The failure of the “single source of truth about Kenyans” : the National Digital Registry System, collateral mysteries and the Safaricom monopoly

Publication Type:

Journal Article


African Studies, Volume 78, Issue 1 (2019)



<p>This paper explores the recent failure of an elaborate biometric registration scheme, the National Digital Registry System, in Kenya. The paper shows that the Kenyan and South African economies are closely linked in their obsessions with biometric identification registration, and financialisation, but it also draws out the particular significance, in the Kenyan case of a conflict over the form and ownership of credit information as collateral. The failure of the project was the result of fractured financial interests, and specifically of a conflict between the formal banks and Safaricom, the monopoly telecommunications firm that has created the globally distinctive system of mobile money, M-Pesa. At issue between them were two very different models for decision-making, and profit, in the extension of personal credit.</p>

Digital Humanities

Over the last two decades African humanities scholarship has been powerfully moved by an interest in real and figurative archives in shaping the politics of knowledge. This curiousity about the power of official and private archives in setting the limits of what can be known has coincided with a global change in the forms and qualities of texts that last occurred in the 16th century. The rapid expansion of the Internet, and the proliferation of digital textual forms and repositories that it fosters, presents difficult questions about the project of Humanities scholarship which is so closely bound to the form of the printed book. But it also offers compelling opportunities to reconsider and reorganise the work of private and public archives, and their effects. In the wake of collapses in state-support for academic libraries and book publishing there are real opportunities for African scholarship in the new forms of access, distribution and curatorship that are supported by the Internet. But – when many universities on the continent have no reliable electricity supply – the digital revolution is itself potentially a source of new kinds of intellectual exclusion that must be addressed pragmatically and with cunning. In this theme WISER will mobilize the emerging tools of the digital humanities to investigate, and rework, the deep politics and effects of the inherited archive, of official record keeping, the form of the book and visual cultures.

Knowledge Futures

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