Kenya creates Africa’s first national digital ID scheme

By on 25/06/2019
Kenya’s national digital ID scheme, the continent’s first, is designed to ease and manage access to public services (Image courtesy: ITU Pictures/flickr).

Kenya has just closed registration on the country’s new digital database, creating the first population-wide identity scheme in Africa.

“My administration will complete a central master population database, which will be the authentic single source of truth,” president Uhuru Kenyatta said in January, during the launch of the project.

The National Integrated Identity Management System, or NIIMS, is expected to help government better understand its citizens, provide services effectively, curb corruption and create solutions to policy challenges, according to a new report by the Ministry of Information Communications and Technology (MICT). When departments can clearly identify individuals – overcoming differences in the way they hold data, and minimising the opportunities for fraud or errors – it becomes far easier to deliver integrated services and exchange data between public bodies. 

Single source of truth

Kenyans are set to be issued with digital identification cards, dubbed Huduma Namba – the Swahili for ‘Service Number’ which will allow them access to all government services. The majority of the country’s eligible population had signed up by the end of the registration period late last month.

“Our vision is that in the next five years, every part of the country will be connected, thus allowing all citizens to partake in the digital movement,” said president Kenyatta, speaking at a tech conference in Rwanda during May.

The US$60m program will serve as a “test bed for new ideas for the rest of the continent”, Kenyatta added.

Business opportunities

The government is keen to “control and commercialize” the ‘‘significant natural and monetary resources in the digital economy”, the MICT report explains, adding that the new system will create opportunities for private sector involvement in service delivery – through verifying people’s identities, for example, or providing additional services. Some public services are also likely to be commercialised, to create fresh sources of revenue for the state.

“It is vital that each country develops a vibrant digital economy lest it be swamped by fast moving global brands and companies,” the report says.

The value of the ICT sector expanded by 12.9% between 2017 and 2018, growing from Ksh345bn (US$3.4bn) to Ksh390bn (US$3.8bn), according to the Kenya National Economic Survey report of 2019. 

Local setbacks, wider progress

The process has encountered some obstacles. In April the Kenyan High Court, while affirming the legitimacy of the voluntary registration scheme, prohibited the state from collecting DNA and GPS coordinates during the registration process. Elsewhere in Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are also rolling out digital ID schemes. And the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa are working on a continent-wide programme to provide digital identities, with the goal of providing over 500 million people with digital IDs.

About Samuel Gebre

Samuel is a journalist working across Eastern and West Africa, reporting on business, commodities, technology, environment and politics. In addition to writing with Global Government Forum, his bylines can be found on Bloomberg News.

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