Right now, Gemalto, a global leader in digital security, is shopping around its new biometric Identity Management System (IDMS) to governments and public institutions, hoping to turn off the invisibility of the world’s over 1 billion people without IDs. UN’s goal is to make 1 billion ID-less people zero by 2030, while Gemalto’s goal is to help make zero happen. Africa’s goal? To be first in line with the deployment of this new biometric system. Because the continent is home to the greatest chunk of the world’s invisible population.

“A unique legal ID is a basic human right that can unlock access to many more – including education, welfare and participation in the democratic process. Our identity Management System leverages unrivalled experience in delivering Digital Identity solutions that empower citizens, defend their personal data, and ensure unhindered access to the rights and services,” Senior Vice President, Identity and Biometric Solutions, Frederic Trojani said in a press statement,

The innovation

Gemalto’s IDMS creates a Foundation Identity (FI) by using biometric data and a unique individual identifier. The FI is hooked to existing identity schemes and uses mobile technology to complete an easy registration and biometric enrollment. Upon creation, the new IDs are forwarded to a central database, from where it can be accessed for opening bank accounts or using other electronic-starter services. Beyond killing multiple identification schemes, the makers also claim their design is highly fraud-proof.

Crucially for Africa, it is designed to work in remote places. Something nasty about that, knowing this innovation may have been targeted, in fact, at the African invisible market. But also, no shame in it at all, if we’re to stop “holding the world back” with our staggering number of unidentified people.

Efforts ongoing

In Zambia, the ICTA (Information and Communications Authority) is using the SIM registration to capture more IDs, threatening to deactivate all inaccurately registered SIM cards by end of the year.

In Egypt, pilgrims require biometric captures while applying for Hajj visas.

Since 2017, Kenya has had an e-Passport system, with plans to extend it this year. Its other much more ambitious, if not more urgent, ID register, Huduma Namba (service number in Swahili), has however been stalled by a root cause of invisibility anywhere: a lack of identity cards and birth certificates. It’s ironic that the government requires birth certificates to sign up for the Huduma Namba, knowing that it has not done a great job with issuing birth certificates from the start, raising doubts about its intention.

In Nigeria, the government is aggregating several agency databases. At one point, citizens were involved in up to twelve different ID card schemes. When these various schemes are aggregated at the National Identity Management Commission, it’ll be easier to compute a fairer number for the number of registered citizens.

In Ghana, the issuance of the Ghana Card has been ongoing. Ghana has managed nearly 500,000 registrations. It’s been ongoing since 2017.

In South Africa, the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) will back up the National Identification System while gradually phasing out the manual Home Affairs National Identity System (HANIS).

In Malawi, over 9 million people have been enrolled in a national identity program, about half the country’s total population.

Implementation issues

In Zambia, registration is partial because people list vague addresses and substitute photos. It got so bad that the Information and Communication Authority’s acting Corporate Communications Manager, Edward Mulenga had to make mobile network operators capture live facial photographs during new SIM registrations. Mulenga also insisted on the specificities of addresses, warning that registrants be pinned down beyond township and landmarks.

As pointed out above, the Huduma Namba in Kenya has been stalled by the precondition of presenting birth certificates. All the problems, in fact, that make invisibility a global issue has shrouded Huduma Namba in controversy: lack of integrity in data management, lack of uniformity in deciding Kenyan citizenship, and lack of faith in the register.

The Ghana Card has been plagued by corruption and ineptitude. Agency staffers allegedly take money from non-citizens and register them. Poor quality biometric captures have often lead to people having to return, causing long lines that have left many frustrated with the process. Bizarrely, officials also seem happy to delay registration until later in the day, when desperate people on the queue can be extorted for a process that should be free. There is also the umbrage by opposition parties, who have alleged that the government is skewering registration in its favour by disallowing current voter IDs as a valid document for registration, especially as the Ghana Card will soon replace the voter card by next year’s election.

As observed elsewhere, it is ironic that these governments request birth certificates from a population to whom it had failed to issue birth certificates. Or, in other cases, numerical street addresses being requested when many streets are not numbered. It’s almost as if the government were half serious about national identification.

Enter Gemalto

Gemalto’s system is built to discourage the kind of manipulation and incompetent data capture that nearly derailed the Ghana Card. It is pinpoint, designed to capture specific data as seen in this Trub-made (Trub is a Swiss company Gemalto has since acquired) Nigerian ID card and is also useful as a means of payment. But beyond that, the card’s integrity is concrete, with emphasis placed on the holder’s permission to release details.

As ID4Africa movement prepares for its fifth annual general meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa tomorrow, it will become much clearer just how far the continent has gone and what the roadmap will look like for implementing a rapid and effective system of documenting Africans living here. Gemalto’s system might not be the go-all, but it is something African governments should be in front of. Malawi is already reaping benefits of proactivity.

Meanwhile, ABI Research has forecasted that national ID issuance will rise up to 50 million by 2023 largely due to large-scale national ID projects ongoing in Kenya, Ghana, Zambia, and Nigeria, among other nations.

By Caleb Ajinomoh

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