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Digital ID in Africa this week: Kenya’s biometric ID scheme, blockchain for refugees, universal health and moonlighting officials


Developments in digital ID across Africa this week include positive steps in Senegal to use digital platforms to rapidly reach universal healthcare, and to use the blockchain to build secure economic IDs for refugees in Kenya. However, also in Kenya, the national biometric scheme runs into further issues as the lack of birth certificates looks set to derail registrations. More details emerge on a central national database for all data held by different Nigerian agencies, while in Ghana a group of residents stormed a house where officials were registering people for the Ghana Card well after office hours.

Kenya: Further woes for the $60m Huduma Namba biometric ID scheme

As Kenya’s ambitious biometric ID registration gets underway, further cracks appear in the system. A lack of identity cards and birth certificates for children and high school students attempting to register in the Buuri East region has meant registrations have fallen far short of targets. According to News Africa Now, only 51,000 have been registered in Buuri East against a target of 99,000.

Registration is open to anyone over the age of six, but the lack of necessary documents has seen residents calling on the government to extend the registration period for the Huduma Namba (Swahili for ‘service number’) as it is being pushed as the one number needed for accessing all services in future. Parents are also calling for the improved issuing of birth certificates, one of the required documents for signing up.

IDEMIA, the French multi-national running the registration project, has been barred from applying for Kenyan government contracts for the next 10 years. The company is alleged to have violated the Companies Act during the previous two general elections and was found to have received irregular payments for work during the 2017 election. IDEMIA denies any misconduct.

The roll-out of the Huduma Namba scheme is proving controversial for a raft of reasons spanning the ethics of deciding who is and is not Kenyan, electoral fraud, data selling, surveillance and the potential linking of DNA test results to the register. The sheer extent of the scheme and its issues has caught the attention of Coda, the online investigative journalism team. Their detailed report is perhaps the most comprehensive account of the implications of Huduma Namba.

Kenya: Building refugee IDs with blockchain

While Kenya attempts mass registration of its citizens (see above), Minneapolis-based BanQu is trialing the creation of blockchain-based digital ‘economic identities’ for refugees in the country.

The platform would allow end-users to add a photo and data about themselves – all of which would have to be verified by others — to an evolving profile held in a purpose-built blockchain. The profile would include relationships, transactions and work experience to create vetted economic identity, even if they started with zero official documents.

In Kenya, BanQu has trialed the scheme on ”several hundred refugees and individuals in extreme poverty zones, with the aim of creating a long-term, secure economic profile they could leverage for access to financial and government services,” according to its website.

Nigeria: Details emerge of mass database harmonization

A presidential order requires the data held in the various databases for SIM card registrations, driving licences, ID cards and passports to be harmonized and passed on to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to create an overarching national database, according to the Daily Trust.

Lanre Osibona, Senior Special Adviser to the President on ICT, recently announced the plan, and data protection plans. This latest report details how the various databases are being pulled together.

A directive of the Federal Executive Council has called for the cleaning of data captured by mobile network operators and the ongoing SIM verification scheme for a national database. SIM verification requires biometric verification, the data from which is sent to the National Communications Commission (NCC). The presidential directive requires this harmonized data to then be sent to the NIMC, making the NCC a data collecting agency.

The Federal Road Safety Commission plus the passport authority and immigration agency are likewise required to lodge their data with the NIMC.

Senegal: Universal health coverage via digital platform

The public Agency for Universal Health Coverage in Senegal has launched a platform that aims to achieve an initial 75 percent health coverage in 24 months by registering health providers including those in the informal sector, insurers and users, and incorporating digital payments. An app is to follow which will allow users to geolocate health providers. It is the first of its kind to be fully designed and developed by a public agency, according to IT News Africa.

Users are able to pay for the treatment of family members or make a donation to their care. The system will in future incorporate biometrics, with kits being deployed to 3,500 service points starting in September.

Ghana: Ghana Card registration delays and civil action

The mass registration for the issuance of the Ghana Card is facing issues in the capital Accra where scuffles are breaking out as residents are forced to wait for days on end, with corruption and the slow speed and accuracy issues of biometric capture being blamed. Accrans even stormed a residence where ID authority staff were registering people outside office hours and seized the equipment.

Staff have been arrested for accepting bribes to register foreigners, thought to be Nigerian nationals, for the cards, as reported by Joy Online. The report also notes that a National Identification Authority (NIA) officer has been arrested for extorting a small bribe from an applicant.

People are camping out overnight to be at the centres for the 7am opening time and disagreements about people’s positions in lines were leading to ‘scuffles’ as they wait for multiple days, according to the Daily Graphic. It reports that some are having to re-register due to poor-quality biometrics capturing.

Residents stormed a private residence in Accra where NIA staff were carrying out registrations for the Ghana Card and carried off equipment to the local police, because the staff were working after the official closing time of 5pm, according to the Daily Graphic.

NIA agents were registering people for the biometric national ID card at around 7.30pm on May 7 in a residence near their official offices in Awudome, Accra, when the locals burst in and confiscated fingerprint scanners, laptops and half-completed forms. Around 30 people were waiting in line to register, according to the residents leading the raid.

The mass registrations scheme began in the Greater Accra Region on April 29 and is due to run until July 6.

While it is not yet clear what motivated the people to expose the late night working of the NIA officials, the fact it occurred in a private residence rather than an open office has drawn the suspicion that people not entitled to cards were being signed up or that officers were taking tips to offer the service outside office hours.

Political opposition parties have criticized the scheme as voter ID cards are not valid documents for registering. As the Ghana Card will become the primary ID for voting, they accuse the government of doctoring the registration for their own political gain ahead of Ghana’s 2020 election, according to a report by the Africa Times.

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