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Developments in biometrics and digital ID in Africa this week: Malawi election nullified, lack of funds in Uganda



The result of Malawi’s first biometric election, held in May 2019, has finally been nullified by a panel of judges, sending a clear message about the integrity of its democratic process. Dubbed the ‘Tippex election’ after the alleged tampering of polling station tallies, the judges have called for a new election within 150 days. Meanwhile Uganda’s electoral commission warns it does not have the funding to prepare for the country’s 2021 elections and Ghana claims it will have a new biometric voter register in place for their November 2020 elections despite ongoing opposition to the plan to spend more money on it. Last week’s ruling on Kenya’s Huduma Namba, meanwhile, continues to send ripples worldwide.

Malawi: 2019 election annulled; re-run ordered as biometric verification resumes for by-election

The result of the May 2019 general election conducted in Malawi with biometric verification has been annulled by a panel of judges who stated the evidence of rigging was so widespread that “the integrity of the result was severely compromised,” reports the BBC, quoting the judges’ statement.

The court has demanded a re-run within the next five months (150 days) and also ordered that parliament consider recalling the current electoral commission and stated that the first past the post system was unconstitutional and that the winner should gain more than 50 percent of the vote, which may require a second round.

In the BBC piece, correspondent Andrew Harding offers this analysis of the decision: “Malawi’s highest court seized this opportunity not only to shake up their country’s political and electoral infrastructure, but to send a message of judicial strength and independence to other African countries still wrestling with the shift from one-party rule to true multi-party democracy.”

As the judges made their statement, the Malawi Electoral Commission launched a fresh biometric registration exercise in the Liwawadzi Ward for a by-election on March 5 after its councilor Thomson Thomas Bwanali died in October 2019, reports the Nyasa Times.

South Africa’s Daily Maverick also carries an OpEd taking a continental approach and collates the criticism leveled at international election observer missions.

It quotes head of the Commonwealth Observer Mission and former South African president Thabo Mbeki as saying, “It was noted that, for the 2019 elections, and for the first time in its electoral history, Malawi adopted a biometric voter registration process. In addition to collecting voters’ biographical data, their photographs were captured.

“The voter registration process was also tied to the government’s national civil registration process, through which citizens were provided with national ID cards. These innovations enhanced the integrity of the process.” The comment was made after voting, but before tallies were collated which is where the majority of the election’s issues stem from.

The May 21 2019 election was Malawi’s first biometric election, using equipment from Laxton Group for voter registration.

Nigeria: National Examinations Council partners with State Security to monitor exams

The National Examinations Council (NECO) is seeking the help of the Department of State Security (DSS) ahead of the 2020 examinations to tackle impersonation and other types of cheating and malpractice before, during and after the exams, reports The Pulse.

NECO has begun full-scale biometric capturing of candidates to detect impersonation at exam centers despite a previous reversal of the need for students to have the National ID Number to take exams.

“Our council has put in place measures aimed at checking examination malpractice. Despite this, without adequate security architecture, such measures will not yield the desired results,” NECO chairman Abubakar Saddique is quoted as saying. “Among the measures we introduced is the biometric capturing of candidates to check impersonation at examination centres.”

Gambia: People urged to ‘regularize’ their status amid new biometric ID rollout

A Gambia Immigration Department (GID) spokesperson has called on the public, and especially non-citizens, to come forward and regularize their immigration status, report local media, after the country’s new ID scheme began on January 6.

Foroyaa states that the GID spokesperson, Superintendent Mamandin Dibba, asked people to attended GID centers nationwide rather than wait until its officers, who are now out in public places enforcing immigration regulations, stop them on the streets.

The country’s new biometric ID scheme launched on January 6 2020 after the government signed a deal with Semlex in 2018 to issue residence permits and other IDs to non-citizens as well as other ID documents for Gambians.

New prices for IDs issued to ECOWAS, non-ECOWAS and Senegalese residents have been announced, according to The Point and Gambians and foreigners alike have been prosecuted for fraud.

Uganda: Lack of money for 2021 elections could affect biometrics, imperil entire election

The milestones towards next year’s presidential, parliamentary and lower house elections will not be met unless the Ministry of Finance unlocks more funding, states Uganda’s Electoral Commission, as reported by The Daily Monitor.

Biometrics projects are among the areas affected, including the procurement of new biometric voter verification systems. As in Ghana, the decision to buy a new system is being disputed.

“If the country procured biometric technology worth Shs90bn (US$24 million) for the 2016 general elections and that technology is still seen to be functional, why should we procure new biometric kits for another Shs115 billion ($31 million) again? Maybe we should be talking about upgrading them,” Crispyn Kaheru, former coordinator of Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, is quoted as saying.

Chad: Biometric ID system

The introduction of biometric ID for accessing public services is not yet making life easier for Chadians, according to VOA.

In March 2016, the National Secure Title Agency (l’Agence Nationale de Titre Sécurisé) was set up to fulfill the identification needs of Chadians, issuing everyone a unique ID number and protecting their data via 11 centers nationwide.

Yet this is not how things have panned out, according to Moussa Mahamat Mahadi, president of the Citizens’ Process for the Protection of Consumer Rights, as quoted by VOA: “If this had been a sigh of relief for users of public services, I would have been 100% delighted. But individuals should not have to play the intermediary between the institution in question and the users”.

Authorities claim the agency can handle 15,000 enrollments, produce 550 passports and over 5,000 ID cards per day.


System bias: Wired opinion on what the Kenya ruling reveals about biometric ID

National digital ID schemes threaten to exclude millions from society, according to a joint opinion piece by staff at Namati which works with the Global Legal Empowerment Network to bring access to justice worldwide.

In the piece for Wired following last week’s suspension of Kenya’s Huduma Namba biometric ID system by the High Court, the authors point out that this is the first time a court has halted a digital ID scheme for the possibility it could be excluding a segment of the population.

“Less known is the way these digital systems are often being built, as in Kenya, atop discriminatory regimes,” states the piece, “We should all be worried. Tech-utopian schemes don’t make systemic bias disappear. They make it worse.”

Part of the discrimination is against the Nubian ethnic minority who were conscripted from contemporary Sudan by Britain to fight in World War I and subsequently resettled in Nairobi, all within the British Empire. The 5 million-strong Muslim Nubian community struggles to establish its identity, an issue the new Huduma Namba system will only exacerbate, according to the editorial.

News in brief and updates

Update – Ghana: In the continuing spat over the Electoral Commission’s decision to acquire new biometric kits to compile a new electoral roll, an inter-party coalition petitioned a former president to demand a televised meeting with the commission and stated that the existing system rendered a failure rate of 0.6 percent, reports The Pulse. Local media report that the commission has stated the new register will be finalized by November 8.

Link – Africa: Our coverage of Mastercard’s investment in Trust Stamp to develop its AI-based authentication services for developing communities.

Link – Zambia: Our coverage of state telecom Zamtel collecting facial biometric data from mobile subscribers.

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