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Kenya’s digital ID boosted by Gates Foundation but govt struggles to convince citizens

Kenya’s digital ID boosted by Gates Foundation but govt struggles to convince citizens

Kenya’s digital ID project, known as Maisha Namba, will receive advice from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The global charity group, started by the Microsoft founder, will help connect the Kenyan government to key technical experts and partners, Mark Suzman, CEO at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told Business Daily Africa.

“We have a number of specific investment support on digital identity. We actually provide it to broader platforms,” Suzman said on the sidelines of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Marrakech, Morocco.

Maisha Namba is a unique personal identification number assigned to every Kenyan citizen. The number is assigned to the Maisha Card as a digital identity credential. The country has been preparing for the US$6.8 million launch of the biometric digital ID system for the past several months. At the beginning of October, however, Kenyan authorities postponed its launch due to “unfavorable circumstances.”

The project has been met with skepticism in some parts of the country. Residents of the eastern Kenyan city of Garissa say that they are not ready for the Maisha Namba rollout due to poor infrastructure and network availability.

Residents also claim that the local nomadic culture would make it difficult for them to use the digital ID system and have asked the government to reconsider the launch, Kenyan newspaper The Star reports.

“The Kenya Kwanza government seems to have forgotten it promised to make the process of acquiring an ID card, birth certificate and passports less tedious for our people,” says rights activist Aden Abdullahi. He claims that the government is backtracking on its promise to stop vetting people seeking identification cards and that rogue government officials are seizing the opportunity to demand bribes in return for vetting.

Rights groups have also been expressing concern over the possibility of discrimination and the erosion of privacy. The organizations argue that the government is repeating the mistakes of Kenya’s previous ID system Huduma Namba which was declared unconstitutional by the country’s High Court in October 2021 for conflicting with its Data Protection Act.

The Kenyan government has attempted to reassure citizens of its commitment to the inclusion and protection of data privacy.

Speaking at forum in the Wanjohi in the central Kenyan Nyandarua County on Monday, government officials including Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) Rukia Chitechi noted that the country’s National Registration and Identity System is lagging behind other countries, putting Kenya at risk of non-compliance with international enforcement agencies’ standards.

Maisha Namba is also expected to address different challenges such as identifying and authenticating citizens, safeguarding primary registration documents such as birth certificates and national identity cards and improving the management of social programmes and government operations. The number will also be used to register for government services, including education, health insurance, tax and social security, the officials said.

“After the sensitization program, the system shall be run through schools by ensuring every child born is assigned a maisha namba and shall use that number through school and after they attain 18 years, the number will translate to Maisha Namba,” says Chitechi, as reported by Kenya News.

To ensure safety, the system will include cryptographic technology for data security and support web-based and offline identity authentication, digital signatures and access to e-service platforms, according to the Deputy County Commissioner.

The government has also promised that 3rd-generation ID card will not be mandatory and will not require individuals to register anew. It will instead rely on the current civil registration system.

Kenya’s digital identity program is supported by the United Nations Development Programme.

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