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Kenya Huduma Namba funding almost entirely cut as UPI, digital birth registration begins

Kenya Huduma Namba funding almost entirely cut as UPI, digital birth registration begins

The identity landscape in Kenya continues to shift as birth registration goes digital on 1 March and funding for Huduma Namba, the national biometric ID card, is cut dramatically.

The National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), generally known as Huduma Namba (‘service number’) launched in 2019 by the previous administration is set to see its budget cut by 84 percent or from Sh680 to Sh106 million (US$5.3 million to $832,000), effectively ending the service, reports Business Daily.

The cut is included in a new mini budget. Funds for the issuance of cards have been cut from Sh500 to Sh431 million, following the March 2022 cut from Sh1 billion to Sh500 million when people failed to collect their cards.

The Business Daily reports that the Kenyan government has spent more than Sh10 billion ($78.6 million) on the overall exercise.

Since the beginning of the year, Huduma Namba has been under severe, if unclear threat. It was criticized as poorly handled while great emphasis was placed on digitizing government services.

Fully digital: Huduma card to UPI to census-free digital ID

The idea of a UPI or Unique Personal Identifier (generally a number that tracks an individual across databases) emerged as a digital identity and alternative to Huduma Namba. In February the UPI concept was cemented as the government planned to launch digital birth and death certificates and require UPI for attending school and to serve as a national ID number.

The UPI will be the number for accessing services and eventually appear on a person’s death certificate.

The scheme will possibly include some other form of “smart and digital ID” according to a statement from the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Interior and National Administration. The UPI might not be the ID.

By the end of February there appeared a target of February 2024 for all Kenyans to have a digital identity. This will be linked to the life-long UPI. This would be a digital identity without a card and likely relying on biometrics such as Aadhaar in India.

A person would be issued a UPI number at birth and then the National Digital Identifier at age 18 when they apply for full ID, reports The Standard. The NDI will replace current identification cards. The Standard reports the UPI is already in pilot in hospitals in Nairobi County.

“Among other benefits, the UPI will bring accuracy to the birth registration process, remove border counties’ complaints of discrimination, and close all revenue loopholes that have existed with manual birth registration,” said Professor Julius Bitok, principal secretary of the State Department of Civil Registration Services, when launching the new biometric IDs.

The UPI is expected to remove the need for a national census, reports Nation. “We believe the implementation of the UPI at birth will bring to an end some of the things we have been doing, like the national census, because at any given time we will know how many persons will be living in Kenya and what they will be doing,” Bitok is quoted as saying.

“What we shall need from the census will be more than counting the number of people.”

Budget details for the UPI have not been announced.

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