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Biometric registration programs announced, commenced, disrupted and debated across Africa



Nationwide biometric voter registration is underway in Ghana where the head of the electoral commission shares the rate of voters relying on guarantors rather than the prized identity options. Nearby in Nigeria, a televised Town Hall meeting of stakeholders on electoral reform included an announcement of electronic voting. The fallout of Liberia’s demilitarization can still be felt as demobilized soldiers disrupt biometric sign-up of military pensioners. And a Kenyan surgeon calls for biometrics-based SIM registration while a report of the practice in neighboring Tanzania argues it makes no difference in fighting crime.

Nigeria: Electronic voting arrives in 2021

The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakuba, says there are plans to introduce electronic voting at the 2021 governorship election in Anambra state, dependent on legal provision to proceed.

Biometric registration of voters began in 2010 and the register has been periodically updated. In 2015 smart card readers were introduced at polling stations for checking ID, and the 2015 electoral act also allowed the exploration of other technologies such as electronic voting.

In the run up to the 2023 general elections, there is a wider debate on fair elections and electronic voting. Yiaga Africa organized a ‘Town Hall’ meeting called “Fixing Nigerian Elections” (which in Nigerian English means mending rather than rigging) which was broadcast on Channels Television. Chairman Yakuba’s 2021 announcement was made as part of the Town Hall.

A Twitter poll by the channel found that electronic voting was the most important step to make votes count in elections, taking 73 percent of the poll of over 6,000 voters.

Yiaga Africa’s report on the Town Hall included the issues discussed: how to protect the electoral system from politicians, inclusion, prosecution of offenders, electronic voting and the hope to complete electoral form by December 2020.

Ghana: National voter registration begins, people asked not to wear blue

Following regional pilots, the controversial national voter registration has begun across Ghana. Instructions are being printed in newspapers and online, with details on the guarantor system which means those without the only two accepted forms of ID – passport and Ghana card – can have two other registered people vouch for them.

The current round is expected to last 38 days, and aims to register the biometrics of 17 million eligible voters, according to the Ghanaian Times, with a three-day follow-up round to register anyone missed in the first round.

Some devices used for biometrics capturing were reported to have issues with power supply or slow back-up processes that caused delays as registration began, though the equipment was reported to be generally working well. Thermometer guns and sanitary equipment were in use at some locations, and the process was taking between six and ten minutes per person, the Times reports.

According to Modern Ghana, Electoral Commission chief Jean Mensa stated that in recent rounds of registration going back to 2014, up to 99.5 percent of voters used the guarantor option.

Mensa is quoted as saying, “I hope and pray that the 2020 election should be the last time that we, as a country, would need the guarantor system. Come 2020, all citizens should be issued with the National Identification Card.”

Hopeful voters have also been asked not wear blue as the photo background is blue and wearing the same color makes the photography more difficult.

Liberia: Govt warns demobilized troops not to disrupt biometric registration

Demobilized troops of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) have been warned not to further disrupt the biometric registration of AFL pensioners, reports The New Dawn. The troops interrupted the process where retirees were registering to ensure they would be able to verify themselves for future pension payments.

The demobilized soldiers claim that as they were also former AFL staff, they are veterans and so should be entitled to payments. Registration has resumed and is expected to last until September.

Liberia is also continuing to educate workers and encourage registration as it approaches the July ‘No ID, No Pay’ date for government workers, reports Front Page Africa. The Interagency Payroll Clean-up Task Force has started a workshop at the Ministerial Complex in Monrovia’s Congo Town to validate government workers’ biometric ID cards.

Kenya: Surgeon sues Safaricom over his land being sold via fake SIM

A surgeon has filed a petition in court to compel telco Safaricom to use biometric registration for SIM cards after fraudsters acquired chips in his name and used them to sell his land without his knowledge, reports The Nation.

Dr. Isaac Kiplimo Ng’etich is suing Safaricom for 300,000 Kenyan shillings ($2,800) after criminals used his details to register two SIM cards and conduct a transaction selling the surgeon’s 0.4 hectares of land for Sh300,000. The unsuspecting buyer paid by M-Pesa.

Dr. Kiplimo hopes to urge the company to start using customers’ biometrics in the registration process. When the fraud came to light, Dr. Kiplimo was himself detained for six hours and had to refund the buyer.

Opinion & Reports

Kenya: Privacy International on “The Trouble with Identity in Kenya”

A podcast delving into issues of identity and identity systems in Kenya featuring guests Yusuf Bashir, executive of Haki na Sheria an initiative which promotes the representation of marginalized people in governance, and Keren Weitzberg, expert on identity and migration issues focusing on East Africa. The 40-minute episode is part of the Technology Pill podcast which is available on all major podcast platforms.

Tanzania: Mandatory SIM registration

The basis on which Tanzania’s mandatory SIM registration was built – that it would deter crime – is flawed, argues a report by the Institute for Security Studies, published in The Daily Maverick. The report cites studies elsewhere in the world that show crime did not fall, the tools did not help law enforcement and Mexico even repealed the law. It states that Tanzania is already struggling to enforce compliance and that the lack of safeguarding legislation is stoking concerns the government will amass data for political ends.

Morocco: The new ID card’s role in greater financial inclusion, basic income

The move to smart ID cards should result in higher levels of social protection, according to a report in Morocco World News. “[The scheme] will also give governmental agencies the ability to collect data on the Moroccan population as a whole, which can be used for greater economic and societal pursuits,” writes Kareem Hussein. Basic income could be introduced, in part funded by greater export taxes on phosphorous, while more people could open bank accounts and use micro-financing.

News in Brief & Updates

Links – Mission Billion: There will be two ‘deep-dive’ webinars on the World Bank’s Mission Billion Challenge. On July 14 it’s about the WURI West Africa Prize and on July 21 is “Empowering Women and Girls: Realizing the Potential for ID by Addressing the Gender Gap”.

In brief – Nigeria: A post went viral on WhatsApp stating that a website where over a million people had applied for a job announced by the president on Twitter had been hacked and applicants’ bank verification numbers (BVN) intercepted, but fact-checking site ICIR Nigeria has found this to be fake news. The site also debunked rumors that the Nigerian Center for Disease Control was asking people to set up new bank accounts to get BVNs to receive welfare payments. The BVN acts as a universal ID in all commercial banks in Nigeria. The Central Bank of Nigeria implemented this biometric identification system to curb illegal banking.

In brief – Central African Republic: Biometric voter registration begins ahead of national, legislative and municipal elections in December 2020. President Faustin-Archange Touadera was one of the first to register. GenKey’s Necto devices and SPiRE management systems are in use to register ten million citizens.

Link – Kenya: Our coverage of open source facial recognition software being trialed for identifying hospital patients who do not bring their ID.

In brief – South Africa: Software and on-boarding company Comcorp has chosen German biometrics firm BioID to provide liveness detection and face matching.

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