Caribou Digital in conjunction with CIPIT and The London School of Economics has released a  report on Kenya’s Identity Ecosystem. The new report provides an overview of the main identification systems used to manage development and an in-depth analysis of the three that are vital to Kenyans’ participation in political and economic life.

The report reckons that for development to take place, there need to be an understanding of the overlapping, complementary and competing interests of the actors and institutions that maintain, govern and use identification systems. They include state officials, politicians, civil society organisations and companies, and stakeholders such as security services and international organisations. Each of these need to be engaged as they shape the accessibility, transparency and accountability of countries’ identification ecosystems.

The report found that stakeholders’ within Kenya’s fragmented identification ecosystem view identity systems as tools for development and control. While some champion identification to better provide government services and expand the digital economy; others are trying to monopolise opportunities and address security threats.

It also showed that ongoing exclusions prevent some marginalised ethnic groups from accessing identity systems that are vital for participating in political and economic life. Women and girls also face unique challenges in accessing identity systems, including application processes that do not account for their needs and exploitative officials.

The report also found that private sector service providers relyed on state-issued identities create registers through their customers’ data and analytics. Yet, many Kenyans do not fully understand what happens to their data, nor how it may be used to limit their access to future opportunities.

Recent efforts to introduce a new state identification system, known as the Huduma Namba, have been met with confusion and worry, and a civil society backlash. However, as a result, there have been indications that the state is rethinking its approach and may allow greater public participation in decision making.

The report, therefore, recommended among others the urgent need for legislation which enshrines users’ protection and privacy, in order for the public to support and trust in Kenya’s digital economy.  There is also an urgent need for development organisations to support Kenyan civil society organisations currently working on strengthening and passing existing stalled draft bills. These include organizations like the Bloggers Association of Kenya, which have been at the forefront of advocating for a proper Data Protection Law.

The research for the report was funded by Australia’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of their support to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to strengthen access to digital ID for women and girls.

Read the full report, here.