Lorraine Ouma and Mercy Kimani had many options of spending their free time during their final year at Naivasha Girls High School.
They could have written letters to their boyfriends, or chatted away the night prep with gossip and small talk.
Instead, they put their minds together for a brilliant idea that would change Kenya’s administrative history.
Lorraine and Mercy innovated - Wananchi card
Lorraine and Mercy innovated what they christened Wananchi card – an information system that would merge all the relevant details that the government needs to know about its citizens.
In a country where campus students struggle with five-page term papers, the two form-four students put in long hours of research and critical thinking to come up with a 27-page document explaining how the system would work.
Although they were yet to receive most of the government documents that are given after one turns 18 – they were cognizant of the decades-old bureaucracy that has seen citizens forced to carry nearly ten cards to receive various government services.
“Due to the growing population of our nation and the many processes that citizens of our country have to go through to obtain certain services e.g. obtaining loans and paying taxes, obtaining important documents such as birth and death certificates, identity cards and obtaining records such as criminal records for the government, retirement age and also ensure free and fair ways of acquiring government and bursaries” .
“We have devised a way in which these bureaucratic processes can be made very short, simple, cheap and more secure to both the government and its citizens, evade corruption and still maximally secure the details to be kept personal,” the students wrote in the problem statement.
Their project was supported by their school and when entries were called for the inaugural Young Scientists Kenya (YSK) National Science and Technology Exhibition in 2018, they presented their idea.
“We were excited when the ICT CS Joe Mucheru visited our stand. He appeared impressed by our project and during his speech, he mentioned it as a great idea as the government was struggling with information management,” Mercy said in an interview with Pulselive.co.ke.
CS Mucheru's PA was to follow up with the students
According to the students, Mucheru asked his personal assistant to follow up with the two students to ensure their project was implemented.
The P.A reportedly did not keep in touch but fast-forward to 2019 – Mercy says they were surprised when they heard the government announce the huduma namba as a new information system that would help the government deliver better government services.
The value promise was strikingly clear to what they had presented in their project
“This project has been done to prove the need and usefulness of a better system of storing information about a citizen whereby all details will be in one single card reducing the bulk of many cards or paperwork documents thus ensuring efficiency in acquiring services for citizens in a country,” the students had hypothesized in 2018 – the same message that was featured in the huduma namba campaign urging Kenyans to register.
Mercy told this writer that her only disappointment is the failure by the government to acknowledge their intellectual input in the project.
“We did not undertake the project with any intention of making money, we just wanted to be part of making Kenya a better country but it doesn’t feel right that the government took an idea from young Kenyans and did not acknowledge them in any way,” she said.
Pulse Live Kenya reached out to the office of the ICT CS Joe Mucheru who had not responded by the time of publishing this story.