Digital ID in Africa this week: Biometric ID for Guinea, continued ID controversy for Côte d’Ivoire

West Africa comes to the foreground this week in African digital ID news as Guinea announces plans for a comprehensive civil registry and accompanying biometric ID card scheme with help from the World Bank. Plus, with help from the UAE, a biometrics scheme for identifying welfare recipients. Across the border in Côte d’Ivoire, identity once again becomes a political hot potato as the country’s ID cards require updating in the run up to presidential elections. Opposition parties in Chad are calling on their electoral commission to bring in biometric verification in future elections, while in Ghana the ongoing biometric electoral exercise is weeding out those attempting to register multiple times and developments in Nigeria will see students hoping to take the JAMB university entrance exams next year needing a National Identity Number to do so.

Guinea: Biometric ID and welfare payments

The government of Guinea (Conakry) has launched a $50 million scheme with the World Bank to issue all Guineans at home and abroad with a biometric ID card for accessing government services and to aid regional integration, Africa Guinee reports.

The project, named WURI, will cost $49.7 million of which $25 million has been given as a grant. The project will also require a national register which will allow public and private service integration. Currently 75 percent of Guineans do not have any ID, according to the report. It has a target of covering 80 percent of the population with biometric ID by 2024 and will integrate with the regional ECOWAS scheme, according to Guinee Matin.

World Bank involvement in ID in Guinea and neighboring countries stems from the Ebola outbreak that struck the region in 2014. A comprehensive citizen registry and ID system would help service provision in times or crises, with emphasis on the establishment of the registry in World Bank reports.

On the same day, another announcement was made in Conakry: the signing of an agreement between Guinea and the UAE worth $75 million to introduce a biometrics-based system for distributing welfare payments from the National Agency of Economic and Social Inclusion (ANIES), according to Afrique Panorama.

The UAE representative Ali Al Khouri is quoted as saying, “For the 22 countries of the Arab League, we have a grand strategy for economic development via digitalization. We believe that it is possible to apply this, especially in Guinea and its region. We believe that this approach is likely to bring about development of Guinea’s economic system”.

Chad: Call for biometric voting part of planned opposition protests

An opposition alliance in Chad lists changing the country’s electoral code to include biometrics as one of the reasons it is calling a march, reports Afrique Panorama. The General Coordination of the Opposition (CGO) had originally planned a demonstration for June 24, but postponed it by two weeks due to a ban issued by the Ministry of Territorial Administration.

The CGO is demanding the reorganization of the electoral commission and a restarting of the national dialogue framework as well as the inclusion of biometric kits.

Chad’s president Idriss Deby has been in power since 1990. He removed the position of prime minister in 2018 and the next presidential election is slated for April 2021.

Côte d’Ivoire: Biometric card validity extended amid ongoing politicization of ID

As the national ID card continuation is sworn into law, ID policy in Côte d’Ivoire is proving increasingly controversial. Notions of citizenship and nationality are coming to the fore again as the current cards reach expiration and the nation looks ahead to the all-consuming 2020 presidential elections.

The country’s first batch of biometric ID cards were issued in June 2009 with a 10-year validity. They were made by Semlex who was controversially awarded the contract for the next ECOWAS-compliant batch, despite public criticism following scandals elsewhere in Africa and allegations of President Alassane Ouattara’s son being courted by the Belgian firm to help secure the contract, according to Africa Intelligence. Despite not starting out as a favorite, Semlex beat both Idemia and Zetes, both of which have interests in the country already.

The contract with Semlex could be highly lucrative. The company will receive no funding to produce the 36 million cards required over the next 12 years, including 12 million in the next two alone. But it will be charging 5,000FCFA (US$8.60) per card. The initial issuance in 2009 was free and 5,000FCFA is a large sum of money, especially as the president has announced the card will become compulsory to everyone over the age of 16. It can be issued to children as young as 5.

The country is establishing a National Register of Physical Persons (RNPP) to which the ID cards will be linked. Controversy has continued as former president Henrie Konan Bedie has reignited his notions of Ivoirité (‘Ivorian-ness’) which proved disastrous in previous elections and could incite more violence around next year’s polls as accusations fly around the incumbent also using identity as a means to maintain power.

In the meantime, the government has extended the validity of the millions of cards already in use until the end of December. Konan Bedie has reportedly demanded a two-year extension to ensure the six million card holders have the necessary ID to register to vote in the 2020 election.

Rwanda: East African ePassports issued

Rwanda’s director general of the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, Francois Regis Gatarayiha, launched Rwanda’s new biometric East Africa Community passports, reports The New Times.

The embedded microchip will store biometric and biographic data and will link to the Automated Fingerprint Verification system (AFIS) to minimize fraud, identity theft, forgery and passport skimming, according to Gatarayiha.

Other EAC members including Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have already started issuing the passports.

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