Government postpones launch of Maisha Namba and digital ID card

Julius Bitok

 Immigration PS Julius Bitok.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

The government has indefinitely postponed the launch of the Maisha Namba and digital ID card that was originally slated for October 2, 2023.

Maisha Namba was to replace the current identity cards for all Kenyans, and will serve as the Unique Personal Identifier (UPI),which will be a key part of the new digital identity proposed by the government.

The launch was to take place at the Nakuru Athletic Club, in Nakuru City presided over by President William Ruto.

Immigration and Citizen Services Principal Secretary Prof Julius Bitok said the postponement was “due to unavoidable circumstances.”

“We wish to inform the public and all the stkeholders that due to unavoidable circumstances,the official launch of the Maisha Namba  and the digital ID ecosystem  that was to be presided over by President William Ruto,in Nakuru County has been postponed,"the statement by PS Bitok read in part.

The statement went on: "A new date for the launch will be communicated in due course.Any inconvenience caused by the postponement is highly regretted. Meanwhile, public participation and stakeholders 'engagement forums on Maisha Namba and the digital ID ecosystem that are ongoing across the country will continue."

Although ,it is not clear why exactly the launch was postponed, some sources in government revealed that the move is to allow for proper public participation before the Maisha Namba is unveiled.

"The State did not want to rush the launch ,before Kenyans are properly sensitized," revealed a senior government official who sought anonymity,because he does not speak on behalf of the government.

The launch of the new generation IDs will cost the taxpayer Sh1 billion.

Last week PS Bitok revealed that the registration for the proposed digital ID database will not be compulsory.

The PS ,who spoke at the Nyayo Gardens in Nakuru, during the World ID Day, revealed that the registration for the proposed digital ID will not be compulsory, but will be conducted gradually.

“I want to assure Kenyans that no one will be forced to take up the Maisha Namba Card. The current IDs will continue to be recognized as valid identification documents alongside the new card,”said Mr Bitok.

According to PS Bitok, the new ID will have superior security and technology features supporting a digital mode of identification.

“I want to make Kenyans aware that all newborns and those registering for IDs for the first time will be issued with a lifetime Maisha Namba, that will be the registration number for school, NHIF, KRA and other government services,” further revealed Mr Bitok.

According to the PS, the new ID is being introduced to comply with international standards of identification, adding that the move will not burden Kenyans.

The new system will have the option digital ID, a digital version of one’s National ID, available online and recognized as valid proof of identity.

The move, according to the Government, is a grand plan to phase out the current IDs in the next 3-5 years.

Already the production of the second generation IDs has been stopped by the State.

According to  PS Bitok, the digital IDs will have four components, including a Unique Personal Identifier(UPI)called the Maisha Namba, the Maisha Card, which will be a third generation ID and the final component will be the National Master Population Register.

The Maisha Card will be a new version of the ID, while the digital ID will be an option to have the ID on the phone instead of carrying the physical ID.

The National Master Population Register will capture  the names of all the people born in Kenya, those turning 18,those who have migrated to other countries and refugees living in the country.

The government says the new version of the ID will be integrated to an extent that when someone applies for a passport,the system will be able to confirm that the applicant has a birth certificate and an ID,ensuring a seamless workflow.

Unlike the Huduma card, the third generation IDs will have a machine readable zone(MRZ)that willcontain details of the holder’s personal information.

The project will be implemented gradually and those turning 18,will be issued with the  third generation IDs.

Early this month,lobby groups have expressed concern about the rollout of the “Maisha Namba” saying that the UPI has no difference with the Huduma Namba, which was declared unconstitutional by the courts in October 2021.

Over ten Human Rights Organizations say that they have written to PS Bitok asking the government to take immediate action to ensure the enactment of proper legislation and meaningful public participation, before rollout of the digital ID.

In the letter they also sought to have the government ensure that Kenyans have access to critical documentations like birth certificates and IDs as well as adequate data protection measures,

as well as adherence to the law in the process used to create the digital identity system.

They said that the rollout is opaque, lacks public engagement and that the lack of procedural and legal safeguards will wreak havoc on the way Kenyans access nationality documents.