Digital ID in Africa this week: fresh calls for biometric voting in Zimbabwe, self-reliance in Nigeria and a possible UN biometric anti-terrorism platform

Biometrics news span issues of self-reliance, politics and counter-terrorism across Africa this week. Nigeria and Ghana continue to make progress in their ID and biometric projects, while Niger is contracting a Ghanaian company for its biometric public sector worker registry. The UN is considering ways for sharing biometric data held on suspected fighters to aid African counter-terror efforts. Issues over biometric voting emerged again in Zimbabwe and, further afield, Thai authorities report they have detained two travelers from Cote d’Ivoire after non-functioning biometric chips on their €200 (US$225) fake Mauritian passports gave them away.

Kenya: UN mulling inter-agency biometric sharing on terrorists

The UN is considering an “inter-agency platform in Kenya and other African countries to facilitate the exchange of biometric data on foreign fighters,” Xinhua paraphrases Vladimir Voronkov, the under-secretary-general of the UN Counter Terrorism Office, as having said. He was speaking at the African Regional High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism and Prevention of Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism in Nairobi.

Attended by 1,500 African delegates including Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the forum examined ways in which African governments can tackle terrorism across the continent as part of global efforts.

“We intend to establish an annual counter-terrorism dialogue between the UN and African regional bodies to help initiate practical steps to address the scourge of terrorism,” said Voronkov according to Xinhua. Voronkov spoke of African-led initiatives and that the UN would assist with African nations’ capacity to disrupt terrorism financing and the recruitment of fighters via early detection, according to the report.

While news of this conference has been carried by local and international media, details of Voronkov’s ideas have been carried by Chinese state media only. Voronkov has recently been heavily criticized for visiting China’s Xinjiang region before the Kenya meeting and failing to raise the issue of the estimated 2 million Uyghurs believed to be held in detention centers there. Voronkov has previously praised China’s efforts in global counter terrorism.

Zimbabwe: Opposition demands biometric voting while voters prove reluctant to register

Opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has demanded biometric voting, diaspora voting and the disbandment of the current Zimbabwean Electoral Commission before it will take part in any future presidential election, ZimLive reports.

The MDC claims the ZEC has a ‘credibility defecit’ and accuses the commission of manipulating last year’s elections in favor of the Zanu-PF’s winning candidate, President Mnangagwa.

The ZEC had planned to use biometric voting ahead of the 2018 general election, but subsequently announced that biometrics would only be used for voter registration and not for verifying voters on polling day.

However, The Chronicle reports that the reluctance of residents of Bulawayo province to register as voters means that the district is in danger of losing two of its 12 constituencies and consequently resource allocation. The ZEC has called on the MDC and Zanu-PF to encourage their supporters to come forward for the six-month biometric voter registration exercise. Another four constituencies could be lost across Matabeleland South and North Provinces, the report quotes the Zimbabwe Election Support Network as warning.

Niger: Biometric public servant register to detect ghost workers

Niger is creating a biometric registers of public sector workers, students, scholarship recipients and pensioners to detect fraud, reports La Lettre. Ghana’s Supertech Ltd is working with the Nigerien Ministry of the Budget on the project supported by the World Bank that will cover 500,000 people.

According to a statement from Niger’s Council of Ministers, “The Ghanaian company will provide technical support for 18 months including the 4 months during which the census will be carried out, for nearly 3 billion francs CFA [$5.1 million] excluding tax.”

Nigeria: President Buhari orders mint to take over e-passport printing

President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC or ‘the mint’) to take over all e-passport printing work, reports The Vanguard. All other existing contracts and memoranda with other companies will not be renewed.

The move away from using firms in Malaysia, South Africa and the Netherlands could save the country N24 billion ($67 million) a year, according to Business Day.

The mint had been losing business until targets were set for zero importation of currency printed by foreign mints and as a result has become profitable once again. The new passports, launched in February 2019, cost up to four times as much as previous versions.

Nigeria is also working to create a centralized database of all the biometric and identity data it holds on its citizens.

Another project aimed at boosting national self-reliance involving biometrics has been praised by Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbajo. “The Anchor Borrowers Programme is now digitized with all farmlands’ GPRS mapped, biometric data of farmers captured, electronic cards issued and specific inputs are required. This has enhanced traceability and enhanced productivity and yield,” said Osinbajo, announcing a 14.27 percent growth in agriculture in 2018 after federal budgets for the sector grew from N8.8 billion ($24 million) in 2015 to N104 billion ($288 million) in 2018, according to the Journal du Cameroun.

Ghana: political progress for Ghana Card as former president registers

Ghana’s former president John Dramani Mahama has registered for and received a Ghana Card in a high-profile U-turn on his previous opposition to the scheme, reports The Ghanaian Times.

Mahama, his wife and household received their cards and the former president is reported to have used the occasion of receiving his biometric Ghana Card to emphasise the scheme’s importance for national development and a non-partisan project for all Ghanaians.

Mahama’s party, the opposition National Democratic Congress, had previously boycotted the ID scheme until voter cards were made necessary documents for registration as the Ghana Card itself would be needed for voter registration. Despite that condition not being met, the NDC has since said it supports the scheme.

This is the latest high-profile registration following other former presidents Rawlings and Kufuor and rapper Sarkodie.

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