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Zimbabwe’s leader a controversial proponent of biometric IDs

Zimbabwe’s leader a controversial proponent of biometric IDs

It likely is not the endorsement that backers of digital national IDs would seek, but the controversial President of Zimbabwe has written that these documents are fundamental civil rights.

Citizens who do not have ID cards, passports or even birth certificates have “lived on the margins of citizenship,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa writes in an opinion article for The Sunday Mail.

Mnangagwa cites the comparatively young nation’s constitution, which promises that all citizens must be given travel and identity documents. He says he “launched the E-Passport” last December “in line with the worldwide drift towards biometric data-based identity and travel documents.”

Zimbabwe is one of the few African nations producing biometric passports with chips that can read and fully verify, according to a March blog post from ReadID. Many countries in Africa issue legacy machine-readable biometric passports, and several have since launched or are in the process of launching chip-enabled passports, such as Uganda and Rwanda.

The passports are ready within seven days of application, Mnangagwa claims, down from year-long waits for paper documents.

The volume of documents might be less impressive, however. In July, the government congratulated itself on issuing 110,000 biometric passports as of June. One million national ID cards and birth certificates had been delivered between April and July in a nation of 16 million.

He comes to the digital ID movement with a past that some find hard to ignore.

A former militantly anti-colonial revolutionary in the former Rhodesia in southern Africa, Mnangagwa was sent to prison for a decade after bombing a train. He closely allied himself to Robert Mugabe, who led the newly formed Zimbabwe after independence.

Mnangagwa was installed as president after Mugabe was thrown out in a coup. He subsequently was elected in 2018, but in proceedings clouded by accusations of voter fraud.

So important to Zimbabweans are ID documents that he calls their slow development a “healing delayed.”

The process is linked to Mnangagwa’s push to decentralize the national government. Documenting people has been made a task for all of Zimbabwe’s districts – 14 of which are expected to be carrying out the task by October.

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