Government’s New ID Guidelines Fall Short of Ending Discriminatory Vetting Practices



The Government of Kenya’s recent announcement to abolish vetting during the national ID card application process was met with cautious optimism by civil society organizations and directly impacted communities.

However, concerns have been raised regarding the implementation of the new registration guidelines, with fears that they may perpetuate the discriminatory practices that have long plagued the ID application process.

President William Ruto’s declaration on 8th April 2024 signaled a promising shift away from the arbitrary and discriminatory vetting committees that have historically subjected ID applicants to scrutiny based on their ethnic or religious background. Yet, when the Ministry of Interior – State Department of Immigration and Citizen Services issued the new guidelines on 29th April 2024, it became evident that while vetting committees were dissolved, the potential for unequal treatment and arbitrary decision-making remained.

Under the new guidelines, which are applicable only to border and cosmopolitan areas, applicants are still required to provide proof of name, age, and citizenship, such as a birth certificate and parent ID card. However, additional steps have been introduced, including the need for an introductory letter from the local chief, personal appearances by the applicant’s parents to provide thumbprints, and further verification by the chief and government agencies like the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Civil society organizations, including Haki Centre, The Nubian Rights Forum, Paranet, Namati Kenya, and Haki na Sheri Initiative, have expressed reservations about these additional requirements. They argue that such steps not only replicate the arbitrary nature of vetting but also burden local chiefs with significant personal liability, potentially leading to arbitrary denials of ID cards.

The guidelines fail to address the systemic issue of millions of Kenyans who lack identification documents due to historical injustices perpetuated by vetting practices. Despite calls for affirmative action measures to ensure equal access to identification for all Kenyans, regardless of their background, the current guidelines fall short of delivering a comprehensive solution.

In response, civil society organizations have issued a set of recommendations to the government, including the end of ID vetting in all forms, grounding the ID application process in legislation to eliminate discretionary powers, and implementing affirmative action measures to issue identification to marginalized communities.

As the implementation of the new guidelines unfolds, civil society organizations remain vigilant, emphasizing the importance of adhering to constitutional guarantees and safeguarding against discrimination in the ID registration process. They stand ready to collaborate with the government to enact legislative and regulatory changes that will ensure a fair and equal identification system for all Kenyan citizens.

While the government’s move to abolish vetting represents a step in the right direction, the true test lies in the effective implementation of the new guidelines to eliminate discriminatory practices and provide a clear pathway to citizenship rights and identification for all Kenyans.

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