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Africa’s digital ID experiences yield lessons on engaging stakeholders, open standards

Countries share experience at ID4Africa AGM
Africa’s digital ID experiences yield lessons on engaging stakeholders, open standards

There is significant progress in the implementation of legal and digital identity systems in Africa, but there is a barrage of challenges still to deal with.

This is the summation of the collective observations and insights from government representatives of ID authorities on the first day of the 2024 ID4Africa annual general assembly, which is underway in Cape Town.

From Ethiopia to South Africa, Nigeria to Rwanda, and in between, representatives of ID-issuing authorities in seven countries with promising stories on digital ID had the chance to explain their identity journeys, so they can serve as an inspiration for digital systems being built in other parts of the continent.

The presentations showed different levels of progress in the understudy digital ID implementation processes, but also the challenges the various countries are facing and the lessons learnt.

Setting the balling rolling was Ethiopia, where the executive director of the National ID program, Yodahe Zemichael, outlined the efforts which are currently being made to scale up the Fayda digital ID. He listed the various use cases of the ID, and explained authentication for access to services, credentials strategy, and how the digital ID is being used to facilitate access to services.

In the exposé on Kenya, the Principal Secretary for Immigration and Citizen Services, Prof Julius Bitok, said “we have made a lot of progress on identity matters,” sharing how the country is now working to implement a successful digital ID system after four failed previous attempts.

Bitok outlined the progress being made in putting in place the Maisha digital ID system, admitting however that they have faced several challenges including a torrent of litigations, one of which triggered a momentary hold-up on the enrollment process.

“In Kenya, we have tried it four times and we didn’t get it right. It is my hope that we will succeed this time around,” he said.

For Nigeria, the director general of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Abisoye Coker-Odusote, took plenary attendees through the work the agency has done in the last nine months, mentioning that such efforts have taken the digital ID number (NIN) to over 107 million as of May 10.

Apart from an ongoing process to introduce legislative reforms to streamline the NIMC to digital ID issuance process, she highlighted that officials are also placing a premium on the multi-stakeholder approach which she believes is vital in expanding ID coverage to all the corners of the country. She also outlined the increasing number of use-cases and authentication options for the NIN.

The second part of this conversation featured experiences and insights on the digital ID systems of South Africa, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia. They all reported successes at different levels, the challenges they have encountered and how they’re circumventing them.

For the case of South Africa, a representative from the Department of Home Affairs, Sihle Mthiyane, said many reforms are in the works. One is to establish a new identity management policy including legal framework on digital identity. This reform is intended to make digital identity a veritable propeller of the country’s digital transformation efforts, which are aligned with is national development strategy. He also mentioned progress recorded in birth registration as the country’s coverage is now said to be at almost 90 percent.

The head of Rwanda’s ID authority, Josephine Mukesha, gave updates on the push to launch a digital ID system and the digitalization of the country’s civil registration process. Rwanda is nearing the biometric enrollment stage for digital ID with the enrollment kits contract already awarded, she said, while feasibility studies for CRVS digitization have also been completed. Bidding for the digital ID core system development recently closed. The Rwanda digital ID system, she says, is based on open standards, will facilitate the integration of government services, and will also be one of the digital ID systems that factor in forcibly displaced persons and children.

Sierra Leone spotlighted its successes with using digital ID to facilitate access to public services. The ID authority’s head, Mohamed Mubashir Massaquoi, explained how several services have been linked to the digital ID.

Liberia completed the line-up, sharing its own digital ID experience, although the efforts have met with a low level of interest from the population.

Both plenaries concluded with question-and-answer segments as the audience questioned various issues raised by the speakers, including aspects such as gender-neutral policies for ID systems like South Africa is in the process of introducing.

After the country reports, the next plenary explored the practical uses of digital ID in real world situations as seen in three exemplary countries, namely Philippines, India, and Tunisia. The last plenary of the day looked at the digital public infrastructure (DPI) approach to the development of digital identity through three panels that focussed on policy, a spotlight on Uganda, and multistakeholder collaboration.

Day 2 comes up Wednesday May 22 with another attractive line-up of plenary sessions, expositions and networking sessions. One of the highlight moments expected is the unveiling of the ID4Africa 2025 AGM host country.

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