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Uganda’s digital ID achievements, challenges and prospects

Biometrics registration drive planned
Uganda’s digital ID achievements, challenges and prospects

The Executive Director of the National Identification and Registration Authority of Uganda (NIRA), Rosemary Kisembo, says although there is still much ground to be covered, the country has recorded significant successes in the development of its digital ID ecosystem.

Kisembo also unveiled plans for the country’s new generation ID which the government hope to put in place by 2024, including a new biometrics registration drive.

Speaking recently during the second segment of ID4Africa’s 26th Livecast, Kisembo listed some of the achievements of their ID system which she said include the issuance of the national identification number (NIN) to 25.6 million citizens and the printing and distribution of digital ID cards to 70.2 percent of the country’s eligible population (citizens of 16 years and above).

Figures from the NIRA boss’ presentation showed efforts in the domain of birth and death registrations are however yet to yield major results, with low levels of birth and death notification.

NIRA’s mandate, challenges

NIRA is mandated to offer identification services, policy, planning and support; increase transparency and eliminate corruption in the delivery of services, as well as strengthen the capacity of Uganda’s statistical system to generate data.

Specifically, Kisembo said, it conducts citizen identification, registration and digital ID issuance, adding that the body’s operations are guided by a number of legal instruments such as the Registration of Persons Acts 2015, the Children’s Act amended in 2016, and the Data Protection and Privacy Act of 2019, among others.

The milestones notwithstanding, the NIRA official raised a number of challenges that still stand on their way. Among the challenges, she mentioned the fact that NIRA branches are available in 112 districts and absent in up to 34 others, making access to its services by citizens in the uncovered districts quite difficult.

Staffing issues, the obsolete nature of some of their technological equipment, lack of adequate funding, inadequate sensitization and engagement were some of the other challenges which she said have had a negative impact on service delivery.

Processes and services

Taking the floor to speak, Grace Nanyanzi, director of Information Systems at NIRA gave a detailed presentation of the processes and services of the body. She explained the steps one has to undergo to be issued a NIN or an ID card, saying it all begins with biometric data capture and validation for adults, and for child registration.

Aside from the issuance of NINs and ID cards and the replacement of the latter in case of loss or damage, NIRA also offers additional services such as the FirstID (non-physical card) for children, the de-duplication of ID records using fingerprint biometrics, and the confirmation of ID information by third parties.

Nanyanzi added that the information collected from citizens for the digital ID is shared with some government agencies including the Electoral Commission to enable it to generate its voter’s register.

She explained the requirements needed by NIRA for enrolling nationals for the digital ID, and said there is a complaints mechanism in place through which grievances of applicants can be channeled and responded to.

Another aspect of their presentation looked at the use cases of the digital ID, with Rosemary Kisembo saying not only does it serve as the single source of truth, it has also gone a long way in contributing to financial inclusion in the landlocked east African country.

The ID, Kisembo added, is required for the opening of a bank or mobile money account, for access to some government and health services, for voting, public service verification which has led to the weeding out of many ‘ghost’ workers, citizen verification for passport issuance, and for tax identification.

New generation ID with face biometrics in view

Concerning plans for the future, the executive director of NIRA announced that the body will be embarking on a new mass biometric registration drive for its new generation digital ID system in the next two years.

The process, she went on, will expand the system to other forms of biometrics than fingerprints include iris and face biometrics, and will be streamlined for better coverage. The current system’s coverage rate stands at 63 percent, which critics contend is at least partly due to NIRA being underfunded.

Kisembo adds that they intend to work with civil society organizations and other partners to make the new generation ID system one that can guarantee the country’s sovereignty and self-determination, ensure national and data security, drive inclusion and trust, and ensure interoperability, scalability and flexibility.

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