Togo hopes to launch new biometric ID card in 2021
The minister in charge of digital economy and digital transformation in the West African nation of Togo, Cina Lawson, says one of the big digital projects the country is looking up to next year is the rollout of a new biometric ID card for citizens.
The minister made the disclosure in an interview on the occasion of the 2020 special report of Women in GovTech. Lawson said the project has been in the works in the last couple of years, and is inspired by India’s Aadhaar digital ID program.
“In Togo, several million people still have no basic form of legal identification as existing civil registration systems do not reach the entire population. Women are disproportionately affected by the lack of ID making it difficult, nay impossible, for them to do essential things like opening a bank account, enrolling kids in school, benefiting from health insurance, or getting a mobile phone number. It also limits the reach of digitised social protection schemes,” she noted.
With a population of 8 million citizens, the minister stated that the new ID will not only provide a biometric proof of ID for its holders, but will be the new platform “…upon which other national projects such as the establishment of a single social registry, universal health insurance, etc. will be developed.”
“Backed by law, our new foundational ID will enable people to prove they are who they say they are. This way, they can have easier access to services provided by both the public and private sectors. Ultimately, our new national digital ID will facilitate access to credit, health services, reduce fraud in the banking sector, ensure the targeted distribution of aid in the social sector, and improve educational and administrative follow-up for citizens,” she further said in the interview.
The new ID card, she added, is a key component of ‘Togo Digital 2025,’ a plan that details the country’s digital transformation agenda in the next five years.
Flagship digital project for 2020
Asked about what she thinks was her country’s landmark digital project of the year 2020, Lawson cited an electronic payment platform which was designed to facilitate social safety net payments for thousands of citizens with digital ID in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
She said an individual’s biometric voter ID is used for identity verification on the platform known as NOVISSI (which means ‘solidarity’ in a local Togolese language).
“By far, the most impactful project that we have achieved this year is NOVISSI, our 100% digital cash transfer programme. Within 10 days, I co-led a small team at the Ministry and coordinated the push to build and deploy the NOVISSI system. The programme leverages USSD for enrolment which allows anyone with a basic mobile phone to request for aid from the state. Our system then screens each applicant and determines if they are eligible for payment based on their location (in an area subject to daily curfew) and profession (informal worker). The biometric voter ID is used for identity verification,” Lawson explained.
Thanks to the platform, she revealed, Togo paid nearly 600,000 informal workers whose incomes were adversely affected by virus prevention austerity measures rolled out by government.
She added that efforts were made in other domains of the economy to ensure that government services were obtainable online, also citing a platform that was put in place and widely used by passengers travelling in and out of Togo.
Togo’s plans for big data analytics
As part of the digital transformation vision, the Togolese digital economy minister expressed the desire to see the country explore the potential of big data analytics and to see how that can help in the formulation of evidence-based policies.
“It is fascinating what big data analysis and machine learning of anonymized cell phone metadata and high-resolution satellite imagery has allowed us to achieve. For example, we were able to build algorithms to help determine the level of poverty of any given individual based on their consumption of telecommunications services,” Lawson explained.
“So part of my focus for next year will be on using big data to improve the targeting of other government policies and expanding our use of techniques like high-frequency phone surveys to improve the way we assess their impact…,” she said.
She regretted that in Africa, a lot more has to be done in order to optimize big data application, artificial intelligence and machine learning, insisting that there was need to be a lot more “…systematic about capitalizing on real-time information about our constituents to design policies that better respond to their needs.”
Cina Lawson ended by urging more women to get involved in GovTech.
“We are not seeing enough female representation in many male-dominated tech sectors like cybersecurity where men outnumber women 3 to 1. I encourage women and girls who may sometimes be discouraged from pursuing a career in a field dominated by men to believe in themselves and boldly defy expectations. They should seek out role models of women who have succeeded in the sector and not be afraid to be the pioneers for other women and girls to follow,” she advised.