needs to take this route to fully take advantage of the digital revolution, but the process should be done right.

A research by The Engine Room titled ‘Understanding the Lived Effects of Digital ID: A Multi-Country Study’ argues that the process of obtaining a digital ID matters just as much as the end result. The policies that are establish to protect the rights of the people are also useless unless if they are operationalized. This calls for Kenya to rethink the implementation process in a way that the concerns raised are catered for and have a realistic timeline. It may be a few more years before we can have the Huduma Namba fully functional.

But the benefits would be great. Huduma Namba would lead to an easy way of accessing government services and would result to time and resources saved. The identification system would also benefit the private sector by making it easy to offer financial services to all people and greatly reduce the Know-Your-Customer process. Processes like applying for passports would be easier and shorter because one would not need to present the same data to the immigration department again. There would be no need of a complicated registration process in schools. All this and much more would translate to money saved.

As the global economy becomes increasingly digital, Huduma Namba might be the magic wand that will propel Kenya to benefit from data, but we still have a long way to go.

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The Dirty Side of Solar Energy

Posted on 2 min read

When it is time to go green, solar power becomes a favorite source of energy. Many people and institutions continue to adopt this source of energy that is essentially free and available in many places especially along the equator.

But it comes at a cost. There are two matters of concern as far as solar energy is concerned:

Spinning Reserve

A major challenge with wind and solar is that they demand for a spinning reserve in order to compensate for the unpredictable nature of these energy sources. If you have 300 MW, you need to set aside a reliable 100 MW on standby, and this often comes from hydro. The problem with this is that hydro is a very cheap source of power and it is better if we are using it at full capacity. This is something that increases the general cost of electricity.

The alternative could be something different, but dirty, such as coal. As a country increases the use of solar and wind energy, the more it will require to have a different source of power on standby.

Waste

The process of manufacturing solar panels is not very clean. On the other hand, the panels do not last forever, and need to be disposed.

There are many places without a definite recycling plans for these panels, and soon we might see a lot of waste starting to pile up. Recycling is not easy, and is not cheap. Manufacturers have to be compelled to recycle, and this would be after a long time of use – 20 years or so. This makes the whole process difficult especially in Africa where the solar panels are imported.

What’s Next?

While there are such challenges, the future of solar still looks bright. The technology is improving at a very fast speed and some of the current challenges will be solved with time. The future of solar is still bright.

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Android Tax?

Posted on 1 min read

Can you imagine Google squeezing out 1.8% of all income from the poorest of all people in the developing world? It sounds crazy, but it could be happening.

Word going round is that Android phones exchange 260 MB of data every month with Google servers. This happens in the background even when no applications are running and even when using cellular network.

If this allegation is true, then Google has a big case to answer. 260 MB of data would easily go unnoticed in a world where people have access to a dedicated bandwidth of internet connection. But for the many parts of the world where people depend on cellular networks to access the internet, this is something of great concern.

According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, the average cost of 1GB of mobile broadband in Africa was 7.12% of average monthly income in 2019. This implies that this background data transfer by Android phones would cost people 1.8% of their total income, if they have the data and keep mobile data enabled on their phones.

This is a major heist!

It could be the reason why many people suspect that telcos such as Safaricom steal their mobile data. It would be the reason why most people will keep mobile data disabled on their phones, unless they are actively using it. Android users could be paying a form of tax!

Is it true, Google?           

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In God We Trust, Everyone Else Bring Data

Posted on 2 min read

It is often said that data is the new oil.

This statement is in comparison to the transformation that oil has brought to the world since the late 1800s, where oil has become the most used energy source today. Before the Second Industrial Revolution, different forms of oil were in use for various purposes but it was the large-scale production and use of crude oil and its products that was transformational.

This is the same case with data. While data has played a crucial role in the digital economy today, it is not something that is new to human beings. Throughout history, people have leveraged data to their advantage. Since we learnt how to count and write, an ongoing evolution has been the capture and use of data.

The Story of the Kenyan Farmer

I heard of a story about a settler farmer in the Rift Valley region of Kenya who was quite good in predicting the weather, to the extent that neighbors thought that he had some divine powers. While other farmers were losing crops to rain failure, he seemed to know if and when the rains would come and thus plan accordingly.

It took the intervention of inquisitive primary school pupils to find out the powers behind his accurate weather prediction, which turned out to be data. His family had kept accurate weather records for over 70 years, and from this data there were some obvious patterns and cycles. Using this data, the good farmer was becoming a weather guru.

Data Can Tell Stories

Interpreting data can reveal a lot.

Target, an American retail corporation, wanted to identify pregnant women who frequented their stores. As it turns out, by analyzing the purchasing behavior of customers, it is possible to identify an expectant woman and even predict the expected date of delivery.

Within a short time, Target was able to identify expectant women so accurately that it brought conflicts elsewhere. An angry parent stormed Target to protest that they were sending her teenage daughter promotions for expectant mothers. Weeks later, the same parent came back to Target to apologize because the daughter was actually pregnant.

For Target, what a customer put in the shopping basked was as good as a pregnancy test.

If Data, then What?

Understanding how data works can help one make one goo use of the opportunities presented by the same. It will also help one stay safe by sharing their data responsibly. It has been proven that most Kenyans are unknowingly giving out their personal data online.

In the coming articles, I will share how data is transforming our world today. Data is valuable, but to them that are able to exploit it.

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The Curse of Cheap Smartphones

I am a big fan of cheap smartphones (economics 101). I realized no matter how good a smartphone is, I am most likely to use it for only calls, SMS, mobile money and occasional social media. This means that whenever I am looking for a phone, I am looking for one that can do that efficiently without much exaggeration – a decent processor and RAM.

The other motivation for keeping a cheap phone is because the likelihood of me losing it in Nairobi is very high. I only want a phone which if lost, I will walk into a shop and buy another one without starting breaking the bank. I think this is the real reason why I am into cheap phones.

(Just remembered that I once did an informal survey in an office and found out that at one point in life, each person had lost a smartphone through pickpockets, smart thugs or even a violent encounter, and consequently, no one fancies expensive phones. This is what crime does to the market.)

For the last 18 months, I have had this phone which was very cheap for its specifications. It was from a strange manufacturer in UAE and I decided to try what the Emirates have to offer. For only KShs 7500, I got a phone through Jumia that had 3GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage. That was good enough for my needs.

Bloatware

It came loaded with some default apps which one cannot uninstall. These are common in many phones, but I realized that one of these apps was Uber. The strategy worked because before then, I would only install the app whenever I needed it (very rare – less than 5 times in an year), and I would choose between Uber and Bolt. Since then, I have only used Uber because I did not have to install it.

This marketing strategy is similar to the one WhatsApp used. I remember that a number of smartphones used to come with WhatsApp preinstalled and we had no option but to get used to it, and even use it since it was always available. Genius.

But in this device called Fourmobile S610 Shine, there was one app called Mobile Care shown below. I could not uninstall it, so I just disabled it and never gave it much thought.

However, the app started enabling itself after sometime, and went ahead to do some mischievous things. It would launch the browser and open some spammy links, and would show display ads that would overlay the whole screen with no option to close them. It would also show the notification below which wants to deceive one that it is from Facebook, but if you click on it, it leads you to website that is just serving ads or just another suspicious website.

Ghost Manufacturer

I got a bit worried about the phone and decided to check the manufacturer. To my surprise, the manufacturer’s website was no longer operation. It seemed that the manufacturer of the phone was non existent, or had closed shop.

A look at their Facebook page showed that it was created in 2015 and the last update was in 2018.

It is clear that what I have is an ad serving device and I do not know what else -God forbid- that it does without my knowledge.

Preinstalled Malware

One of the methods that manufacturers use to sell cheap phones is to include some adware (apps that show ads) in the devices. Some of these have been shown to be dangerous malware that should not be in the phones. This is what I have been suffering from.

And while one may be tempted to think that it is an isolated incidence, it is actually the norm. Tecno Mobile has been found to have sold thousands of phones in Africa containing malware. Many privacy advocates have also raised concern over these preinstalled apps that could track your activities, log your key strokes, or even send data without your knowledge.

It seems that as long as you are using a cheap smartphone, your data is at the mercies of the manufacturer and other third parties that you may never know.

The ugly part of the ads that these apps show or the pages they open is that they are not even relevant. I would appreciate it if they had used my stolen data to customize the best ads for me.

Regulation

How can this be stopped?

One of the major players who can do this is Google. While Android is open source, Google can force manufacturers to have their apps vetted properly and require enough justification for apps that cannot be uninstalled.

The government also needs to regulate which manufacturers can sell devices in the local market. Unknown brand of mobile phones pose the highest risks, beside not having spare parts readily available. (I found someone else with a similar phone which he had to discard after the screen broke, because a replacement could not be found).

As of now, it seems that when the smartphone is cheap, you are the one who is being bought.

PS: Removing the Malware

To remove the malware, I had to use Android Studio because the app could not be uninstalled directly from the phone. I checked the actual name of the app and it was ‘com.rock.gota.’ A Google search showed that the app is a well know malware that comes installed in many cheap android phones and it has been reported in many places from Brazil to Egypt to Myanmar.

The detailed instructions for removing the app can be found HERE.

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Kenya’s Print Media just Discovered Emails

Posted on 2 min read

The age of the email peaked several years ago, but it seems to be just the time when Kenyan newspapers are catching up with the email.

In the last few days, I have noticed that the Daily Nation is giving a pop up requesting you to sign up and receive ‘the latest news as it happens’ in your email. It will popup in every page you access until you either sign up or click the tiny ‘I’m not interested’ link.

The standard has also followed suit, desperately asking for your email address and talking of ‘supporting independent journalism.’   

I would not subscribe to any of those. Personally, I do not need any more email into my inbox which I won’t open anyway.

While I did not subscribe, I realized that The Standard went ahead to get my email address from wherever and added me to their mailing list. From the screenshot below, you notice that the email sent was delivered to my Spam folder, and you will also realize that:

  • They have a different domain name specifically for sending the daily emails.
  • They seemed to have the name blank (Dear ,) but they have the email address.

I know for sure that Standard knows that what they are doing is wrong. I know that they possibly have even my name and it is only that they cannot put it there and claim that they got both the email and name correct erroneously.

Whatever the case, let us welcome the Kenyan print media to the year 2000. In God we trust, everyone else bring data.

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