Reflections on ID4Africa 2017: Pathways to Digital Identity

May 9, 2017 | Digital Identity | Sub-Saharan Africa | Yiannis Theodorou

The GSMA Digital identity team recently participated in the third annual ID4Africa Forum 2017 in Windhoek, Namibia. More than 800 public and private sector delegates from over 50 nations and 22 development agencies attended the 3-day event, themed ‘Pathways to Digital Identity’. The importance of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16:9, which targets universal legal identification by 2030, was the underpinning theme for most sessions.

The main objective of the annual event is to convene governments and development organisations and help them understand the social and economic impact of identity systems, share insights and experience from the state of affairs of current identity systems and identify opportunities for collaboration. A number of technical solutions vendors – predominantly smartcard and biometric based – showcased the latest tools and gadgets that could help governments deploy or upgrade their national identification systems.

Harmonisation, mutual-recognition and cross-sectorial application of ID systems, were common themes among speakers, while a number of them shared challenges and lessons learned from building identity solutions to improve their CRVS, electoral, financial or health sector systems.

The World Bank announced that the number of individuals globally without an official ID fell from 1.5 billion in 2016 to 1.1 billion, but noted that a disproportionate number of those still without legal identity reside in Africa.

Himanshu Nagpal, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, noted that India’s Aadhaar civil registration program has been delivered with costs of roughly $1 per person. The subsequent development of services linked to the Aadhaar registry has saved the country significantly more than the program’s $1.3 billion cost, demonstrating clear financial incentives for governments in Africa and around the world to update their identity systems. The Indian Government has recently required local mobile operators to re-register and verify customers using their Aadhaar numbers.

 

Identity and Mobile

A survey conducted by the ID4Africa organisers among African governments found that 53% of respondents believe that mobile ID will become more important than physical ID in 10 years, although most governments still hold the strong belief that plastic ID will not be eliminated in the near or mid-term, due to illiteracy and issues with low network and smart device penetration.

While mobile operators were notably absent from the event, Kyla Reid, Head of the m4D Digital Identity programme at the GSMA, delivered a keynote presentation focusing on the role mobile operators can play in supporting governments’ national identity roll-out plans, Digital Birth Registration, but also in delivering life-enhancing services by leveraging their network reach, trusted relationships and unique customer attributes, for example collected through compliance with local SIM registration rules.

Finally, Kyla also touched on the Mobile Connect digital identity solution, the importance of enabling regulatory & policy frameworks and the need to understand consumer behaviours and needs through end-user research to help design relevant and market-appropriate ID systems.

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