Huduma Namba will be a game changer

Kenya simply has no choice but to embrace biometric identity. FILE PHOTO | NMG

There are murmurs that Huduma Namba or the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) project could be abandoned.

In the era of increasing cybercrime, the absence of a trusted biometric identity could rob the country of its status as a regional hub for Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).

The NIIMS is perhaps the low hanging fruit that will give President Uhuru Kenyatta a lasting legacy. It was hoped that NIIMs would form the foundational infrastructure for the upcoming Census, possible referendum and the Big Four agenda but the politicians are changing the narrative to fit their own selfish intentions.

It is a fact that the 2009 Census was manipulated by overestimating the population of eight sub counties in northern Kenya. The only way of providing a credible Census is through biometric identity.

The emerging technologies that would propel the 4th Industrial Revolution require a trusted identity to enable citizens to access benefits such as insurance, pensions, property deeds and virtually all services offered at Huduma Centres.

The system can also facilitate financial transactions including the purchase and sale of digital assets. Kenya leads the world in mobile money, e-commerce is growing exponentially, and government is digitising services to enable a digital economy to flourish.

Kenya simply has no choice but to embrace biometric identity to guarantee a digital economy, security, convenience and a good return on investment in Kenya’s investments in the digital space.

In his paper, ‘‘Biometric identification, financial inclusion and economic growth in India: does mobile penetration matter? analysing the impact of Aadhaar (the biometric identification process), Inclusion and Mobile’’, Saibal Ghosh established that there was evidence pointing to the fact that Aadhaar is making its impact felt on financial inclusion, primarily by improving financial access.

Champions of the system, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, say that Aadhaar “is India’s ticket to the future, a universal, easy-to-use ID that will reduce this country’s endemic corruption and help bring even the most illiterate into the digital age.”In a New York Times article, ‘‘Big Brother’ in India Requires Fingerprint Scans for Food, Phones and Finances’’, officials were reported saying taxpayers have saved at least $9.4 billion from Aadhaar by weeding out “ghosts” and other improper beneficiaries of government services.

There are, however, challenges. Civil society and other organisations fear that the government may misuse the data by conducting surveillance on citizens and that the data is not secure as it may fall into the wrong hands.

The sheer amount of private and confidential data amassed in one single database, makes it a target of cyber attacks and indeed there have been a number of data breaches.

The benefits, however, outweigh the costs and as such the government has made it mandatory as they work to curb cybersecurity breaches. The future is inherently digital. In spite of challenges, implementation of a trusted identity system must continue and be embraced by all.

Biometric identifiers

Already, passports across the world now have biometric identifiers as a strategy to fight problems such as terrorism.

As the studies have shown, in biometric we have the opportunity to enable financial inclusivity and hopefully begin to disrupt poverty. At the 11th Extraordinary Assembly of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, on November 18, 2018, the African Union Commission and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) organised a high-level meeting on Digital Identity.

The objective of the meeting was “to spearhead the advocacy for a continental framework on Digital ID and provide technical inputs to the discourse on Digital ID on the continent, define and shape standards for Digital ID in Africa.”

Even as AU and ECA contemplate the Digital Identity standards for Africa, several African nations, notably Ethiopia, South Africa, Ghana, and Rwanda are in the process of issuing biometric identity to their citizens. Its implementation across Africa will bring the continent closer to her intended African Continental Free Trade Area.

The Digital Identity, despite drawbacks, comes with greater benefits of not just security, convenience and returns on investment, but will help cut the cost of the upcoming Census and elections. It will be Mr Kenyatta’s most assured legacy project.

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