ID4Africa Identity Council chooses leadership and direction for African ID systems

“We don’t always have to follow the Western world.”
ID4Africa Identity Council chooses leadership and direction for African ID systems

In the inaugural meeting of the ID4Africa Identity Council (IIC), Mory Camara, Director General of Guinea’s ANGEIE (National Agency of Electronic Governance and State Informatization) has been elected President of the Council, and Ghana National Identification Authority (NIA) Senior Officer Emmanuel K. Brown has been elected Vice President. They intend for the IIC to guide African adoption of biometrics and digital identity systems, from a continental perspective.

Both Camara and Brown spoke with Biometric Update at ID4Africa 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa, to discuss the role the new continental organization will play in bringing effective, responsible identity systems to people throughout Africa.

The Council is made up of ID4Africa Country Ambassadors, and represents a natural evolution of the Ambassadors’ role, they say. The position started out as largely honorific, according to Camara, recognizing the movements major participants. In the four years since the program was launched in Rwanda, the role has changed significantly, and the ambassadors are now ready to collectively take on a much larger role in Africa’s ID for All push.

“Now we have a chance to put into practice all the strategies, capacities, experience sharing, and knowledge, and present success cases, because in Africa we tend to hear about what doesn’t work,” Camara notes. “There are cases where things have worked and we have experts all over that we can use.”

Countries across the continent have had varied levels of success in establishing effective identity systems, and different circumstances, ranging from Guinea’s lack of essential infrastructure to the relatively advanced systems in place in countries like Rwanda. Those who have played a part in the successes have gained the capacities, skills, and experience to help others. They understand the environment and constraints better than stakeholders from outside of Africa, Camara says, and could potentially help break cycles where he notes loans are used to fund programs, and have to be repaid even if the results are not what was hoped for.

“The role of the IIC, I believe, will be to empower all our countries with greater capacity and also make a credible institution that can guide, assist, help, and consult with other countries in Africa. It will promote collaboration and coordination.”

Brown points out that the role was originally focused on organizing ID4Africa participation from their own countries, and helping to promote adoption and implementation of digital identity.

“The ambassadors have now developed a lot in terms of capacity from our various countries. There is a need for us to consolidate the capacities we have built over that four-year period,” he argues. “That is the direction through which we can achieve the pan-African ID agenda. So the IIC is the right thing to do now.”

That consolidation will begin with producing base-line survey reports of the various ID systems in individual countries. The World Bank currently provides the only such reports, but Camara and Brown say they do not provide an adequate understanding of the situation on their own.

“When you go through them, the contact persons in the various countries, some are not key people within the ID ecosystem,” Brown notes. “So this is the time for us to have a voice. All of us as ambassadors are key stakeholders in the various countries.”

Social and political elements sometimes result in people who are not experts being asked to represent their countries. The IIC will have the credibility to communicate differences between perception and reality to governments.

Camara believes this is necessary, as digital identity can be manipulated for negative outcomes, or it can produce wealth.

“In Africa we have a chance as the next big market for those types of services to advise a country and let them know that they need to benefit – not can – they need to benefit from digitalization of identity systems,” he says.

The IIC, as a leadership body within ID4Africa, carries with it the weight of all stakeholders, as countries know that the ambassadors have access to donors, integrators, and others. This gives the IIC technical, institutional weight. Even an expert, as an individual, could be disregarded by governments that do not agree with their point of view, Brown says. The IIC’s collective views will carry much more weight, which enables it to play a major role in the debates emerging at ID4Africa.

“The IIC also has to, in a way, be a voice to push the ideals of ID4Africa as well,” Camara suggests. “Its existence is solely dependent on ID4Africa, so we need to promote those ideals and those goals.”

Those debates are happening now, and the Africa Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) are soon planning to produce legal identity frameworks for African countries.

“The IIC is supposed to quickly start work, and come out with a baseline report on all various ID systems, and propose to the AU, instead of allowing the AU to rely on external consultants – I mean from outside the continent – to propose certain policies or implementation strategies that may not be workable within our environment,” says Brown. “We need to take charge of that.”

Many of the existing texts, rules and regulations are great in spirit, but are not applicable or are never enforced, according to Camara. “The reality on the ground will dictate what takes place, and the successes.”

That means providing consultation from an African perspective, and with successes, new approaches can become de facto standards. The IIC intends to begin developing those approaches by creating commissions to leverage IIC expertise in particular areas, preparing survey reports quickly to define implementable strategies, and submitting them to all willing parties.

“The baseline survey is very important to the IIC’s survival, because that will inform AU and the world that Africa has the people who can lead,” Brown asserts. “We don’t always have to follow the Western world.”

Camara insists that the group is not against any other stakeholders, and points out that some of the ambassadors come from their ranks. However, he says, “it has become a very incestuous system.” In the worst cases some cases projects become exercises in deception.

“Its not to complain or replace or to say those people are bad, but everybody plays a part, everybody has a little bit of responsibility in what is not working. Now that know what it not working, we’re going to try to fix it the best we can.”

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