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Is Kenya’s ‘big Huduma Namba thing’ being adapted to digital-only ID or dropped for a UPI?

Is Kenya’s ‘big Huduma Namba thing’ being adapted to digital-only ID or dropped for a UPI?

“It is not the work of government to issue IDs; it is the work of government to identify Kenyans,” said Kenyan President Ruto at the Data Privacy Conference in Nairobi. Following last week’s announcement by cabinet secretary for ICT, Eliud Owalo, of digital identity for digital government services and evasion of using the name “Huduma Namba,” it is not yet clear what is happening to the controversial national ID system, or cards generated.

Outlets are referring to a Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) as a digital identity and alternative to Huduma Namba, although a UPI is generally a function of an overall ID.

President Ruto confirmed the recent target of 5,000 government services to be made available on line, now with a six-month target. The latest tally of 300 services already digitally available has doubled to 600 in the last two weeks, he told conference goers at the KICC on Data Protection Day.

Ruto singled out ICT head Owalo, who stood up in the audience for his moment, to take charge of the targets: “I also ask the Ministry of ICT to also work on digital identity so that the big Huduma thing that never was – we can finally have as Kenyans a digital identity. And I have told my good friend Eliud [Owalo] that by the end of this year, Kenyans must be able to identify themselves digitally.”

Huduma Namba (“service number”) is strongly associated with the previous administration of president Uhuru Kenyatta. Ruto told followers in the August 2022 election that Huduma Namba was even being used to rig the results.

Last week Owalo told viewers of Citizen TV that “Huduma Namba was a well-intended initiative, but the process of introducing it into the marketplace was wrong. Whenever you are introducing something new of that nature, you need to explain to Kenyans why it is imperative to introduce such an initiative. They need to understand what it entails, and you need to seek stakeholders’ views. And one of the important stakeholders is the Kenyan public.”

When pushed further he said “I don’t want to call it Huduma Namba! Let’s look at it from a conceptual perspective. What we’re talking about here is a digital identity. You can call it Huduma Namba, you can call it any other name.”

Some sort of change is clearly afoot, but it is not clear what.

Nairobi News reports that at an event, likely the same conference, former ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru had said that Huduma Namba was to replace identity cards, and no Kenyan could access government services without it.

The outlet also states that within this new administration, the 38 million Kenyans who have registered their details with National Integrated Identification System (NIIMS) for Huduma Namba will still have their cards issued.

Pulse reports on the UPI. It quotes Immigration and Citizen Service PS Julius Bitok as saying:

“[The UPI] can be used as the school admission number as well as the index number for national examinations. UPI can serve as the ID number on attaining 18 years, the registration number for NHIF, NSSF and driving license number.

“An obvious question is how different UPI will be from Huduma Namba. Whereas the latter sought to register citizens afresh under a different system, UPI will repurpose an existing and continuous exercise.”

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