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ID is no longer just about identity: Day 1 of ID4Africa 2022

ID is no longer just about identity: Day 1 of ID4Africa 2022

Since the last ID4Africa summit in Johannesburg, 2019, the world is a different place. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to major changes for the world of identity.

A theme across the first day of the ID4Africa 2022 Augmented General Meeting in Morocco is that ID is no longer just about identifying a person. The emphasis and importance of ID has firmly shifted to service access allowed via having that ID. The ID4Africa movement itself has updated its mission.

In Marrakesh, senior delegates from 51 African nations have come together with leading companies and organizations in the identity sector to learn from each other’s experiences – and perhaps buy a national identity system. While the companies are selling biometric equipment and systems for identifying humans, their messaging joins that of identity authorities in talking about the opportunities for service access after two years of life going contactless and governments attempting remote welfare and social protection.

“The need for digital transformation has become more pressing. It is no longer sufficient to produce national population registers and even link to civil registers. You need to ensure that every aspect of your government and service delivery has a digital twin,” said Dr. Joseph Atick, executive chair of ID4Africa in the opening ceremony at the Palais de Congrès.

“This is why digital identity must be put in context. It enables and interacts with authentication platforms, payment systems, digital signatures, data sharing, KYC systems, consent management and sectoral delivery platforms. Effectively, it is what empowers tomorrow’s government stack ecosystem.

“This implies our end goal in ID [for development] is not about digital identity, it is about building public infrastructure for governance and service delivery as frictionless, robust and respectful of people’s rights and liberties – including the right to have legal identity. This is our updated objective. This is definitely more sophisticated than traditional identity management, and unless it is done right and quickly, countries will fall behind.”

The message was immediately enforced on stage with the remarks of Dr. Ghita Mezzour, Morocco’s Minister for Digital Transformation who said the two goals of modernizing her country’s ID system were for the benefit of society (and social protection) and the economy – ultimately for a better life for the people.

Into the first plenary session and the theme continued. Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), Minister of Communications and Digital Economy of Nigeria said no one is allowed to access government services without a National Identification Number (NIN), and “When it comes to privacy, Nigeria should be commended.”

Dr. Omar El Alami, project director at Morocco’s National Population Register, explained how the Kingdom’s new MOSIP-based digital ID system and the legal framework underpinning it are designed so that when a person presents documents to one government agency, they do not need to then present them again to another department.

Rwanda has automated birth registration and subsequent public service registration while mother and baby are still in hospital, rather than having to educate parents on all the various steps, explained Josephine Mukesh, director general of the National Identification Agency (NIDA). However, birth certificates are issued separately, for a fee.

In Kenya 96 percent of adults are registered. “An ID number is not only necessary, it’s a must,” said Reuben Kimotho, secretary-director of the Kenyan National Registration Bureau, and that the ID “must be linked to biometrics.”

“A unique ID number is just an extrapolation of the culture of Africa,” said Rosemary Kisembo, executive director of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) of Uganda. “It’s a name for governments’ perspective and it’s tied to a biometric profile which is linked to your face, your iris or your fingerprint.”

Uganda’s foundational ID system is hosting around 10 million requests for verification a month, which shows that the system is living, said Kisembo. “Yes, I will address the controversy – even the criticism is also a message of how do you know how well or how badly your system is performing,” she said, addressing the ongoing criticism around access to health, social welfare and even COVID-19 vaccinations in Uganda.

When the private sector began discussing identity issues later in the day, the theme of services continued. “Identity is more than the possibility of being identified,” said Charlotte Chateau, marketing manager, Identity and Biometric Solutions at Thales.

She then raised the bar considerably with the role of biometrics, “I would like to raise the point that biometrics is a prerequisite to establish a unique identity, a unique legal identity.”

Joby Mathew, director of Sales, for Africa & Middle East at HID Global asked the audience to raise their hand if they agreed a legitimate ID is required to effectively deliver public services. He reckoned around 80 percent of hands went up, giving an unscientific but nonetheless revealing glimpse of how identity-related delegates from across Africa see the link between identity and access.

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