Is it time for an integrated African digital identity?

Published: 26/Avr/2024
Source: Biometric Update

Architect of Kenya’s Maisha Namba says Africa needs united digital economy

By Joel R. McConvey

A leading politician in Kenya is calling for the establishment of an integrated African digital identity in order to foster connectivity and strengthen economic ties on the African continent. But if Kenya is a model, it has yet to demonstrate it can implement a national digital ID that protects fundamental rights.

Eliud Owalo, Kenya’s cabinet secretary (CS) for information and communication technology, has been a vocal proponent of national digital identity initiatives, insisting that his Maisha Namba plan for a digital ID program in Kenya will succeed where others have failed. Now, in a government release quoting his remarks in Nairobi during the launch of the 2024 Transform Africa Summit (TAS), he says it is no longer enough for countries to conduct digital transformation in silos.

“We have been doing our own initiatives at individual country level but we need to move forward in tandem as one united Africa digital economy,” Owalo says. “When it comes to policies, laws and regulations, we need to have them in a way that we speak to each other as opposed to being discordant to each other.”


Kenya’s refreshed national digital ID raising familiar human rights flags

Kenya has already digitized more than 5,000 government services as part of the digital transformation push, and plans to issue at least three million digital national IDs before the end of 2024. However, the current digital ID rollout is haunted by the albatross of Huduma Namba, the disastrous previous national digital ID scheme launched in 2019 by the government of then-president Uhura Kenyatta. Government records show that by the end of 2022, the Huduma Namba had eaten through more than ten billion Kenyan Shillings (US$69 million), leaving behind little but a smoldering cautionary tale. Its downfall is largely attributed to failing to factor human rights, data security and privacy into its design and rollout.


And there is general fear among activist groups that, in the case of a Kenyan national digital ID, history is doomed to repeat itself.

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Themes: Cartes d’identité et passeports
Regions: Pan Afrique, Kenya
Year: 2024