UN commission exec calls for African nations to focus on civil registration for development gains

The importance of civil registration systems to economic and social development in African nations was emphasized in a speech by UN Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary (ECA) Dr. Vera Songwe, as a core element for achieving the continent’s ambitions of poverty eradication, inclusivity, sustainable development, and respect for human rights.

Songwe was speaking in Lusaka, Zambia, at the fifth Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration, which was held on the theme “Innovative Civil Registration and Vital Statistics systems as a foundation for legal identity management.”

“Without knowing the numbers and characteristics of the residents of a country, governments cannot plan neither can they craft adequate policies or monitor progress. This steers us further away from achieving our human development commitments as set out by the Africa Agenda 2063 and the 2030 sustainable development agenda,” the ECA Chief said.

Undocumented individuals, who are often women, children, refugees, or migrants are particularly vulnerable and face critical challenges to exercising their basic human rights, according to the announcement from UNECA.

Manual processes for civil registration are one of several fundamental challenges to addressing the legal identity gap, according to Songwe, and people are often forced to travel long distances in order to access registration services. Despite this, UN agencies and the ECA-coordinated CRVS Core Group are committed to support member states to close the identity gap in Africa, and address the route causes of exclusion. Songwe spoke to the Ministers about the UN’s Legal Identity Agenda, which offers support for states working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.9 to provide legal identity, including birth registration, for all by 2030.

“The legal identity challenge is one that we should embrace. It is a challenge we believe we can win, it is a challenge that will make us remember Zambia as a milestone in the direction we have taken to ensure 550m Africans no longer have the problem of legal identity,” Songwe says.

Songwe told Biometric Update in a recent interview on being appointed to ID4Africa’s Advisory Board that UNECA plans to get many countries to commit to harmonize their identity systems at the meeting.

Meanwhile, SDG-focused development lab Emerge is pitching a biometric self-sovereign identity platform for displaced persons and refugees, and plans to pilot it in Uganda, the U.S., Mexico and Jordan. Emerge Founder Lucia Gallardo told an audience at the Bermuda Tech Summit that the Homeward platform combines physical and behavioral biometrics to issue a smart contract, the Royal Gazette reports.

Identity data is also stored on a blockchain to provide proof of events and identity over time.

Gallardo was speaking as part of a panel on “Solving the World’s Biggest Problems.”

Alternative approaches to identification systems seem to be growing in popularity, at least on the supply side, with a blog from the OSPT Alliance pitching open standards to government agencies as an effective way to hold on to a “a level of independence that will be invaluable longer term.”

The OSPT Alliance’s CIPURSE standard, which uses AES 128 cryptography and ISO/IEC 7816-4 and ISO/IEC 14443 smartcard standards, in particular has great potential for interoperable ID systems, according to Infineon’s Luiz Guimarães.

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