NERIMA: Share, comment and like freely no more, the govt’s joining your group!

Sunday September 29 2019

A photo illustration taken on March 22, 2018 shows social media apps on a phone. A Kenyan MP has sponsored a Bill in Parliament to have WhatsApp group administrators obtain licences from the Communications Authority of Kenya to run social media groups. PHOTO | AFP


Many Kenyans queued for hours a few months ago for the Huduma Number that never was.

And now a case is underway in court over that non-existent number and how Ksh6 billion ($60 million) was lost. There was always something off about a centralised source of citizen data.


Countries are moving toward decentralising data to reduce the risk of hacking and security breaches that come with it and here was our country pushing to have all citizen data in one place.

But that was not the only problem. The whole system of generating the Huduma Number seemed to use more processes rather than reduce them. Why not reduce the amount of serial numbers linked to an individual? Were we making the Identification Card obsolete? The process did not make any sense. I did not feel right about the whole idea and therefore did not register for the number, and was ready to face the consequences.

Months down the line, and just like that, we learn that billions of taxpayers monies went up in smoke, together with the Huduma number. 


The number of threats issued by a coterie of Cabinet secretaries in the days leading to the registration for the number were unfathomable. They ranged from not being able to access government services from health to passport renewals and everything in between. How can a government threaten to deny its own citizens their rights?

The citizenry was afraid.

Today, with no Huduma Number in sight, the threats-spewing Cabinet secretaries are nowhere to be seen or heard. And neither are there threats that those involved in the loss of monies will be held to account.


But now we have a new threat making all of us scared.... again. This is a sponsored Bill to have Facebook and WhatsApp group administrators obtain licences from the Communications Authority of Kenya to run social media groups.

First, to obtain any licence we pay a fee. Is this some clever way of taxing an already overtaxed population? Countries are looking at different ways of taxing social media usage, and we do not have to travel far from Kenya to find them. Uganda does it.

Perhaps, this is a clever way to introduce taxes because we know that if it was just taxed directly, there would be an uproar. If the Bill goes through, that would mean that no one can form a social media group before informing the CAK, and shall be required to control what the government deems undesirable content and discussion on those groups whether private or public.

Gagging people from what they can speak about will create a country that continues to constantly live in fear.

What is worse is that, if this Bill was to pass, it would make generally law abiding citizens to live in fear of watching what they say and do in the privacy of their time, while being bombarded by a political class that breaks the same law every day in public and on national TV no less. If we were to conduct a study on how many toxic social media groups exist in the country, we will not be surprised to find out that there are not as many as those that are used for good.


For lack of employment, the youth have opted for online businesses selling merchandise, bloggers earn a living by generating and curating online content, while some groups are purely for hobbies and interests ranging from business enterprises to communities, each as diverse as the membership.

There is a thin line when it comes to freedom of speech and when an authority is given full power to decide what is good and what is bad content, what is to stop them from giving you a licence because of a different opinion. Will politicians be held to the same standards when it comes to this Bill? Many Facebook groups are political, and politicians use these free platforms to push an agenda and communicate with their constituents.

Lest we forget, Facebook is also therapeutic for many people in this country. People share about their days in comments, likes and feel they belong in community, so much so that in several police cases for instance, Facebook messages are used as evidence. Social media platforms have become intertwined with our daily lives. The reason why it is called social media, is because it is social. Here come regulations that take that away from individuals.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW