Digital ID in Africa this week: biometrics for housing, anti-terrorism

Digital ID in Africa this week: biometrics for housing, anti-terrorism

It has been two steps forward and possibly two steps back again for digital ID in Africa this week. While states in West Africa began a process to start sharing biometric data to tackle terrorism in the Sahel and South Africa launched a biometric program to reduce corruption in social housing, Ghana has found that banks are rejecting its prized Ghana Card as ID and South African officials could have subjected Nigerian evacuees to biometric capture to prevent them returning to the country. The global significance of Africa’s biometric projects is gaining ground. CSIS, a Washington DC-based think tank ran a session on challenges and potential for digital ID with speakers from the World Bank, Omidyar Network and USAID, which we covered separately.

Ghana: teething problems for the Ghana Card as banks reject it as ID

Ghana’s flagship biometric ID scheme, the Ghana Card, has run into problems as banks have been refusing to accept it as valid ID. The National Identification Authority (NIA) has not named the banks but claims it is seeking action with the bank regulator, the Bank of Ghana, and will take further action if necessary, reports The Ghanaian Times.

A separate report brings updates on the progress of registration. A total of 2.902 million Ghanaians (of a population of over 28 million) have now registered in Greater Accra, Volta and Oti regions, with a slight bump in applications after rumors the card could be used for voter ID. Following these registrations, 2.59 million cards have been printed, but only 1.72 million have been issued. Since the registration period ended in these regions, no more registrations will be accepted and other regions will begin instead soon.

South Africa: Biometric system for social housing

Subsidised housing provision will soon be administered with biometric verification of applicants in Gauteng Province to eliminate corruption, according to SABC News.

The Member of the Executive Council for housing for the province, Leobogang Maile, announced the new biometric element to housing applications due to corruption and maladministration. He also stated that certain construction companies would be blacklisted after building projects were abandoned.

The new system will allow applicants to monitor the status of their applications and will also mean that they cannot apply for multiple houses.

ECOWAS states: Potential joint biometric database part of $1bn anti-terrorism plan

A new billion-dollar fund to combat terrorism across the Sahel will include cross-border intelligence sharing which could lead to the establishment of a digital biometric system to facilitate collaboration between services, states a Jeune Afrique report on the extraordinary meeting held in Ouagadougou where the resources were announced.

The plans discussed by member states of the economic community are for 2020-2024 and are in addition to the G5 Sahel military taskforce.

WakatSéra reported that the new agreements would grant the ECOWAS member countries ”reciprocal access to biometric databases.” The summit was also used to urge members to implement biometric ID cards at the ECOWAS standard to allow the free movement of goods.

More details are expected at the next meeting to be held in Abuja, Nigeria, in December.

South Africa/Nigeria: Biometric verification of Nigerians fleeing xenophobic attacks compounds issue

Biometrics could have been used to punish Nigerian nationals leaving South Africa following a spate of attacks on foreign nationals amid a swirl of misinformation online. None of the 12 deaths reported were Nigerians but their businesses were attacked and hundreds wanted to leave the country. Reports state that Nigerian nationals on a flight chartered to repatriate them were subject to eight hours of biometric testing by South African immigration officials and that the passengers’ valid South African visas were cancelled in their passports. Evacuees reportedly could face a potential 10-year travel ban by South Africa, based on their biometrics.

South Africa’s Times Live reports that 178 Nigerian nationals were subjected to an eight-hour verification before being allowed to leave from Johannesburg on a flight operated by private Nigerian airline Air Peace. The BBC reported 188 returned.

Nigeria’s Pulse.ng described the events at OR Tambo International Airport as an attempt by South African authorities to frustrate the evacuation. After boarding the passengers had to disembark again and each was subjected to a 10-minute biometric check with officials. Punch states that an official told their reporter that valid South African visas were canceled during the exercise.

An alleged 10-year ban backed with biometrics meant many decided to stay in South Africa and that there were originally 313 hoping to leave. Punch also states that women traveling with children were asked to provide consent letters from their husbands.

Reuters reported that at least 600 had initially signed up to take the free flights.

A special South African envoy to Nigeria has since apologized for the violence in South Africa. Nigeria’s president is reportedly traveling to South Africa next month to discuss the matter further.

Updates and news in brief

Update – Guinea: A conference of experts from the World Bank and the public and private sectors from West Africa plus India and Canada is underway in Guinea’s capital Conakry to discuss the next steps for the $50 million World Bank funded WURI biometric integration scheme, reports Media Guinee. Our summary of the scheme.

In brief – Kenya: Former Kenyan national soccer team player McDonald Mariga is trying to get started in politics, but has been told by authorities he’s not even registered to vote.

In brief – Ghana: A startup that uses biometrics to link users to health records wins PwC Japan competition.

Update – Nigeria: Thousands of pensioners line up in Imo state for biometrics to clear state pensions backlog.

Link – ID Day: Our coverage of International Identity Day.

Link – Morocco: Our coverage of the face recognition moratorium.

In brief – Ghana: WFP school feeding program could get pupil biometric capabilities.

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