Let Mwende Gatabaki Speak!
Wow! That’s all I can say. So, in summary, Mwende Gatabaki, is an accomplished IT professional . She had a great job in Tunisia. She worked at the Africa Development Bank. One day in 2014, her boss at the AfDB walked in and told her that President Uhuru Kenyatta wanted her to return to Kenya and do some work on digital transformation.
“I actually have a letter with my name on it signed by the President” she says.
She left a great job. To come back build her country. The President explained, he wanted her to create a ‘single source of truth’. She requested him to table the issue at Cabinet for ‘buy in’.
The idea was to have an identity infrastructure. Think of it this way, she says, when you are born and they process your birth certificate, by the time you get to 18, the government should call you and tell you, ‘come for your ID’, so you show up, surrender your biometrics, and the ID is processed. What she had in mind, was an integrated solution to show data about people, land, companies and their directors, assets in Kenya. She had in mind efficiency.
“My most excited part which I was looking forward to, was, a single voters’ register… my mission and goal was to have a single digital voters’ register…” she said.
The Chief of Staff – the President’s main man—was the contact person for her project.
With that kind of mega-database, a super-user, could key in a query somewhere, and have all the details of the land, companies, shares, bank accounts… in short, they would know what you own, where you live … that kind of stuff. Then she proposed that there’d be modules, so not everyone sees everything. She calls it an “identity infrastructure” or “big data management” kind of thing.
You can think of it as the Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ if you want [Read more about the fears of the digital ID system].
She must have been thinking transparency, the government... so that Kenyans stop guesswork about who owns Kenya, how many exact voters exist in the country, reliable statistics for planning purposes and the like. The whole idea was to have sufficient reliable data to allow predictive analysis in government policy planning and evidence-based decisions. And also, you could also get government services from home.
The government and the deep State must have been thinking surveillance, and the power that comes with it. The bad news, I think, for government was that so many stragglers were going to be laid off; so many loopholes for theft were going to be sealed and the many lies were never going to fly.
Then Boom! The whispers began, because some people believed that at the end of it all, she’d have all the power. They invoked ‘national security’ and questioned my so much power was being given to a person who is not in security. Ha! Never mind that they were implementing this in a country with very weak data protection laws.
One day she calls the Chief of Staff for a project update. This time, he doesn’t pick. She called again and again, the calls were never answered. Then, her security was withdrawn.
The official vehicle too. She began using her personal car. Then office parking was withdrawn. But she kept working. Then they stopped her salary. But she kept going to work. Then the threats to her life began. She even to carry her own water to work! One day, she called a board meeting, and the boardroom door was locked.
By this time, she has done all the groundwork for that big project. And then she left. Just like that!