Kenya mulls introducing virtual IDs for citizens

The government now plans to introduce a virtual identification system for Kenyans.

Information and Communication Technology Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo said this will be a step towards modernising identification processes beyond traditional physical ID cards.

While making his keynote address before the Senate Committee on ICT in Mombasa on Tuesday, the CS said he is spearheading discussions on the nation’s digital transformation agenda, placing a spotlight on the innovative concept of a virtual identification system and the imperative need for Artificial Intelligence (AI) regulation.

CS Owalo emphasised the system’s potential to revolutionise citizen services, reducing reliance on cumbersome paperwork and queues while enhancing efficiency and security measures.

While noting that the new identification is a striking contrast from the 2nd generation IDs, Huduma Number and Maisha Number, Mr Owalo urged the Senate and national assembly members to ensure there is proper awareness among Kenyans before the new system is introduced.

“Huduma number failed because it was introduced at the wrong time and it was very suspicious. It was near an election and that’s why it wasn’t attractive. Kenyans need to know how the change is going to affect them. With the Huduma number, there was inadequate sensitisation.

“We will require awareness and explain to Kenyans the rationale of virtual identification. This will be the success factor that will give us acceptability,” CS Owalo said in response to a question by Nominated Senator Shakila Abdallah from Lamu.

In parallel, Mr Owalo underscored the importance of proactive AI regulation, acknowledging the global trend towards AI integration and the accompanying necessity for ethical governance.

He highlighted ongoing efforts to draft an AI Bill aimed at addressing regulatory gaps and ensuring responsible AI deployment in Kenya.

The Senate Committee on ICT’s discussions with the CS focused on the multifaceted aspects of Kenya’s digital progress including the development of digital skills through collaboration with institutions such as the Kenya School of Government (KSG) and the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC), as well as the exploration of innovative funding models to sustain digital initiatives without straining government resources.

CS Owalo reiterated the government’s commitment to promoting digital inclusion and accessibility even as they deliberated on taxation policies and the management of digital hubs.

He emphasised the importance of collaborative decision-making processes involving government bodies and private sector partners to ensure the success and sustainability of digital projects.

“It is not the business of the government to compete with the private sector. We need to start thinking of how we can roll out programs without straining the Exchequer. We need to entice the private sector.

“The hubs will be built by CDF funds and recruitment will be done by the County to assist in getting the manpower. It will be our prerogative to ensure staffing and their wages are catered for by the National government,” he explained.

Mr Owalo highlighted the transformative potential of digital technologies in addressing societal challenges and driving economic growth and stressed the need for agile regulatory frameworks that adapt to evolving technological landscapes, positioning Kenya as a frontrunner in the global digital economy.

He reaffirmed the government’s vision of harnessing technology for the betterment of society, urging collective action and collaboration to realize Kenya’s digital aspirations.

With a focus on innovation, inclusivity, and responsible governance, Kenya aims to chart a course towards a prosperous and digitally enabled future.
The stakeholders reaffirmed their commitment to advancing Kenya’s digital agenda through collaborative efforts and informed policy-making.

By addressing regulatory challenges, fostering digital skills development, and leveraging private sector partnerships, Kenya aims to position itself as a leader in the global digital landscape, driving inclusive growth and societal development.

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