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Kenya considers another digital ID after Sh10Bn Huduma Namba flop

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The Kenyan government on Tuesday sought to turn the spotlight on Huduma Namba, announcing it will ponder a slew of options to replace the controversial digital identification that has rattled experts and policymakers alike since its launch.

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo in a televised interview admitted that there was suspicion in its formulation, terming it a “pitfall” and saying it fell short of a reasonable inducement from the public.

“The pitfall that befell Huduma Namba was that there was no adequate sensitization at the beginning. It was also being launched at a time when there was also a clouded political atmosphere, so there was suspicion around it” noted Owalo while addressing the sensitive issue on Citizen Television.

The ICT boss – without giving details, said the government will instead come up with a new digital identity to facilitate virtual transactions between the State and members of the public as part of Kenya Kwanza government to digitize over 5000 government services within the next six months.

“I do not want to call it Huduma Namba, what we are talking about here is a digital identity card…you can call it any other name. What we are referring to is a digital identity to facilitate virtual transactions between the government and members of the public,” offered Owalo.

Presently, Kenyans are required to carry several documents like a national identity card, KRA personal identification number, driving license, passport, and many others. But the proposed digital ID, akin to Huduma Namba, will see all these documents recorded in different databases so the new ID consolidates the information to arrive at a ‘single source of truth’ regarding a Kenyan.

Part of that process, according to Owalo, has seen the State take over the running of the e-Citizen service portal previously operated externally by a private company.

“We have just taken over the e-citizen platform and want to upgrade the infrastructure and by next week we will be onboarding additional services on that platform from consumption of services by the public,” offered Owalo in the interview.

The reversal of the policy and hullabaloos surrounding the digital ID – unveiled in April 2019, amid public uproar, was widely expected to take center stage in the current administration whose architects zealously opposed its conception.

Legislators, allied to the then Deputy President William Ruto, claimed an expatriate had been procured privately to steer the second phase of the programming claiming the process was ill-conceived.

Similarly, in October 2021, the High Court of Kenya put brakes to the national roll-out of the Huduma Namba cards ruling that the move had grossly violated the provisions of the Personal Data Protection – bringing to a halt a –Sh10 Billion investment under the previous regime.

The Huduma Namba dream had been envisioned to serve as a tool for Kenyans to have access to certain critical public services and advance the country’s digital economic efforts under the Digital Economy Blueprint –a framework that promises to improve Kenya’s and Africa’s ability to leapfrog economic growth.

The key benefits of a vibrant digital economy include an expansion of business opportunities for Kenyan businesses, it also offers to create new employment opportunities as well as enhance public services.

Statistics by the World Bank show that the digital economy is growing faster than overall economies, especially in developing countries, with communications technologies (ICTs) accounting for 17 percent of GDP growth in such countries.

A vibrant digital economy, according to Owalo, has the potential to eliminate financial loss and wastage in public offices by improving service delivery.

“As we progress, we will then have most of these being finalized through appropriation in aid -where you generate revenues internally through that process there is a mechanism based on the fees you charge, some go to the service providers and some are plowed back and re-invested into the same system,” Owalo said on the decision to take back the e-citizen platform.

This article first appeared on People Daily.

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