Inspiration from Kenya: the Nubian Rights Forum

Foxglove is challenging the spread of harmful digital tech around the world. We are working in close partnership and solidarity with activists around the world, collaborating to prevent digital technology being abused by governments or corporations.

In December 2019, Foxglove founders Martha Dark and Cori Crider visited Kenya to meet the Nubian Rights Forum, a community group who have been challenging the Kenyan government’s National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), known as Huduma Namba.

We told them about our plans for Foxglove, and they told us a lot about the amazing work they’ve been doing in coalition with other Kenyan civil society actors to challenge Huduma Namba. They talked us through their strategy, and the background to their concerns that this identity system has the potential to worsen the discrimination and exclusion already faced by the Nubian ethnic minority in Kenya and many other marginalized communities in Kenya.

The hardware kits used to collect data for the Huduma Namba system were purchased from IDEMIA, a French corporation which is one of the largest digital identity firms in the world.

IDEMIA is a major player in the spread of biometric and digital identity technologies, with over £2.2 billion in worldwide revenues and 13,000 worldwide employees. It has marketed biometric/digital ID systems and other “augmented identity” technologies and public sector decisionmaking tools, to several countries in Africa alongside Kenya, including Nigeria and Morocco. One idea we explored with the Nubian Rights Forum was the potential for Foxglove to help them raise their concerns in France as part of their efforts to stop the system in Kenya.

We expected to be in Kenya as the judgment was delivered in a constitutional case which the Nubian Rights Forum had brought to challenge Huduma Namba. Instead judgment was postponed and, whilst we were there, the court heard arguments on issues concerning the impact of the Kenyan Data Protection Act on the case. This was adopted in November 2019 following the close of the court’s hearing of the case but before the court had concluded its deliberations.

The judgment was finally delivered on January 30, 2020, and was an important success for the Nubian Rights Forum. The Court ordered the government to stop implementation of NIIMS until a regulatory framework was put in place to guarantee the security of biometric data and to ensure the system is not exclusionary.

The Kenyan government is now trying to roll out the system regardless, without the necessary safeguards in place – so the Nubians’ fight continues. This means the work to challenge Huduma Namba will roll on and Foxglove looks forward to partnering with the Nubian Rights Forum in the future.