Digital IDs will help us improve service to citizens, President Ruto says

President William Ruto at one of the stands during the official opening of the 7th ID4Africa Augmented General Meeting

President William Ruto at one of the stands during the official opening of the 7th ID4Africa Augmented General Meeting at the Kenya College of Insurance in South C, Nairobi on May 24, 2023. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Kenya’s plan to provide all citizens with a digital identity is about to become a reality, with the government committing the resources needed to ensure the transition to third-generation smart IDs. 

The new digital identity system will not only consolidate citizens’ information into a comprehensive registry but will also be valuable in helping the State to accurately plan its resource allocation and delivery of services to Kenyans.

Speaking during the ID4Africa 7th General Assembly in Nairobi, President William Ruto said that sound identity management is essential for the effective management of a country’s affairs, adding that Kenya is considering the implementation of a civil registration and vital statistics system.

“This new system must assign unique personal identification numbers at birth to all persons born in Kenya, upgrade the current national identity card to a national digital identity management system and adopt the most sophisticated passenger information solution to manage entry and exit at our borders and ports,” President Ruto said.

The new generation identification system, the President said, will also help the government to capture accurate information on the population within Kenya’s territory as well as metadata on the essential characteristics of citizens in order to provide them with services and allocate resources with efficiency and accuracy. He added that Kenya has taken steps to ensure 100 per cent registration of births and deaths by 2026.

Smooth transition

The identity management system is the foundation on which Kenya’s financial, revenue collection, telecommunications, social security, universal health and voter registration systems are built, the President said, vowing to ensure that the transition to smart IDs would be smooth and swift.

The government has not indicated how different the proposed smart ID will be from the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), better known as Huduma Namba, which was supposed to replace the current national IDs. By December 2022, more than Sh10 billion had been spent on the project, with only 7.3 million Huduma Namba cards issued.

NIIMS is supposed to save biometrics (fingerprints and face), and demographic and physical details of Kenyans and registered foreigners.

The country has embarked on a programme to digitise government records and information and automate public service delivery to enable Kenyans to access services from their devices.

There are 320 government services on the e-Citizen platform, with plans to increase the number to 5,000 by the end of June, and a total of 7,200 services are expected to be digitised by the end of the year.

“The aim is to significantly reduce transaction costs and minimise opportunities for corruption by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy and also increase transparency in government,” said President Ruto.

The President also urged experts from countries that have already adopted the digital system to use the conference to engage in serious discussions on how they can share their technical know-how with Africa on best practices in creating credible, secure and reliable identity management systems.

Biometric system upgrade

The move to digital identity will see Kenya upgrade its shared fingerprint biometric system currently used by the National Population Register to one that also captures iris and facial recognition data to enhance security, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki revealed.

“Our current ID system is semi-automated and we plan to upgrade it to a fully automated biometric identification system with additional security features. The unique personal identification numbers issued at birth will be the IDs for children when they turn 18,” said Prof Kindiki.

Kenya was one of the first countries on the continent to establish a data protection policy and will leverage this to enhance the security and privacy of personal data to support the country’s leap into a fully-fledged digital economy.

Last week, Immigration and Citizenship Principal Secretary Julius Bitok said Kenya will borrow heavily from Pakistan in its planned introduction of the digital identity card and integration of existing databases on registration records.

ID4Africa Executive Chairperson Joseph Atick commended Kenya for leading the digital identity movement and called on African states to sensitise their citizens on the benefits of moving to a digital system.

The ID4Africameeting began on Tuesday and concludes today at the Kenya College of Insurance in Nairobi. It has brought together some 1,850 delegates from 90 countries.