Kenya Pushes On with Huduma Namba as Compulsory Digital ID amid Controversy

Kenya’s parliament is reportedly considering a bill seeking to introduce multiple changes to the country’s controversial Huduma Namba digital ID scheme. The schemed had elicited a lingering controversy since its launch in 2019.

According to many local reports such as one by People’s Daily, one of the changes makes Huduma Namba the only proof of ID replacing the current national ID cards that the government plans to withdraw from official use progressively.

National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya proposes the new bill. The bill proposes fines of up to Sh10,000 (approximately US$88.35) for those who will fail to show up for digital ID registration or include their children in the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) databases which Huduma Namba is built on.

As People’s Daily reports, the obliges the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to use Huduma Namba as the basis for drawing up the national voter register, meaning any Kenyan without the ID could be excluded from the voting process. The Kenya Revenue Authority is also expected to use the biometric system as its primary source for identifying taxpayers to fight tax fraud and widen the country’s tax base.

“This bill seeks to reform the identity ecosystem. It adopts the foundational identity system model. It establishes the NIIMS, which will be a primary database for both foundational and functional data, from which every other database with personal data of residents in Kenya, such as database of voters, taxes and social services, will be built,” a portion of the bill reads.

Another report by Business Daily highlights other aspects of the bill, saying those who divulge any personal information concerning the Huduma Namba or are involved in the falsification of any document to procure the ID are liable to hefty fines and jail terms of up to five years.

The controversy around the Huduma Namba reached its apex in October when the country’s High Court called for a halt in the issuance of the cards until the government aligned its rollout with provisions of the Personal Data Protection Act, which it was accused of violating.

While the government argues the Huduma Namba will serve as a tool for Kenyans to gain access to certain critical public services and advance the country’s digital economy efforts, rights activities and opponents to the scheme say it may lead to the exclusion of millions of Kenyans from the digital ID space if a number of measures are not taken into consideration.

So far, Kenya has spent Sh10 billion (about $90.2 million) on the Huduma Namba project, and more than 10 million Huduma Namba digital ID cards have already been issued, the country’s officials disclosed during an ID4Africa virtual event last September.

Authorities are planning more biometric registration for the cards as the 2022 general elections approach.