Kenya is the only country in Africa with a functioning automated population database that compiles details of citizens living locally or in the Diaspora, as well as non-citizens in the country.
The Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS) is a collection of registries from various government agencies centrally located in the Ministry of State for Immigration and Registration of Persons.
The IPRS, which provides a 360 degree view, can be used to authenticate documents by citizens or identify Kenyans by matching their biometric and photographic details with documents in their possession.
IPRS can also well be applied for the authentication of people, drawing from banks where the system can match whether the physical person at the teller is the same as the one in their system thus reducing cases of fraud.
What exactly is the IPRS?
The IPRS is the immigration ministry’s central database that brings together over a dozen databases held by various government agencies. It combines data from the birth and death register, citizenship register, ID card register, aliens register, passport register and the marriage and divorce register.
On top of these 6 registers, it compiles details from the elections register, tax register, drivers register, National Social Security Fund (NSSF) register, National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) register and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) register.
According to director of IPRS at the ministry of Immigration George Anyango, it is the “most thorough database in the continent”.
“It will be a while before any country in the region can be able to create anything similar to these. Many of the countries have colonial problems that unlike Kenya where every citizen was given an identity card by the colonial government and luckily the system was picked up by independent Kenya many other countries lack the same system,” he says.
IPRS is not a new concept
The concept has been in incubation for more than 23 years, with the idea sitting on paper since 1989, though successive governments failed to kick start the project until 2010.
Anyango says that over 50 percent of the population’s data is being held in the system, with the rest expected once the new elections register and the birth and death registry is verified and put into the system.
“It is a register so accurate that in future with automation of systems such as the birth and death registry the need for a populations census carried out every 10 years could be done away with such polls carried out for scientific researches on selected regions. Not a blanket census,” he said.
A number of candidates looking to compete in elections were found unfit for the positions because of integrity issues, not paying taxes or even educational qualifications thanks to the IPRS.
Anyango says that the department of IPRS, which he currently heads, will in future solve a number of problems for Kenyans, such as the spread of fake educational certificates.
He adds that people using the country’s exit and entry points at the border have also seen increased efficiency as the posts are already connected to the system, making the use of fake identification documents impossible.
“Should you present a passport that was not issued to you by the authorities the next step you will notice police headed to your way as the system can match your face to the passport to your fingerprint,” he said.
For the coming general elections, he says the IPRS will play a critical role in ensuring that only valid voters cast their votes as it will be virtually impossible to use another person’s documents.
SIM card registration in Kenya
Another important fact that is unknown to a majority of Kenyans is that the SIM registration exercise would not have been possible without the IPRS. Although SIM card holders were allowed to register automatically using their phones, the system was instrumental in authenticating the details.
In the line of innovation, the IPRS played a critical role in making mobile banking product MShwari to become functional without hitches along the way. The IPRS, which combines data from central reference bureaus (CRBs) on the borrower’s credit history with SIM-card details as collected by the CCK, made it impossible for borrowers with bad debts to access credit.
Though it is impossible to bypass the system using fake documents, the immigration ministry laments that a number of foreigners have illegally acquired documents such as IDs and passports, most of which have been received through corruption.
Arresting such culprits is even harder, as many of the neighbouring countries from where they originate lack systems that register their citizens.
Another problem is that the system is yet to be interconnected with Kenyan embassies who are charged with the responsibility of renewing passports abroad.
If everything goes to plan, the idea is to create an authority or parastatal from the immigration ministry which would be called the Kenya Citizenship and Foreign Nationals Service, charged with coordinating issues related to registration of people in Kenya.
Other futuristic projects in collaboration with other ministries include integrating land and company records with the IPRS. For now, the ministry can boast of having achieved what none of its peers in the region has, as it targets to enter records of 90 percent Kenyans into the system by the end of 2014.
The government and private organisations are by then expected to be connected using the IPRS including the police, insurance companies, financial institutions, research agencies and educational institutions.