Biometric voter list in Ghana draws long lines and criticism, ID4Africa webinar series launch a hit

Biometrics and digital ID

Innovation from and for the continent is one running theme in this week’s African biometrics news round-up, while issues around one of the core applications of the technology – biometric voter registers – remains the other. New ideas and systems based on digital ID and biometrics are taking hold and flourishing in the private sector, but the bread and butter of national-level systems remains problematic, controversial and expensive. National ID systems were also discussed by authorities in a packed webinar presented by ID4Africa.

Ghana: Tensions abound over Electoral Commission’s new electoral roll

A tech breakdown and a report by a think tank have fuelled the ongoing debate. A biometric voter registration pilot has been suspended in Ghana’s Western Region and equipment developed a fault, reports 3News. According to the report, it was a BVR machine in Sekondi which stopped working.

This followed initially positive reviews of the Western Region pilot, though eight minutes to sign up each individual meant long lines on the first day of the two-day exercise.

This comes amid constant heated debate between those for and against creating a new electoral roll. The IMANI Africa think tank has once again come out to criticize the move. This time it says the decision by Ghana’s Electoral Commission to plough ahead with a new register has set democracy back by at least a decade by “manipulating” the political parties.

An update to its Q&A section contains multiple criticisms of the process, from the coronavirus transmission risk of touching equipment while registering to “the EC is motivated purely by the procurement of millions of dollars of needless, useless, expensive equipment for reasons best known to its commissioners. What has been impressive is how the EC has successfully manipulated the ruling party to assist in this scheme by offering them something they had always wanted: re-registration.”

Previously IMANI predicted unnecessary spending by the EC to the tune of $150 million in compiling the new register.

This was reflected in Ho in the Volta Region where another two-day pilot took place. According to the Ghana News Agency, political activists turned up at the local Electoral Commission.

George Loh, the Volta Region’s First Vice Chairman of the NDC – the main opposition party – is reported to have said that “the EC is walking a slippery road.” He noted a 15-minute turn-around time which he believed would make difficult the target of 700,000 registrations a day nationwide to get through 17 or 18 million people before the election.

USA/East Africa: Fintech startup hopes to grow to serve 17 million

Leaf Global Fintech, a startup founded by Vanderbilt University graduates, to use blockchain and biometrics to create secure, portable bank accounts for displaced persons, has been gaining recognition through awards and funding, notably the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the U.S. National Science Foundation, their alma mater reports.

The system means users do not need access to a smartphone or the internet to manage their accounts and can use a simple mobile phone to transfer money, allowing them to travel without carrying cash.

The company is based in Rwanda where it works with a refugee camp hosting 17,000 people and also with cross-border traders along the frontier with the DRC. The company hopes to expand to work with 17 million displaced persons.

Rwanda closed its borders with just 24 hours’ notice in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, putting an end to lucrative cross-border trade which many refugees also relied on. This move has galvanized Leaf’s founders to further develop remote, self-registration for the system rather than in-person, according to the report.

Morocco: ID for stranded diaspora

Morocco’s General Directorate of National Security has launched a new operation to issue the Moroccan diaspora stuck in Morocco during coronavirus with electronic national ID cards, reports Morocco World News.

Moroccans residing abroad who were visiting Morocco when the country adopted a state of emergency may now find their passports expiring, which will prevent them from returning to the countries they reside in. The Directorate says the ID card is a “basic and reference document in the procedure for renewing biometric passports that expired during the period when the Kingdom’s border posts were closed.”

Students are also able to take advantage of the new system to get ID to sit exams in July and September.

ID4Africa: Government identity authorities’ panel draws over 1000 registrations

How national identity programs, most of which are fingerprint-based, will adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic was discussed in a webinar featuring identity experts from across Africa earlier this week. The panel discussion, broadcast online by ID4Africa, featured representatives from government agencies in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Guinea, Mauritius, Senegal and Ethiopia. The wide-ranging dialogue was covered by Biometric Update, and will also be examined in-depth later this month.

Opinion

Zimbabwe: The road to today’s biometric voting system

“While BVR was a welcome development, without adequate rules and regulations to safeguard private data, it will result in it being compromised, which will affect the credibility of the whole electoral process,” concludes Zimbabwe’s Election Resource Centre think tank in The Standard.

“In addition, the biometric voters roll for the 2018 elections had anomalies even though the process was digitalised.”

The piece goes back to 2000 and leads the reader up to the adoption of the biometric system in 2017 and beyond.

News in Brief & Updates

In brief – Kenya: Safaricom closes its Thika Road Mall store in Nairobi after a staff member tests positive for coronavirus and urges customers to switch to Interactive Voice Biometric System and other apps instead.

In brief – Nigeria: Biometrics are the tools for connecting with the people says governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai, about running for governor of Lagos, and doing away with ‘godfatherism.

Link – Ireland/Malta/Africa: Our coverage of Trust Stamp establishing a wholly-owned subsidiary in Malta to develop its technologies and develop their “long-term commitment to working with a number of African governments.” The company is preparing for an IPO in Ireland this year and secured a welcome package from Malta Enterprise.

In brief – South Africa/Latin America – South African biometric identity authentication startup iiDENTIFii has declared rapid growth requiring new partnerships and an upcoming move into Latin America. The company claims it saw demand projected for the fifth year of operations being met within year one.

In brief – South Africa/Israel: South Africa’s Tactile Group touch screen and increasingly biometrics-focused firm has partnered with Israel’s Smufs Biometrics Solutions which specializes in mobile biometric devices.

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