National ID in Africa, still a challenge

Around the globe, countries are investing in their ID systems to create a stronger foundation for development programs and policies.


Devdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 18-03-2018 09:48 IST | Created: 18-03-2018 08:51 IST
National ID in Africa, still a challenge
According to Africa Policy Review, only 10 per cent of adults in Tanzania has national ID. (Image credit: Twitter)

An official identity is compulsory for anyone to access basic rights and participate in the economy. Official identity empowers the person to register assets and vote. ID systems help the government to engage with their citizens in an efficient manner. National ID systems are under development in at least 150 countries and many are strengthening these systems.

Legal identity is recognized with one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In Sub Saharan Africa, 23 National Identification (NID) programs have been introduced since 2000, however, many countries are adding technology to this system by introducing biometrics smart ID cards that enable precise authentication and access to financial transactions.

Estonia, which is the world's most fully equipped nation with the e-ID system is one of the examples. Kenya has started to move towards e-services and e-government. The government forum on Electronic Identity in Africa (ID4Africa) which was attended by 36 countries, provided an unprecedented opportunity to achieve digital ID on large scale, as per Africa Policy Review.

The World Bank also launched an initiative ID4D in order to provide an integrated approach towards ID issues. African countries are facing different issues related to ID systems which can be broady put in three categories - are IDs in Africa difficult to forge, will they cover the large proportion of the population and will the ID system be integrated?

Countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa have developed their ID system which is used for wide range of purpose and covers a large population whereas rest of the countries have rudimentary systems and cover only a modest proportion of the population. According to Africa Policy Review, only 10 per cent of adults in Tanzania has national ID.

ID system can facilitate the delivery of emergency relief as in South Africa fingerprints based biometric accounts deliver social grants in rural areas where vendors are difficult to reach, mobile teams delivered help using iris scan. In Malawi, 11,000 rural families were delivered social grants under The Dowa Emergency Cash Transfer (DECT) program through fingerprint scan to verify mobile ATMs.

According to Africa Policy Review, Nigeria has estimated over 40,000 unknown workers from the public payroll following an audit using fingerprint and iris identification in 2011, this could have saved over USD 60 million. National ID can also facilitate free movement of people across Africa's numerous countries without compromising security.

The 15 ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) member states are taking the lead and launched biometric ID card as a travel ID in the region. Like others, African countries also need strategic approach as they have some challenges to counter such as technology and legislative actions. First, they have to integrate their fragmented systems.

Integration is needed, according to the report by Committee on Harmonization of National Identity Cards. Nigeria has spent USD 2 billion on ID schemes in last 10 years, the banking system launched biometric identification program, the bank verification number (BVN) and till 2015, BVN has made 14 million IDs from a total of 28 million persons, even in voter cards, 67 million people are registered from which only six million have enrolled for nation e-ID program.

Birth registration in Africa are too low as less than 45 per cent of Sub Saharan African children under age of five have been registered opposite to 92 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 75 per cent in East Asia and 98 per cent in Central and Eastern Europe, as per UNICEF, 2014. South Africa linked registration to child support grants, Uganda used mobile technology for registration of new born babies under EU-UNICEF program.

In Argentina, NID is issued after birth, then is first updated at the age of five with photo and thumbprint and then is again updated after the age of 14. ID must be cheaper as the more ID is used the greater is the recovery. Rwanda follows the same approach, they charge less for nation ID as compared to driving license and passports.

Around the globe, countries are investing in their ID systems to create a stronger foundation for development programs and policies, Africa has adopted many successful ID programs but has also lacked strategic approach at the country level. ID system has to be inclusive, cost-effective and ready to provide a foundation for e-economy. Coordination between nation and continental programs can help produce benefits which include cross-border trade and travel.

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