Democratic Republic of Congo to launch biometric population register by 2020

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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is to launch a biometric ID system and population register by 2020 according to an announcement by the president ahead of a workshop that will approve the central African nation’s ‘2025’ digital roadmap. Other announcements stated that the Congolese would not be paying for the entirety of the project.

Details remain scarce. Announcing the scheme in the capital Kinshasa President Felix Tshisekedi said, “My vision is to make a digital Congo a lever for integration, good governance, economic growth and social progress,” reports La Libre Afrique with AFP.

Possibly envisaging criticism about the country’s poor electricity supply, which was a critical issue during the December 2018 election as swathes of the country had no electricity to run the e-voting machines, Tshisekedi also said, “We must avoid our projects … being blocked by the lack of electricity. The reduction of the energy deficit is the imperative of our industrialization.”

President Tshisekedi also announced the introduction of electronic Visas for foreign visitors.

No details about cost were provided. Special Council to the President on Digital Affairs Dominique Migisha told AFP that the funding “should not be based on the public purse,” and that the government will turn to “private partnership or other types of financing.”

“The cost should not scare us,” he said. Public-private partnerships for ID systems in Africa were recently highlighted by South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

This is one his first big announcements since the coalition government was finalized. The DRC only just announced its new government at the end of August, seven months since President Felix Tshisekedi was inaugurated.

Implementing a new population register and biometric ID system by the end of 2020 will be no mean feat. This is not simply upgrading an ID card system to a biometric version, as people do not have ID cards, but voter cards. Estimates put the number of unregistered at around 33 million.

Neurotechnology found 5.3 million duplicate entries in the DRC’s 46 million-strong electoral roll and over 900,000 entries disqualified due to voter age ahead of the election in 2018.

The DRC’s previous census was in 1984 and it is estimated to have a population of over 85 million. Of these, around 4 million are internally displaced following years of conflict between rebel groups and the Congolese military. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country and the DRC is also host to hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping violence in neighboring countries. Then there’s the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak which has now reached over 2,000 deaths.

The population is also extremely young, with 41 percent under 14 and 15-24-year olds making up another 21 percent of the population. There are no details yet for a start age for the ID system. Beginning at 18 years could vastly reduce the amount of work required. Birth to death systems have become more common across Africa in recent years.

Corruption is endemic and could pose a problem both to building a service and citizens accessing it. The DRC is one of the most corrupt countries in the world coming 161 out of 180 countries measured by Transparency International. Breaking down the scores, the DRC returned the highest rate of bribery in Africa with 80 percent of survey respondents claiming to have paid a bribe in the last 12 months to access a public service. The next worse was Liberia at 53 percent. The survey shows 85 percent of Congolese respondents believe corruption is getting worse.

Special Council to the President on Digital Affairs Dominique Migisha also announced a Panafrican digital summit – “African Digital Story” – for Kinshasa, April 16 and 17 2020 to put the DRC “not just to put the DRC at the heart of the African digital domain, but on a global scale.”

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