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Biometrics developments and digital ID across Africa this week: Huduma Namba halted, Tanzania SIM shutdown and a sea of opinions

Biometrics developments and digital ID across Africa this week: Huduma Namba halted, Tanzania SIM shutdown and a sea of opinions

Africa’s most emblematic biometric ID scheme has been halted by the High Court. Kenya’s Huduma Namba must wait until adequate data protection is in place to safeguard the private information of Kenyans who have been able to register. Tanzania is dealing with the aftermath of reaching its SIM registration deadline and Nigeria is in a two-steps-backwards phase of its national ID scheme. All this means a large number of OpEds are emerging across the continent as countries grapple with the seismic changes their ID schemes are causing.

While Ghana reached its deadline for the biometric registration of pensioners on January 31, another window opens. Registration begins on February 11 for ID4Africa 2020.

Kenya: Huduma Namba suspended by High Court ruling

The High Court in Nairobi has halted the $60 million Huduma Namba scheme until adequate data protection policies are implemented. The panel of three judges ruled in a 500-page report that the National Integrated Identification Management System (NIIMS) scheme is constitutional, reports The Standard, but current laws are insufficient to guarantee data protection.

The judges also found that the way that the project was launched in parliament had limited public participation but acceded that other than the original plans to take DNA and GPS coordinates of people registering, the other data collected is necessary and therefore not unconstitutional.

Months after biometric capture began, the government passed its first data protection legislation in late November 2019, after the government tried to downgrade the role of data protection commissioner to a ‘semi-independent’ data protection agency with a chairperson appointed by the president. The data protection measures have yet to be implemented.

The case was brought by civil rights groups including the Nubian Rights Forum and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), citing data protection and privacy issues, that the way in which data protection legislation was handled in parliament prevented public participation, and how the NIIMs scheme is proving ethnically divisive in the country, particularly in border areas.

“Every party’s seen it as a win,” lawyer Linda Bonyo told France 24 in an interview, “because we haven’t read the judgement as that will be provided next week, but from the sound of the judges, it means that anyone’s who aggrieved… is able to appeal to the Court of Appeal so I seen an appeal in the next few days after the judgement is out.” Bonyo also expects the government to table a digital bill soon to keep its project going.

The New York Times has published a story on a former bodyguard to a previous president, which presents the difficulties faced by those who do not fit an impossibly narrow sense of what being Kenyan means when it comes to acquiring the ID necessary for the increasingly essential Huduma Namba.

Tanzania: SIM switch-off to be complete by end of January

As many as 19 million SIM cards could be deactivated by the end of January, reports The Citizen. After the January 20 deadline passed and only around two-thirds of over 48 million cards were compliant with regulations, Tanzania’s telecoms office has been deactivating those SIM cards that have not been biometrically registered against subscribers’ ID cards.

Over 3 million SIMs have already been blocked with the remainder expected to be deactivated by the end of the month.

Sierra Leone: Biometric registration to be expanded to all inmates

Prisoners across Sierra Leone will have their biometrics captured after a pilot in the capital, Freetown, reports Politico SL.

Funded by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and implemented by Fix Solution in collaboration with the Justice Sector Coordinating Office, the scheme will collect and manage data on all inmates, male and female.

Ghana: EC shortlists 4 biometrics providers, denies importing faulty BVDs

The biometric electoral roll saga continues in Ghana with several developments. The electoral commission announced that it has shortlisted four biometric systems suppliers for hardware and software – two French and two South Korean, reports Modern Ghana. The commission has allocated 390 million cedis (US$71.5 million) to purchase new equipment which would feature facial recognition for compiling a new voter management system.

While the commission has also come out to deny having imported ‘faulty’ biometric voting devices from Nigeria, according to Ghana Web. This was in response to claims which originated in social media posting purporting thousands of devices had been driven in trucks to Ghana.

Ghana: 10,000 public workers could be cut from payroll

Ghana’s Auditor General Department has threatened to stop paying over 10,000 government employees after conducting a payroll audit, reports The Pulse.

The audit found that the employees in question have either no justification or insufficient information to be drawing salaries. These employees have been asked to present themselves for biometric registration at the Audit Service Headquarters in Accra to register for continued payment. They will be required to bring their Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) biometric cards among other documents.


Nigeria: JAMB reversal could indicate greater failings at NIMC

An editorial in This Day examines whether the decision to reverse the requirement to have a National Identity Number (NIN) in order to take JAMB university entrance exams is a sign of much greater failings at the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

Another editorial on Leadership.ng calls for the signup for NINs to be accelerated by the NIMC to benefit the economy.

Zimbabwe: Were biometrics used to throw the 2018 elections?

In an OpEd for The Zimbabwe Mail, Kudzai Chimhangwa considers whether biometric ID registration was used to manipulate the polls in the 2018 general election and how the appointment of Chinese firms specializing in facial recognition made Zimbabweans guinea pigs for the reading of black people’s faces: “But at what cost to Zimbabwe’s fragile democracy, and to Zimbabweans’ privacy?”

Tanzania: Positive and pragmatic views on mandatory biometric SIM registration

Compulsory SIM registration may have some benefits. According to Kamua Kunyiha, the new regional manager for the east and southern African credit risk solutions provider CreditInfo Group, registration allows businesses to know who they’re dealing with and provide services more easily.

In an interview with The Daily News, Kunyiha states that, as in Kenya with mPesa, data collection goes both ways: “People should understand just because they did not interact physically with the lenders they can’t default without being caught…they need to repay because their information is being shared and used by other lenders to determine whether they are fit for the other loans… It could end up spoiling for you because there is going to be a time you really need the money, but you will not be in a position to acquire it.”

In a colorful OpEd for The East African, Elsie Eyakuze outlines the frustrations of dealing with Tanzanian bureaucracy. “Getting documents from the government has historically been a frustrating, often humiliating process,” writes Eyakuze, “So when the government not only demanded that all adults get their identification cards within a year, but also that said identification numbers would be necessary for biometric registration of SIM cards, well, it was just a matter of sitting back and watching what was sure to come.”

She captures the trials of trying to be a responsible citizen: “Ridden with Dengue [fever], I dutifully showed up to get my National Identification Authority (NIDA) registration in May last year. I could barely stand but I did it. More than ten visits to my local government and NIDA’s municipal offices, and my mobile service providers later I have a number, no ID card and no SIM card registrations.” Her whole account is worth reading for an insight into the context of the rollout of schemes such as Tanzania’s.

News in brief & updates

In brief – Liberia: President Weah mentions biometrics deadline of next year’s budget for removing ghost workers, retired workers in speech.

In brief – Ghana: Latest ATMs with fingerprint readers and automatic tellers from South Korea’s Hyosung Inc go on show in Accra.

Link – Mozambique: Our coverage of South Africa’s Paycode setting up a biometric ID system allowing 18,000 Mozambicans to receive welfare grants.

In brief – Nigeria: Business leaders claim the country’s new visa on arrival system for all Africans is not a visa on arrival but an e-visa and therefore bad for business travel.

Link – UN refugees : Our coverage of the spread of the UN’s biometric program for refugees in Africa.

Link – Integrated Biometrics: Our coverage of the firm’s progress in Africa.

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