Digital ID and biometrics in Africa: SIM blocks, biometric electoral roll disputes and an eKYC first for Libya

Digital ID and biometrics in Africa: SIM blocks, biometric electoral roll disputes and an eKYC first for Libya

As 2019 draws to a close, Tanzania reaches – and pushes back – its December 31 biometric SIM registration after a surprise shut out for millions of subscribers. Libya just manages to join the African eKYC movement in 2019 with its ATIB bank announcing biometric verification, while neighbors Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are looking ahead to their back-to-back elections late in 2020. A survey of aid organizations highlights the positive impact of mobile biometrics technology in carrying out their work and Nigeria extends its ID signup facilities worldwide.

Tanzania: Early SIM blockages take subscribers by surprise

Airtel Tanzania caused widespread confusion on December 19 when it blocked the SIM cards of around half of its subscribers – 7 million of around 13 million – who had not undergone biometric registration for their SIM cards, reports The Citizen.

Subscribers were unable to make calls but could still send and receive text messages. This took subscribers by surprise as the deadline for cut off was December 31 and the government had previously announced that this deadline would be extended as biometric registration rates remain low. Airtel was trying to rectify the block, according to The Citizen.

On December 27 the president of Tanzania, John Megufuli, announced a firm 20-day extension after biometrically registering his own phone, reports Xinhua. On December 13 the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority declared that at least 21.7 million subscribers were yet to register after only 42% of cards had been biometrically linked to the user.

Vodacom reported that it had extended working hours and opening hours at its 400 stores nationwide to meet the demand of users trying to register before the deadline, as covered by The Daily News.

The government recently launched an online publicity campaign featuring social media influencers in a last-minute push to increase registration rates.

Ghana: Minority party snubs new $78m biometric voter register plan

Opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), has opposed the creation of a new biometric electoral roll with the high associated costs, reports Ghana Web.

Parliament sought to approve a budget of GH¢1,063,157,629 ($187 million) for the Electoral Commission to conduct elections in December 2020 of which GH¢443.6 million ($78m) would be for a new biometric voter register. Other media have reported a proposed cost of GH¢444.8 million.)

The NDC said the current register should be reviewed instead to save costs.

The electoral commission recently announced that it was adding facial recognition to voter verification options as high numbers of voters were unable to verify themselves on fingerprint scanners in use by the EC. 58,000 new devices would be in use in the election.

In the meantime, the electoral commission met four tech firms to review their offers as it searches for biometric voter management solutions. Firms expected to present products were Thales, Miru Systems, Buck Press and Smartic International.

Development: Mobile biometrics have positive impact on aid operations – 2019 survey

A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation has found that mobile technology has provided the biggest benefit of all technologies in aid operations.

Biometric mobile applications were singled out for their contribution to aid programs such as hand-held tablets with iris scanners for distributing Ebola vaccines during trials in Sierra Leone. CARE pointed to the benefits of open-source tools that could be used with mobiles, stating they are transforming efforts to collect and process information in disasters. Not only is it less cumbersome that paper-based alternatives, it also speeds up decision-making.

Open-source collaboration was a key theme at the 2019 ID4Africa conference in Johannesburg.

Côte d’Ivoire: Local biometrics provider Snedai donates 10 cars to police

Local digital security firm Snedai which has the Côte d’Ivoire contracts for biometric passports and the recently launched biometric medical ID system has given 10 4×4 pickup vehicles to the Ivorian police force, reports Afriki Presse.

According to the report, the director general of the Snedai group stated that the donation was made in light of the firm’s collaboration with the police and to improve the mobility of its agents. It was also an opportunity to announce the shift online of the biometric passport application service nationwide and launch of an emergency 24-hour biometric passport issuance service.

The Minister for Security, Vagondo Diomandé, welcomed the donation from Snedai which is operated by Adama Bictogo who is a former minister and also the executive director of the RHDP, the party in power in Côte d’Ivoire. “Monsieur the CEO has been very kind, and by offering 10 vehicles to the police, you and your collaborators at Snedai have demonstrated to the whole nation that you have taken on board the vision that I outlined under the leadership of the president of the republic,” Diomandé is quoted as saying at the handover ceremony. Côte d’Ivoire is already experiencing civil unrest in the run up to its October 2020 presidential election and many Ivorians are already assessing ways to leave the country in advance.

News in Brief and Updates

In brief – Nigeria: Nigeria opens center for National Identification Number registration in Accra, Ghana, operated by Dantata Universal Services Nigeria in partnership with VFS Global. Partnerships with other firms saw other centers open in Ireleand, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Togo.

In brief – Libya: ATIB becomes the first bank in Libya to introduce eKYC according to its press release. It will use fingerprint and facial recognition technology.

In brief – Morocco: As part of its commitment to the Global Compact on Refugees, Morocco is to give $300,000 to support UNHCR as it aims to biometrically register 10 million people in 75 countries in 2020.

LinkOur coverage of ImageWare and Contactable’s deal to provide biometric verification and mobile money KYC for major mobile network MTN.

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