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Ruto issues ultimatum for Kenyans to get digital identities

The digital ID Ruto is pushing for is different from Huduma Namba

President William Ruto speaking during the commemoration of the Data Protection Day at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) on January 27, 2023

President William Ruto has given an ultimatum to ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo to revive the government’s effort to give Kenyans digital identities.

Speaking during the commemoration of the Data Prevention Day at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) on January 27, President Ruto said the move was in line with his government’s plan to digitise 5,000 services.

He explained that with the digitisation of government services, Kenyans will require digital identification.


In the next 6 months, we will have 5,000 services available in the digital space,” he stated, adding that so far, his administration had digitised over 600 services.

I have also asked the Ministry of ICT to also work on a digital identity so that the big Huduma thing (Huduma Namba) that never was... we can finally have as Kenya, a digital identity. I have told my good friend Eliud that by the end of this year, Kenyans must be able to identify themselves digitally,” the head of state said.

According to Immigration and Citizen Service PS Julius Bitok, the digital ID the current administration is pushing for is different from Huduma Namba which was conceptualised by former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government.

Named the Unique Personal Identifier (UPI), the proposed digital identity will be assigned to everyone who qualifies for Kenyan citizenship at birth.


It can be used as the school admission number as well as the index number for national examinations. UPI can serve as the ID number on attaining 18 years, the registration number for NHIF, NSSF and driving license number,” Bitok said in an article.

"An obvious question is how different UPI will be from Huduma Namba. Whereas the latter sought to register citizens afresh under a different system, UPI will repurpose an existing and continuous exercise,” the PS explained.

He added that nurses and other medical personnel in maternity facilities will continue to undertake registration while assistant chiefs will register community births.

In a previous interview, ICT CS Eliud Owalo said that the government plans to drop the Huduma Namba name.


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,” said Owalo.

Speaking on Citizen TV on Tuesday, January 10, 2023, Owalo noted that the initiative was well-intended, but the process of introducing it to Kenyans was flawed.

"What is happening is that Huduma Namba was a very well-intended initiative, but the process of introducing it to the market was wrong…The pitfall that befell the huduma number is that there wasn't adequate sensitization at the beginning," said Owalo.

The CS maintained that for such a project to become a success, the government should have involved all stakeholders, including Kenyans.


"Whenever you're introducing something new of that nature, one, you need to explain to Kenyans why it is imperative to introduce such an initiative. They need to understand what it entails. You need to seek stakeholders' views through the various stakeholder affairs so that you get their buy-in," Owalo added.

He further noted that the Huduma Namba initiative might have also failed due to the wrong timing.

Owalo said the political atmosphere at the time might have contributed to the downfall of the initiative.

"And you remember it was launched at a time when there was also a clouded political atmosphere. So there were suspicions around it," he said.


According to Owalo, the Huduma Namba initiative, if passed, would have played an important role in ensuring all Kenyans had a digital identity to enable them to easily access government services.


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