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Ethiopia’s national digital ID prepares foundation ahead of scale-up

Data minimization and inclusion prioritized
Ethiopia’s national digital ID prepares foundation ahead of scale-up
 

The lessons learned from other countries implementing digital ID systems have helped inform the development of Ethiopia’s national program, panelists explained during the most recent ID4Africa Livecast, but so has the pilot project concluded earlier this year.

Ethiopia is among the latest countries to launch its digital ID project, and the project is “advancing rapidly,” says ID4Africa Executive Chairman Dr. Joseph Atick.

The country is preparing for a full national roll-out by ensuring that the foundation is ready, NIDP Executive Director Yodahe Zemichael says. The Fayda biometric national ID functions as both a legal identity and a functional identity, he explains, as part of the civil registry system and also an element in the country’s digital economic transformation plan, intended to serve all sectors.

Myriam Said of the PMO emphasized the importance of supporting a wide range of digital services and transactions.

“Fayda” roughly translates to “value” in both Swahili and Arabic, according to Zemichael.

Henock Ali of the NIDP explained that Fayda will be layered onto the functional ID systems that are used for various purposes, including the residence credential which has typically been used in day-to-day life by Ethiopians to identify themselves. Currently, KYC processes are mostly paper-based and manual, and the NIDP is hoping to significantly speed up these checks.

Al Shiferaw of JSI talked about the importance of Ethiopia’s government and people having ownership over the system. This was a driving factor behind the adoption of the MOSIP-based system, which allows local implementation, management and maintenance of the ID.

While Ethiopia has considered upgrading its identity system for years, Zemichael says, the focus has changed as it moved towards the launch of Fayda, away from applications like identifying ghost accounts and towards making interactions easier and more efficient, and in this way, serving the needs of a much broader segment of society.

Zemichael described the NIDP’s plan to roll out Fayda in an interview at ID4Africa’s annual event this year.

He outlined the engagement with government ministries to integrate Fayda into their processes, and Shiferaw noted that ministries were previously largely siloed, forcing citizens to repeat the process of proving who they are with each interaction.

The principles underlying Fayda, from inclusiveness to data minimization, were outlined by Belayhun Yirga from the Ministry of Justice. To make the system inclusive, the credential can be acquired without any particular document, people without fingerprints can be accommodated, and registration is free.

Final passage of the legislation behind Fayda, as well as data protection legislation, are priorities for the upcoming parliamentary session.

A physical credential is planned to encourage adoption and trust, but the plan is still being developed.

Going forward, Ethiopia hopes to sign a funding agreement with an international development partner to supplement public funding, and is considering its options to outsource some enrollment services. Technical capacity is being improved based on the findings of the pilot which ended earlier this year, including for biometric enrollment and exceptions handling.

At the conclusion of the pilot, just over 100,000 people had been registered, but the NIDP’s website says it has now passed 350,000.

The first authentication functions for real-world services are expected to be introduced in the next few months.

Among the top lessons learned, Zemichael says, is that an ID authority should not be “a one-stop shop where all the data about an individual, a resident or citizen is found.” He urges colleagues in other countries to limit the number of attributes they collect in order to advance their projects quickly. He also notes that advances in technology have enabled greater transparency, and allow people to be aware of who is accessing their data and when.

A similar development in that regard, but not directly related to Fayda, is the launch of a digital identity system for teachers and students based on the Cardano blockchain for the Ministry of Education. Local outlet Fortune reports that Input Output HK has been contracted to provide 5 million students and 750,000 teachers in a bid to reduce academic fraud and improve student record-keeping.

Ethiopia’s ID Day observance

A full-day conference was held for International Identity Day at Ethiopia’s Sheraton Addis Hotel to bring stakeholders in the identification ecosystem together to discuss the role of digital ID in various sectors, along with the rollout plan.

“The digital ID system is to guarantee citizens’ right to recognition, expand the opportunities to use various social and economic rights, foster trust in the relationship between the service provider and recipient, and establish a system of transparency, accountability, and streamlined operation at the national level,” stated HE Teferei Fikre, Prime Minister Office chief of staff and head of Cabinet Affairs, in an official announcement.

The country’s observance of ID Day also included producing a video of testimonials about Fayda.

This post was updated at 1:47pm Eastern on October 4, 2022 to correct the spelling of ‘Fayda.’

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