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Africa digital ID update: biometrics for voter ID in Niger, SIM registration in Liberia and pot farm security in Lesotho



This week sets a good example of the broadening impact of biometrics and digital ID across Africa. Beyond deals for biometrics suppliers, there is much discussion of the impact of policies spanning from the integrity of democracy to the treatment of pensioners, plus a philosophical look at whether biometric ID could help remove the borders imposed by colonial rule. Another trend is SIM card registration against the subscriber’s ID, from new projects such as Liberia, to others running out of time, for example Tanzania where over 30 million cards are on track to be deactivated in just six weeks’ time if they are not properly paired to ID.

Liberia: Draft regulation to become the latest country to require SIM registration

Liberia could be the next African nation to require mobile phone SIM card registration to be linked to biometric ID after a consultation between the Liberia Telecommunication Authority, telcos and other stakeholders, reports The New Dawn.

Reasons presented include the creation of databases of subscribers and tackling cybercrime. Liberia’s biometric ID has struggled to attract people to register with only around 130,000 card holders so far.

The article also quotes the Director of the National Identification Registry, Tiah Nagbe, as saying the country’s National Identification Verification Platform which was announced in May will be rolled out this week.

Ghana: Biometric registration of cocoa farmers part of $600M cocoa stimulus controversy

There is controversy in Ghana over parts of the government’s proposed $600 million stimulus package for its cocoa industry, including a $5 million loan for buying locally-produced chocolate and a scheme to give cocoa farmers biometric ID, reports My Joy.

The scheme is intended to improve productivity, stimulate domestic demand for finished chocolate products and create a database of cocoa farmers. The opposition blocked the plan in parliament over multiple misgivings including $4.27 million allocated to capturing the biometrics of farmers and their families.

Ghana already has a national biometric ID plan, the Ghana Card. However, many migrants working in cocoa plantations would not be eligible to apply.

Lesotho: Biometric security for cannabis farm staff access

The tiny kingdom of Lesotho, landlocked and totally surrounded by South Africa, has recently allowed the commercial farming and sale of cannabis. This article by Quartz gives an overview of the fledgling industry and its challenges, including how the new farms are enclosed with high tech security and biometric entry verification of construction and farming staff arriving for every shift.


Niger: Privacy International on the issues along the path to a biometric voter ID system, including European corporate interests, spiralling costs and the inherent limitations of a biometric system in ensuring a free and fair election. This article offers a compelling overview of many of the issues facing biometric schemes across Africa.

Africa: 25 out of Africa’s 54 countries now have some form of data protection legislation. Although still fewer than half, progress is being made with the help of outside organisations such as the Francophone Association of Authorities for the Protection of Personal Data, according to lawyer and founding president of Senegal’s Personal Data Protection Commission, Mouhamadou Lo, interviewed by Stratégies.

Lo hopes to attract people’s attention to the vital issues surrounding personal data and privacy. He believes that the public can be very well informed should a government decide to provide information. He notes that there are 8 anglophone countries with data protection laws, 14 francophone and 3 lusophone.

The lawyer, who has written a book on data protection in Africa, does not believe that strict data protection laws will stifle digital development in Africa and that there is the opportunity to incorporate ‘privacy by design’ as well as accountability.

Nigeria: A look into the treatment of pensioners required to undergo biometric capture in order to retain their payments, by columnist and editorial board member of The Guardian, Luke Onyekakeyah.

Africa: A little philosophy on ID in Africa and how it could dispense with its colonial borders with the help of biometrics, by philosopher Achille Mbembe for Libération.

News in brief and updates

South Africa: A new Cybercrimes and Cyber Security Bill is going before a parliamentary committee and could be on the statutes early in 2020, reports The South African which states “Anyone who unlawfully and intentionally acquires, possesses or uses a password (including for instance a pin, access card or biometric data) or provides it to another person can be sentenced to up to ten years in jail, fined, or both”.

Kenya: Anger among by-election voters in high-profile ward over biometrics kit not working leading to delays – again.

Nigeria: Head of the ID commission decries low registration rates at 38 million out of 180 million.

Update – Tanzania: Still only 12 million SIMs have been registered against the subscribers’ ID, meaning 31 million are on track to be deactivated after the December 31 deadline.

Kenya: Kenya Airways Authority disputes the UK’s Sky News claim that a stowaway who to his death from a plane landing in London was a member of staff at Nairobi airport – according to the airport biometric staff register.

Tunisia/Italy: Forum to boost Tunisian-Italian trade included delegates from the Italian biometrics industry.

Tunisia/Qatar: Qatar is to open its next visa center in Tunisia, offering biometric capture for applicants.

Côte d’Ivoire: The new biometric ID to be available for 16 year olds, and from 5 yo with letter (and driving licenses to be taken away from drivers responsible for road deaths).

Canada/Africa: Once again, African AI researchers have been denied visas to attend NeurIPS – the Neural Information Processing Systems, despite a promise from prime minister Justin Trudeau.

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