Kenyan drivers are yet to fully embrace a new smart driving licence introduced in the country in 2018. The digital driving licence replaces a multi-page manual licence that was renewable annually or after three years.
While the country’s National Transport Authority hopes to enlist at least five million drivers, the process has been slow as many drivers find the cost of driving licence (about 30 US dollars) too high.
Isaac Kamau mark times at his workstation for a second week this year. Mark timing because the business continues to be slow for this taxi driver since the introduction of his competition in the form of ride-hailing apps and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kamau sighed with relief last year when the government extended the deadline for the acquisition of new generation driving licences for all drivers.
“I have not renewed, because it’s 3 000 Shillings and I don’t have that money. I have so many things to do. So I prefer to renew the old licence yearly for just 650 Shillings,” Taxi Driver Isaac Kamau says.
Across from here at an internet café, Mwirigi Muthee assists a client make an online application for the new licence. Even here Muthee says he has seen a decline in the number of those making fresh applications.
The smart driving licence costs 3 000 shillings – which is about 30 US dollars, the booklet that is now being phased out costs half that – which is seemingly out of reach for many drivers.
“Of late we have not seen a lot of people coming only the upper-class people, who can afford to pay that 3 000. The other people like taxis and even which they pay 650 per year,” says Businessman Mwirigi Muthee.
Kenya started the process of introducing the digital driving licence just over ten years ago, but intrigues in the tendering process have not only slowed down the process but also made the licence more expensive, according to investigative journalist John Allan Namu, who retraces the process since 2008, when the first printing tender issued to a Belgian company fell through.
Namu explains, “What we found in those leaked emails were the seeds of a very well-constructed plan of entrepreneurship essentially, where there’ll be players who unnecessarily experienced at least on the Kenyan side…going to.”
The tender finally went to the National Bank of Kenya, which works through a technical partner to print the cards. Those who have applied for the card have mixed reactions on the waiting period once one makes the application. Attempts to get a comment from the National Transport Authority on how many cards have been issued, how many people are on the waiting list and on complaints that the card is expensive were not successful as the authority declined to grant us an interview. Namu however says his organisation’s investigation point to how intrigues in Kenya’s and by extension Africa’s procurement processes give room for corruption and exploitation of hapless drivers like Kamau.
“What it tells you is that there is a certain likelihood kickbacks that were being paid to certain people and that the deal itself is being inflated which character many of the deals…is then paid by us,” Namu adds.
Indeed, Namu who has investigated several corrupt dealings in Africa says he is not surprised at South Africa’s Department of Transport explanation that it sourced its printing machine from Germany.
For now, drivers like Kamau hope the government will keep pushing the deadline if only to allow him more legal time on the road.
VIDEO: Kenyan drivers are yet to fully embrace a new smart driving licence