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Kenya mulls digital ID scheme changes and new uses for controversial Huduma Namba

Kenya mulls digital ID scheme changes and new uses for controversial Huduma Namba

The new administration in Kenya is considering plans to revamp the national digital identity project, as the Huduma Namba scheme which was the subject of huge controversy under the presidency of Uhuru Kenyatta.

The cabinet secretary for ICT Eliud Owalo made the disclosure during an interview granted to Kenyan broadcaster Citizen TV, as reported by tech publication Techweez.

The Huduma Namba biometric ID system went live in 2019 but it soon ran into controversy, with digital rights groups calling it exclusionary. It has also been shrouded in allegations of inadequate privacy protections, and a revised draft text of the ID project’s bill has been stuck in Kenya’s parliament.

Owalo is quoted as saying that the digital ID system will have a sustainable financing mechanism which will not rely very much on the state treasury.

Speaking about the Huduma Namba, the cabinet secretary said it was a good project which ran into trouble because of inadequate sensitization and a lack of trust in the system by a vast majority of citizens.

“The 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,” said Owalo as quoted by Techweez.

Apart from the lack of proper sensitization, Owalo also claimed the lack of trust in the ID system was as a result of the political dispensation in Kenya at the time it was launched.

The official also underlined the importance of a digital ID for Kenya’s digitization efforts, saying it will enable citizens in one of Africa’s biggest economies to be able to access government and even private sector services without having to show proof of their identity using physical cards.

On how the ID scheme will be referred to going forward, Owalo said it is not really about the name but the concept of the project. He said whatever the name will be, the idea is to have a digital ID system which will enable a safe and secure online experience.

5K govt services to be digitized

Meanwhile, President William Ruto has told Kenyans that his administration has a plan to digitize thousands of government services so as to facilitate access to these services by citizens both at home and abroad.

According to Ruto, the plan is to ensure that Kenyans in remote areas as well as those residing abroad can get services without any physical displacement, per reporting by Tuko.

“At the moment, we have only 300 services available online but in the next 6 months, we will have onboarded 5,000 government services online and available on all digital platforms so that even when you are anywhere in the world, you can still access government services and we have put in place all mechanisms to make sure that happens,” Tuko quotes President Ruto as saying.

The president also made mention of biometrics, saying citizens will have their fingerprint and face biometrics verified before accessing such services.

This post was updated at 9:07am Eastern on January 17, 2023 to clarify that Secretary Owalo did not propose a new digital ID system to replace the existing one.

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