Africans assess national biometric projects as Thales enters digital ID talks with DRC

Biometrics and digital ID

There is a sense of reflection in Nigeria over the country’s ambitions to provide ID to all, with multiple reports on the importance of the endeavor and ideas for getting there sooner. In Kinshasa, talks with Semlex did not lead to a hoped-for six-month extension to the biometric passport contract for the firm. Zimbabwe is moving fast with biometrics-based voting and smart city ventures, but the projects are leading to growing concerns and falling trust among citizens. And Ghana’s path to its next election is still rocky as the decision to assemble a new biometric voter register divides opinion.

DRC: Launch of biometric passport contract tender post Semlex, Thales front of queue

Talks between the government and Semlex to secure a short-term extension for the biometric passport contract were unsuccessful for the Belgian firm, reports Reuters in its update to the story.

The document provider was awarded the contract under the previous president, Joseph Kabila, and passport prices went up to $185. Investigations by Reuters into the deal led to a raid on Semlex’s HQ, but no further details have emerged.

Semlex has denied any wrongdoing, but the contract was not renewed past its June 11 end date and the government has opened a tender.

Africa Intelligence reports that French defense and ID firm Thales met the president Tshisekedi in February and has been continuing to lobby through former Gemalto executives in Kinshasa for airport ID checking and ID document contracts.

Africa Intelligence reports that Thales is hoping to negotiate a framework agreement to establish a platform to issue a range of ID credentials.

Somalia: Troop mutiny over delayed wages

Troops staged a mutiny in the capital Mogadishu over unpaid wages, reports Garowe Online. Dozens of soldiers blocked the main entry points to the city in the short-lived rebellion. Long-standing issues over soldier pay were meant to have been resolved via biometric registration of the military to avoid higher ranking officers collecting the pay to distribute to lower ranking staff at their discretion.

An army general spoke after the mutiny to say that all those registered biometrically have been paid accordingly, but that there had been technical issues in registering an unspecified number of soldiers.

Zimbabwe: Who’s to blame for falling trust in the Electoral Commission?

The Election Resource Centre (ERC), an electoral watchdog, believes that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission not sharing information about the biometric voter roll with stakeholders had meant a loss of public trust in electoral systems, reports New Zimbabwe.

“The status quo is far short of being democratic and this has eroded public confidence and trust. Inaccessibility of registration centres, partisanship, lack of continuous voter education and registration have all contributed to voter apathy and negative perceptions of elections in Zimbabwe,” Tawanda Chimhini, ERC director is quoted as saying.

Perceptions persist that the commission is compromised and run by Zanu PF sympathisers.

Ghana: Updates on the approach to a biometric election

35 percent will not go out to register for the new biometric electoral roll due to coronavirus fears, reports Ghana Business. A survey by the Chamber for Local Governance asked 4,800 current voters across Ghana’s 16 regions.

The new constitutional instrument we reported on last week which stipulates that only the Ghana Card and Ghanaian passports are valid ID for voter registration does not allow the electoral commission to use the biometric data of the National Identification Authority. This means there will only be a physical check of the document, not verification against the database.

Whether or not there is synchronization between the EC and NIA has been the subject of much debate which looks likely to continue as concerns over the entire registration scheme roll on.

Meanwhile the EC is displaying its new biometric kit at a pilot registration exercise.

Opinion & Reports

Nigeria: The digital identity process

The importance of digital identity and citizens’ complaints about the process so far as well as the lack of data protection law form part of this policy brief by Paradigm Initiative, a social enterprise focusing on IT support systems and digital rights. The report concludes that the Federal Government is not attaching enough importance to the mammoth task of providing everyone with ID and provides a list of recommendations to improve implementation.

Nigeria: “National identity – the building blocks for economic inclusion”

Another deep dive into identity and credentials in Nigeria, this time approaching the issue from the perspective of farmers having to deal with the disruption of coronavirus and needing ways to prove their identity to be able to travel to their holdings. Writing for The Guardian, Ndidi Nwuneli of Sahel Consulting reflects on the country’s fragmented approach to identity creation via multiple agencies, and underlines the national importance of having ID, right down to providing food.

Africa: Regional digital identities for finance

There should be regional African IDs for the finance sector to sidestep the issue of national IDs only being valid in the country where they are issued, argues Nkosinathi Ncube in the Bulawayo 24 News. An international banking ID would allow people to more easily send and receive remittances, keeping them in formal channels and cutting costs and would boost regional integration. Ncube believes the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the situation as those without ID may struggle to access the necessary healthcare, frustrate contact tracing efforts and complicate mass vaccination schemes.

News in Brief & Updates

In brief – Zimbabwe: Our coverage of concerns over privacy sparked by the linking of the National Data Centre and state institutions as surveillance equipment is installed, and their relation to an incident of alleged torture by state security agents.

In brief – Nigeria: Ogun State hopes to acquire the biometric data of all commercial two- and three-wheeler motorcycle drivers in the state to track their activities and reduce crime.

In brief – Tanzania: Biometric verification for collecting university student loans and an increase in loans available has made the process run much more smoothly and without class boycotts, reports The Daily News.

Link – Women in Identity: Our coverage of a Women in Identity webinar featuring Dr. Keren Weitzberg, who specializes in East African identity issues. Weitzberg spoke on issues of consent, abuse of biometrics systems and problems of the one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with Africa and the Global South.

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