Government biometrics programs and national ID card contracts in Africa need more transparency

Government biometrics programs and national ID card contracts in Africa need more transparency

This week’s events show a wide variance in the success of biometrics projects, and the diverse nature of digital ID issues across Africa. SIM registration squeezes subscriber bases in Tanzania, in Kenya an MP demands answers on the botched biometrics facing tens of thousands of ethnic Somalis, Liberia develops a way to check one’s coronavirus status just by sending *303# from your phone, and in Nigeria, laughter as a unique biometric identifier is the subject of academic study.

Tanzania: Vodacom loses customers after biometric SIM rule

The customer base for Vodacom fell by 770,000 or five percent in the second quarter, most likely due to the imposition of compulsory biometric SIM registration, reports The Citizen. At 14.7 million, its subscriber base was still up 400,000 compared to June 30 2019. The telco added 439,000 M-Pesa customers after barring 800,000 in the previous quarter due to Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority rules.

The Gambia: Committee calls for hearing into Semlex contract

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Defense and Security has requested a parliamentary hearing into the awarding to Semlex of the ID card contract, reports Foroyaa.

The committee has presented a conflicting chronology of contracts, with Gambian company Pristine Consulting claiming it was the rightful winner of the contract and alleging irregularities with how the business was instead given to the Belgian firm.

Coverage of the issue in The Voice brings in a re-negotiation between the government of The Gambia and Semlex to reduce the firm’s 70 percent share of fees to 60 percent to increase the government’s earnings.

The request was approved by the National Assembly, but the debate on the report to date was adjourned.

Liberia: ‘Passport Covid’ to give all citizens a coronavirus status

The Ministry of Health has launched a digital ‘Passport Covid’ which gives each citizen one of six coronavirus statuses, reports Front Page Africa. The ‘passport’ works as an app or simply by sending *303# over USSD (the simple menu system over GSM) and was developed by the Guinean firm Banki Technology with partners Zero Poor Africa and the operators MTN and Orange.

It is intended to allow any citizen to check their status, described as “Positive, Negative, Cured, Pending Result, Expired Test, to be Repeated,” plus locate testing centers and allow the gathering of statistics. SIM registration is required in Liberia although unregistered cards can be bought on the street.

Mauritius: Face masks do not impede policing, Safe City surveillance still useful

The prime minister, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, has said that face masks being worn during the coronavirus pandemic are not impacting the effectiveness of policing as the Safe City cameras are still being used to fight crime, according to the government’s website. Responding to questions in parliament, he acknowledged that it may reduce the effectiveness of facial recognition, but stated that masks are vital.

Kenya: Parliamentary pressure applied on ‘double registration’ situation

Coda has published an update to Keren Weitzberg’s April piece on the situation of ethnic Somali Kenyans who previously registered as refugees to qualify for food aid and by doing so effectively ended up without ID. The update states that MP Aden Duale has demanded a statement on the situation and a timeline for when the registration of people will be completed.

Botswana: Pangea IT appointed for eVisa contract

The Israeli firm Pangea IT has been awarded the contract to provide Botswana’s eVisa service, reports Intelligent CIO, which is expected to be operational by the end of the year. The company has been working in Botswana since 2003 when it created the digital birth and death registration facility. In 2010 it deployed a computerized immigration and citizenship system which it was recently re-employed to update.

Opinion & Reports

Nigeria: The long road to digital identity (so far)

A look back at the 13-year journey of Nigeria’s national ID scheme, the multiple credential-issuing agencies that may qualify for a piece of the $433 million injection by the World Bank, by Emmanuel Paul in Techpoint.Africa. A useful summary of all the various bottlenecks and bumps in the road.

News in Brief & Updates

Workshop- ID4D: The World Bank is running a workshop on perspectives on ID qualitative research workshop and offering a toolkit “intended to serve as a guide for researchers and program implementers seeking to undertake qualitative research with end users of identification systems”.  Tuesday 28th July at 8.30am ET (New York).

In brief – Nigeria: Laughter could also be a biometric identifier. Researchers at the Systems Engineering Department at the University of Lagos are conducting statistical analyses of the audible frequencies in people’s laughter to create unique digital signatures.

Link – Nigeria: Our coverage on a new committee to integrate the data held by the various ID-issuing authorities.

Link – ID4Africa: Our coverage on a webinar featuring a panel of government identity experts from across Africa discussing different types of identity numbers.

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