Kenyans without IDs, birth certificates must not suffer any longer


The recent heart wrenching plight of Fatuma Ibrahim Ahmed, the lady from Wajir who had to be airlifted to Nairobi for urgent surgery with a knife implanted on her head following a domestic row is no doubt still fresh in the minds of most Kenyans.

While her predicament luckily ended on a positive note after the successful operation to remove the 10-inch blade stuck on her head, we should never forget that the spirited move to airlift her to the capital city almost didn’t happen simply because she did not have a national identity card.

Fatuma, 32, has never been issued with an ID card despite applying several times, and her humanitarian airlift -within her own country (Wajir to Nairobi) – was in jeopardy because she lacked an ID.

It took the intervention of her Wagberi Location chief to write a letter of approval for her to be airlifted to Kenyatta National Hospital for life saving surgery.

It might have come as a shock to some Kenyans that a 32 year-old Kenyan woman does not have an ID card but as someone who is involved in helping undocumented youth and women acquire the all important ID, it was kind of a déjà vu to me.

The ID card has become an essential document that one ill-afford to be without in Kenya. Wherever you go, you need the ID with you. It helps other people identify us and hence accord us services or help we need.

But Fatima’s quandary is shared by many women, young and old, not only in North Eastern Province but all parts of Kenya, Nairobi included.

I personally witnessed thousands of similarly depressing cases while conducting an ID registration campaign in Kibra constituency in Nairobi.

Take Evelyn for example. Evelyn is as young housewife with three children. Now over 18 years old, Evelyn came to Nairobi at 15 as a young bride brought to the city by her equally young husband who lives Kibera.

Officially Evelyn does not exist. She does not belong. Officially, her three children don’t exist. They don’t belong. She has never acquired an ID or even a birth certificate. Her children also do not have birth certificates. She has no documents to support her application for registration as a Kenyan.

When the government prepares the annual budget for her citizens, Evelyn is not accounted for. Neither are her three children. Evelyn’s case is not an isolated one.

In just one ward in Kibra, my registration drive captured over 2,000 young adults in one day who lacked this vital document.
When we finally managed to get Evelyn her the ID and birth certificates which was not an easy task we managed to convince her of the benefits of participation and ensuring that her children belong and love their country.

Fatima and Evelyn represent a surprisingly large number of Kenyan adults who for one reason or another has failed to acquire the national ID in this era when surviving without the document is unimaginable.

Lack of ID denies citizens the enjoyment of the full rights, privileges and benefits of citizenships and keeps them from the mainstream of the society.

For example, due to heightened security in the country, no one can enter a government or even a private building without an ID. It means some people cannot access services from such places.

Today, a child must produce a birth certificate before joining a school or sitting for KCPE or KCSE, but he/she cannot get the birth certificate if the mother does not produce her ID at the registration bureau.

Anyone who wants their marriage recognised by the government must register the marriage at the chief’s or DC’s office but you will not get a marriage certificate unless you produce the ID.

You can forget about buying or selling land, owning a motorcycle, mobile phone in your name or even have an M-PESA account if you have never acquired this essential document.

You also need the ID to open and close bank account, apply or renew driving license, apply for a passport, apply for grants such as Youth Enterprise Fund or Women Fund and also register as a tax payer.

The ID card also gives us political power to influence decisions and issues affecting our lives. With an ID, you will be able to register as a voter and hence have the power to determine who leads you.

With the ID and a voters’ card, you will have the power to hire and fire your MCA, MP, Senator, Woman Representative, Governor and your President.

It therefore behoves all civic-minded Kenyans, county governments and the central government to put a stop to this shameful state of affairs and ensure all Kenyans of age are issued with IDs because leaving a section of us in the fringes of the society is inhuman and unacceptable.

We must say enough is enough. That, 52 years after independence, and 32 years after her birth, a Kenyan woman has no document to enable her travel for such a life-saving surgical intervention let alone the luxury of accessing state opportunities that require one to possess the vital document is unacceptable.

We must do all we can to bring back the dignity, selfhood and honour to these hapless Kenyans from the fringes of the society so that they, too, can fully enjoy all the benefits and privilege that comes with being a documented Kenyan.

However, all efforts to help those unregistered Kenyans must be done in a humane way but not through shaming or stigmatizing them. Let’s find out where the shoe pinches Fatuma and others and then help.

Actions which put the undocumented through indignity or odium will only exacerbate their suffering. Civil registration officials must also not treat applicants like criminals or lepers.

(Rosemary is the Executive Director of Raila Odinga Centre (ROC), a foundation that focuses on providing education scholarships in East Africa, training young leaders and developing youth sports. She has also been at the forefront of lobbying the Government of Kenya to ensure that it provides birth certificates and identification cards to the youth so as to enable them access government services and qualify for employment as part of nation building).

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