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Tanzania leverages increased knowledge and skill to move toward universal biometric identity

Tanzania leverages increased knowledge and skill to move toward universal biometric identity

Tanzania hosted the inaugural meeting of the ID4Africa movement in 2015. Much has changed since then in the identity ecosystem of Tanzania, as in many African countries. Director of Identification Management for Tanzania’s National Identification Authority (NIDA) Alphonse Malibiche is one of the original voices in the movement, in addition to his guiding role with one of the continent’s most successful national digital identity schemes.

During a plenary session on the first day of ID4Africa 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria, Malibiche told an audience of well over a thousand that after leaping from 6.5 million people in its national registry a year earlier, Tanzania had reached 15.2 million people registered, or more than half of the country’s eligible population. Further, he anticipates mass registration will be completed as soon as June of this year, following tremendous acceleration.

Following his presentation, Malibiche explained to Biometric Update in an exclusive interview that the remarkable acceleration of NIDA’s registration program is due in significant part to the acquisition of some five thousand registrations kits from Tanzania’s electoral authority. The kits were no longer needed to produce electoral rolls, and acquiring them from another government body not only made economic sense for both agencies, but also helps accelerate NIDA’s project toward the point where it can be used by the electoral agency, Malibiche says.

The electoral agency had purchased eight thousand voter registration kits designed, manufactured and delivered by Laxton, in partnership with Lithotech, for Tanzania’s 2015 elections, Laxton Chief Marketing Officer Ian McCutcheon told Biometric Update.

The acceleration of NIDA’s registration program has been rapid, and its initial purchase of 1,500 kits has served as a base which allowed it to develop its processes. Making the expansion work required re-purposing the kits, however, in a test of the country’s capacity.

“(Converting the kits) was a challenge,” Malibiche says. “They are different kits from the ones the application was built for. We had to change the porting, to make sure that the application running on these kits can see the printers, see the peripherals, so it can work they way it is supposed to. They had to make changes to the application, they had to upgrade parts of it, so we could make it a multi-purpose enrollment kit, even though it was designed to run only one application.”

The success of this conversion demonstrates the country’s improved technical capacity, but also the commitment of its government, according to Malibiche. The government set ambitious goals for the national registry, and instructed other agencies to cooperate with NIDA.

“Not just NIDA, but everyone has put hands on to meet the standards of the national project.”

NIDA has registration offices in all 150 districts in Tanzania, but as is typical of many African countries, a significant portion of the population lives in rural villages a long way from the nearest district office. Reaching them means sending remote registration kits to each village, and making a coordinated effort to communicate with far-flung residents to ensure they are aware of when the registration is happening, and why it matters to them, Malibiche says.

“It is very challenging, but the good thing is we’re using all partners, and other stakeholders like mobile operators, because they need this too,” he points out. “These are their future customers.”

Malibiche was one of several speakers at ID4Africa 2018 who advocated for open standards. When asked what governments can do to ensure their biometric data is available for use with different applications and different vendors, Malibiche stresses the importance of planning.

“Make sure that the engagement is clear, otherwise if you don’t do this, you find yourself in a room which has no windows or doors,” he warns. “The challenge we sometimes find is that in the institution, people or engineers tend to choose the easy way to run their operations. If I get a certain service from a certain supplier, I can just lay back and things are simple, and life goes on. But that ends up being very expensive, and the ownership is not there.”

Vendor lock-in was a theme once again at ID4Africa 2018, though less prominent than the year before in Windhoek, Namibia. Malibiche says the incremental progress made in dealing with challenges of creating and implementing national digital ID systems has already been very significant. He is optimistic that the ID4Africa movement can continue to drive progress toward meeting UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 by providing every person with legal identity by 2030.

“There is a big difference from where it started. It’s getting bigger every year, and we’ve really benefited a lot from this movement. We’ve learned a lot. Now we don’t need a consultant for implementing our national ID, and the engineering we are doing by ourselves. Most of the knowledge came from this movement. When we get stuck, we’ve been connected with a number of people from different countries and vendors, so we keep contacting them.”


International Identity Day is a reasonable next step for the movement, as countries seek to broaden enrollment and participation in identity systems.

“The challenge which we have, especially for African countries, is with people missing opportunities, or being left out, or excluded,” he says. “If we can make sure that International Identity Day is in place, it means from time to time everyone will be aware, as we move towards 2030. Everyone should be aware, and take the opportunity to be registered. Then they have an ID which is verifiable, and doing this is a key to systematic difference.”

That systematic difference is the reason for Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, and as Malibiche says, a tremendous opportunity for industry stakeholders to grow their own markets as strong identity enables services, such as for financial inclusion. When Tanzania completes its mass registration process this year, it will be a testament to the capacity of its IT sector and government, but also to the very real possibility that every person in Africa will have legal identity by 2030.

This article was updated at 8:24 EDT May 28, 2018 with details about the voter registration kits provided by Laxton.

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