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Major research project examines digital identity in 10 African countries

Biometrics and digital ID

Detailed reports into the status quo of digital identity systems of 10 African nations have been released by Research ICT Africa. Teams investigated and mapped digital identity and the use of biometrics in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique.

Research ICT Africa (RIA) and the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) partnered during 2020-2021 to conduct the research into the foundational ID systems. The Evaluation Framework initially devised by the CIS for evaluating India’s Aadhaar was applied to the research approaches in each country and case studies were used throughout. The Framework applies tests of the legal basis, rights impact, and risk of each digital identity system. The project was funded by the Omidyar Network.

The series of reports provide an exceptional overview of the technological, legal and ethical issues facing the countries and their citizens.

While the country investigations were handled independently, an overarching comparative study was also made into their digital ID systems. Taking into account the vastly different cultures, histories and colonial experiences, which all shape the way identity systems are implemented, some key themes emerged.

Policymakers should not rush through the adoption of new systems; there should be more engagement with all involved and particularly the ‘beneficiaries’ or end-users; countries should seek ways to avoid accentuating existing inequalities by introducing digital ID systems; analogue alternatives should be maintained to prevent exclusion.

“While different contextual realities in each of the 10 countries examined mean diverse priorities and recommendations, we argue that the similarities across the countries also means that countries could start by learning from the experiences of other African countries and dear lessons from the ICT for development space (which RIA has long worked in),” states the conclusion to the project.

“We not only recommend the use of more collaborative and multistakeholder approaches for the design, financing or funding, implementing and governance of digital identity ecosystems, but emphasize the importance of involving the so-called beneficiaries of these systems from the conceptualisation stages.”

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