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Efforts to increase digital ID issuance across Africa maintain steam

Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania tackle diverse challenges
Efforts to increase digital ID issuance across Africa maintain steam

As digital ID adoption continues around the world, a number of countries in Africa including Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania, are taking different approaches to ensure that their citizens can easily obtain an ID.

In Malawi, the focus is now on children as the government is forging ahead with a move to issue around 8 million IDs to children below the age of 16 by the end of 2023, with the move sparking concerns about data privacy and surveillance. In Nigeria, the country’s Digital ID for Development initiative, dubbed Nigeria ID4D, is soon running a pilot program to increase the number of citizens with the national identification number (NIN) in the federal capital territory and six states in the country’s six geo-political zones.

Meanwhile, Tanzanians living at home and abroad will be able to apply for digital IDs more easily following the introduction of an online application system by the country’s National Identification Authority (NIDA).

Privacy concerns rock child ID issuance in Malawi

Digital rights advocates are concerned that the biometrics collected from Malawian children aged 16 and below for the issuance of a national ID could be subject to surveillance by the state, according to reporting by Reuters.

While some admit that the registration of children is a positive step which will ensure all Malawian children are easily identified, critics argue that collecting biometrics without the data protection bill in place is a leap in the dark.

Malawi’s data protection bill was drafted in 2020, but has yet to be passed in parliament for it to become law.

This, critics maintain, could allow room for the state to exploit the legal vacuum to compromise the privacy and security of data collected from children.

The problem is the registration push has come in the absence of robust data protection in Malawi. We are doing all of this without any data protection for citizens,” the publication quotes digital rights and privacy researcher Jimmy Kainja as saying.

The concerns notwithstanding, government officials such as the Minister for Homeland Security Jean Sendeza have underlined the importance of issuing IDs to children, adding that their data collected will be in safe hands.

Malawi built its national digital ID system at breakneck speed and there are now more than ten million people registered in the government database.

Tanzania facilitates ID application with online system

Tanzania’s ID issuing authority NIDA has set up an online application system for digital ID, for citizens at home and those residing abroad, per reporting by the country’s national newspaper Daily News.

Addressing a press conference recently, NIDA’s Head of Communications Division Geofrey Tengeneza said applications for an ID can now be done using a dedicated government portal, which will no longer require people to attend NIDA registration offices.

Applicants are required to attach all supporting documents while filling out the online application form, and they are expected to take the documents along with them during biometrics capture, the official explained.

The government says the idea behind the novelty is to facilitate the application process, and it is expected to boost ID issuance figures in the East African nation which issued its first batch of national biometric ID cards in 2016.

Nigeria ID4D wants to swell NIN numbers by February

A pilot project to be carried by the Nigeria ID4D initiative in the country’s federal capital territory (FCT) and certain states is intended to drive up the number of NINs issued by next month.

A report by Punch notes that the pilot will be conducted by the Nigeria ID4D and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) after the heads of both institutions held talks recently.

“The Nigeria Digital Identification for Development project agreed to collaborate with the National Orientation Agency as it plans to begin pilot identity enrolment in the FCT and six states representing the geopolitical zones in the country in February 2023,” Mouktar Adamu, Nigeria ID4D external communication manager said in a statement quoted by the daily newspaper.

Both men agreed that the pilot project has the “overarching goal of increasing the number of persons in the country having a NIN and upgrading infrastructure at the National Identity Management Commission so as to be able to enrol in marginalized and hard-to-reach communities up to no fewer than 250 million persons during the project’s life cycle.”

A huge awareness-raising campaign on the importance of having an ID is also planned during the pilot, according to Punch. Agency vehicles will play jingles in multiple languages as they travel to different communities.

The head of Nigeria’s ID issuing authority, NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, recent praised the country’s digital ID enrollment milestone and the increase in data storage infrastructure.

Meanwhile, there have been concerns that a recommendation given by President Buhari eight years ago for state agencies to harmonize all citizen data into one database, has not been heeded.

A report by Business Day notes that the recommendation was made by Buhari just three months after he took office in 2015, but with about six months remaining for him to leave office after two four-year terms as head off state, no palpable action has been taken in that direction.

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