Biometrics and digital ID across Africa this week: SIM deadline in Tanzania, ZKTeco R&D center, Uganda eKYC

Biometrics and digital ID across Africa this week: SIM deadline in Tanzania, ZKTeco R&D center, Uganda eKYC

Tanzania is the main story this week for biometrics in Africa as its deadline for biometric SIM registration arrived when over 40 percent of subscribers had still to register. Phased lock-outs have begun. Further confusion has set in over whose numbers will and will not be blocked. Chinese biometrics firm ZKTeco tells more about its big plans for R&D in Nigeria, and Uganda’s central bank is orchestrating eKYC to cut costs and increase financial inclusion. Despite developments in ID and biometric passports, additional African nations could be included on the U.S. travel ban list.

Tanzania: Confusion, phased blocks and glimmers of hope as biometric SIM deadline hits

As of deadline day, January 20, some 20.4 million SIM cards remained unregistered against the holders’ biometric ID, earmarking them to be blocked by the telecom regulator TCRA.

Initial reports find that a first tranche of numbers were blocked, totalling around 656,000, on the night of Monday 20 January, according to Xinhua. The head of the TCRA announced that the lock outs would be done in phases for technical reasons, with the second batch totalling around 320,000 SIMs. Only around 28.4 million or the 48.8 million SIMs in use had been registered against biometric ID by January 19.

Vodacom has seen 157,000 of its SIMs blocked according to Telecompaper and The Citizen reports on the economic impact of the blocks, blaming the slow progress of the National Identification Authority (NIDA) in issuing the national IDs required for registering SIM cards. The paper quotes analysts on the harm caused by removing people’s ability to communicate and make mobile payment warning that the government will also be hit alongside businesses.

There is some confusion over the legality of the block as previous legislation states an “identity card number or any other document” can be used, reports The Citizen. The TCRA has ignored this ‘any other document’ and insisted on National ID plus fingerprint verification, leading The Citizen to question whether the TCRA could be sued.

A NIDA officer has been arrested accused of accepting bribes as desperation to acquire a national ID card in order to register SIMs mounts. An agent for an unnamed telecoms company was also arrested. The two are reported to have demanded bribes of Sh30,000 (US$13) to prevent SIM card lock out. People are also reported to be registering their SIMs against the ID of family members in order to keep their numbers active, according to The Citizen.

There is also cause for some hope. “We will switch off all unlisted SIM cards, but we will see how to accommodate those who are waiting for their identity card numbers to register biometrically,” clarified the deputy minister for Works, Transport and Communications, Atashasta Nditiye, speaking at an internal meeting with members of the ruling CCM party.

The Daily News reports that deactivated SIMs can be recovered once the holder completes registration, rather than needing a new number.

Looking ahead to the October elections, blocked numbers could interfere with campaigning according to opposition politicians quoted by the VOA as existing lists of numbers may no longer work.

Nigeria: ZKTeco plans first lab in Africa for facial recognition for black people

Following the announcement in December 2019 of ZKTeco’s plans to establish a regional hub in Nigeria for its Africa research operations, the president and founder, John Che along with the CEO of SB Telecoms and Devices, Afolabi Abiodun, ZKTeco’s local partner, gave a press conference summarised by This Day.

Che states that the new R&D center will educate young Africans on biometrics and that linking databases will help tackle corruption, money laundering and insurgencies as well as pensions and healthcare. He said ZKTeco would create an ecosystem – a popular approach to presenting growth plans among Chinese tech firms – that would integrate with public and private schemes.

“I think the only challenge Nigeria has is education. Education and technology application, particularly biometrics, will help solve many of these challenges you have listed,” This Day quotes Che as saying. “The different databases can easily be consolidated using technology.”

Che said ZKTeco has “a couple of huge investments planned for Nigeria” and hopes to sign an MoU with the University of Lagos soon to establish a biometrics lab there and create Africa’s first lab to develop facial biometrics for black people and work on smart city plans for Lagos.

Afolabi Abiodun, CEO of SB Telecoms spoke about how the partnership with ZKTeco aims to create a full presence in Nigeria covering time and attendance management systems, distributing white-label ZKTeco equipment for projects and assisting with R&D.

Uganda: Bank of Uganda to launch digital ID verification platform for all banks

The Bank of Uganda, the Uganda Bankers’ Association and Financial Sector Deepening Uganda have signed a contract with Laboremus Uganda to create a digital ID verification system that would be used by all banks in the country, reports The Independent.

The aim is to speed up onboarding and cut costs of previously lengthy manual verification processes, making it easier to take financial services to the unbanked and into rural areas. The system will create a ‘digital track record’ of verified accounts and National IDs and NIRA’s databases.

Testing will begin in March for an April rollout, according to the Daily Monitor.

Opinion & Reports

South Africa: Views on the smartcard and identity fraud

Yoti’s Digital Identity Fellow in Africa, Tshepo Magoma, has been meeting people across South Africa’s densely-populated Gauteng Province to understand their views on digital ID. He found widely varying views on the success of the National ID program for tackling identity fraud, with some feeling protected by the security measures built into the card while some young people feel the cards are so insignificant they do not hurry to replace cards if lost, unaware of the implications for fraud.

News in Brief & Updates

News in brief – Nigeria: ID verification and KYC company VerifyMe Nigeria secured undisclosed Series A financing from Consonance Investment Managers to bring new digital ID verification products to the market. VerifyMe Nigeria plans to increase its revenue by a factor of 20 in the next three years according to its press release.

News in brief – Kenya: Issuance of old style driving licences to end and trial fines to begin for using them on July 1 as ‘digital’ smartcard licences are introduced with biometric data such as blood group held in a chip.

Ghana – Update: An Electoral Commission IT consultant has said that any new biometric devices considered by the commission should first have been tested in three other African nations. Meanwhile, four companies have been shortlisted for procurement for compilation of a new biometric voter verification system.

News in Brief – Africa/US: New countries could be added to the U.S. travel ban list, NPR reports Trump as saying at a press conference in Davos. African nations could include Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea.

Update – Kenya: 8,628 illegal firearms and 370,000 rounds of ammunition have been destroyed since the government introduced reforms of gun ownership last year including the launch of biometric gun licence cards. The number of gun dealers has been reduced from 33 to 15.

Update – Nigeria: Head of immigration clarifies ‘visas on arrival for all Africans’ by stating they are short-term visas only and their new biometric nature will help authorities identify overstays.

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