President of Estonia asks Kenya's private sector to support Huduma Namba

Standard Group CEO Orlando Lyomu, Estonia President Kersti Kaljulaid and Defence CS Monica Juma at the Standard Group on September 10, 2021. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid became the first VVIP to visit the Standard Group’s state-of-the-art converged newsroom, where she praised the Huduma Namba project.

Ms Kaljulaid said the success of Huduma Namba, which was modelled along the lines of her country’s digital Identification Card (ID) system, is their buy-in from the private sector.

The Baltic nation rolled out a digital identification system and digitisation of services two decades ago.

She was received at the Standard by Group CEO Orlando Lyomu, taken around the newsroom before settling for an interview with the country’s fastest growing radio station, Spice FM.

She was accompanied by Defence Cabinet Secretary Dr Monica Juma.

“The private sector came on board and made this development sustainable because the government was relatively slow with its rollout,” she told Spice FM’s ‘Situation Room’ hosts Eric Latif, CT Muga and Ndu Okoh.

She said her country’s digital ID was adopted by banks and telcos as a gateway to their services because it offered better security and integration with government services.

“They realised it was better than having their own localised system because it had a government guarantee. The government had set the legal framework that guaranteed the safety of online access through the encrypted digital ID,” she said.

Kenya sees Estonia as a model country for its National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), which was rolled out in 2019.

Estonia runs an e-ID system that allows citizens to access government services online.

The service was started in 2001 and citizens can not access 99 per cent of government services digitally.

Ms Kaljulaid said it took four years from the rollout of the digital ID to realise full digitisation of government services, adding that support from the private sector ensured its success.

“Private sector sustained us for this period and people did not get disappointed in the digital ID. They got to use it and realised that there were benefits in having just one access tool for every service in the country and also having an encrypted format for it,” she said.

She said the system had proven that it was secure and “that is why everyone has kept doing it because they realise it pays back very well.”

She explained that Estonia had remained committed to the transformation and became one of the most digitally advanced states.

But one of the biggest reasons why her country was digitally transformed, she said, was because it has no segregation between the labour market and the private and public sectors.

While she emphasised entrenching the rule of law and personal freedoms, she said she was impressed with Kenya’s freedoms.  

“(In Estonia) personal rights and personal freedoms became extremely important and our Constitution is very strong on that. This unleashed the economic potential because only free people are truly creative,” she said.

To back her argument, she said that people could not invest if they were afraid that their businesses will be taken away or they will be discriminated against because they did not have connections with the political elite.

She said that the government also needed to efficiently and conveniently provide services. “In Estonia, we do not expect the government to provide a lower level of service than the private sector,” Ms Kaljulaid said.

She said she was impressed with the progress that Kenya has made and was convinced that the country could do better.

She noted that Kenya had a huge potential to advance faster with the help of technology

Estonia is on a campaign to champion IT infrastructure development in Africa, after the country’s transformation from a middle-income country to a lower level rich country.

She said there was no standard guide to developing a country. “You have to do things your own way to find leapfrogging opportunities and I see this when I look at the African Union,” she said.

The country of a million people has been growing their global presence by supporting digital development in the world.

She added that Estonia believed in African leaders are its ambassadors and pitched for smart diplomatic presence to save on resources.

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