Biometric projects to fight fraud and corruption in Africa need to avoid the same traps

BIO-key active in Nigeria to help economic reopening

Biometrics and digital ID

Allegations against Semlex in Africa continue to mount as a new exposé of the Belgian firm’s dealings comes to light, this time in Madagascar. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project claims to have acquired 160,000 leaked internal documents from the firm and is publishing its findings. Meanwhile, Uganda’s President Museveni has announced there will be biometric voter verification there in time for the 2021 general election and as International Identity Day approaches, events are going online.

International ID Day, September 16: Events go online across Africa

September 16 is the chosen date for International Identity Day as 16.9 is the UN Sustainable Development Goal for providing legal ID for all by 2030. ID4Africa is holding a free livecast (registration required) entitled ‘Spotlight on Inclusion’ with concrete guidance on boosting enrollment. Previously, Nigeria has marked the day nationally and this year the stakeholders in identity verification and management are holding an online event entitled ‘Enabling Nigeria’s Economic and Social Growth with Digital Identity’

Uganda: Electoral Commission to procure biometric voter kits for 2021 election

Uganda’s Electoral Commission is currently procuring biometric voting equipment. According to The Monitor, President Yoweri Museveni announced that the government is procuring kits to biometrically verify voters and that it has been his mission to end vote rigging in the country since 1961 (when he was aged 17 and the country was about to become independent).

According to The Monitor, Museveni said the team at the Electoral Commission had refused to procure biometric equipment and that eight commission officials were sacked earlier in the summer over allegations of corruption. The commission says they retired.

The president is quoted as saying, “Some EC officials have become corrupt. They want money. Party members are not vigilant. For general elections, we must get a method which doesn’t allow cheating whether people are vigilant or not. We must have digital recognition of voters using biometric. This was supposed to be done in the previous elections. But some corrupt electoral officials who were in the electoral commission, who were sacked recently, they bought machines which didn’t do this. They are now looking for machines which will do this.”

A separate article states that the plan is to have a new system operational ahead of the 2021 general election.

President Museveni has been in power since 1986 with many critics saying this has been through electoral manipulation.

Africa/Nigeria: BIO-key sees biometric ID management foundation meeting opportunity

BIO-key has reiterated that its subsidiary in Nigeria is well placed to resume business with partners such as the Technology Transfer Institute to regain momentum following the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic in Africa.

While Africa has been hit hard by COVID-19, and Nigeria in particular, the company says the subsidiary is maximizing new and existing revenue opportunities for its identity and access management business, and lining up investments with expected returns.

“Given the significant impact of COVID-19 across Africa, we are actively engaged with the consortium of contract partners to confirm their plans, requirements and timeframes in light of the economic conditions in the region,” comments BIO-key Managing Director for Africa Akintunde Carlton Jeje. “Discussions continue with the partner network, as well as with government agencies to initiate and deliver these mission-critical programs. As the country reopens, we stand ready to begin delivering our technology in the coming months.”

“We are very excited to start our contracts in Africa and have staged funding in Nigeria for BIO-key Africa to build the vital infrastructure to support revenue opportunities with TTI and our consortium partners,” says BIO-key Chairman and CEO Michael W. DePasquale.

BIO-key’s partners in Nigeria are working on projects in telecoms and ministerial schemes.

Reports & Opinion

Africa: Investigative reporters acquire 160,000 leaked documents on ‘Semlex’s Biometric bribery’

A series of reports under the banner ‘Biometric Bribery: Inside Semlex’s Global Playbook’ by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) untangle the findings from 160,000 leaked internal documents it claims to have acquired from the Belgian biometrics firm.

“OCCRP investigations have found that it has used bribes, kickbacks and insider dealing to secure contracts around the world, inflating the cost of vital documents for ordinary citizens while lining the pockets of wealthy elites,” states the introduction, echoing extensive reporting by Reuters on Semlex’s deals in DR Congo.

The OCCRP considers the patterns a ‘playbook’ which the company would repeat across Africa, with the project finding that Semlex was involved as the conduit for paying bribes to officials in the Republic of Congo and Côte d’Ivoire for oil deals.

Madagascar is the focus of one of the OCCRP’s investigations.

The project believes that Semlex Group paid a former Madagascan government official at least $140,000 in ‘unexplained fees’ in 2010-11 based to leaked emails, to secure a lucrative passport production contract. The official – the former Secretary of State for Public Security – claims to have been a consultant for Semlex.

Semlex still has the passport contract in Madagascar where the $50 fee for a passport is the equivalent of a month’s salary for someone on minimum wage.

The report details how Semlex courted the official, maximized profits and handled its money transfers and how Malagasy passports, despite their costs, have been recognized as fake when citizens travel abroad.

Namibia: Civil Registration and Social Protection

The Centre of Excellence for CRVS Systems (civil registration and vital statistics) has published reports on aspects measured in five case study countries, including Namibia. The Namibia report, ‘The Synergy Between Civil Registration and Social Protection’, finds that the civil registration system has played an important role in reducing poverty levels

Namibia has a raft of Vision 2030 policies to tackle poverty, such as cash grants and e-governance. One aim of the government is to reach 95 percent birth registration immediately after birth by 2022. There are now very high rates of biometric National ID issuance from the age of 16 when it becomes compulsory. However, a birth certificate is often also required for accessing services.

The report goes back to Namibia’s apartheid past when registration for vital events was voluntary for Black people and almost inaccessible in rural areas which led to people waiting years to register and be able to prove their origin. Meanwhile, services have increasingly required ID.

News in Brief & Updates

Link – ID4Africa/Facebook: Our coverage of ID4Africa’s request to Facebook to use its database of images to test the question of whether bias in facial recognition is an inherent limitation of the technology or whether it can be trained out.

In brief – Nigeria: ‘I’m Alive’ pensioner ID verification mobile app launched by Chams Plc aims to help pension administrators establish the identity of pensioners remotely, removing the need for periodic verification in person which can require long journeys, reports This Day.

Link – Nigeria: Our coverage of the problems banks around the world, including in Nigeria, are dealing with for introducing digital onboarding.

Link – Uganda: Our coverage of a data justice review into the capturing of biometrics in the humanitarian sector, using Uganda and Bangladesh as case studies. Although registration of refugees can help in assigning help, it can also shift the power balance over managing people’s lives in favor of the authorities.

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