Digital ID systems in Africa: Challenges, risks and opportunities
Melody Musoni, Ennatu Domingo and Elvis Ogah look at the state of play, challenges and opportunities of digital ID implementation across Africa with a focus on South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Benin and Namibia. They analyse the policy implications for African governments as well as for the EU to support its partners’ roll-out of these systems and frameworks.
In this paper, we look at the state of play of digital ID implementation across Africa with a focus on South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Benin and Namibia. We assess the opportunities and challenges of implementing e-ID systems and analyse the policy implications for African governments as well as for the EU to support its partners’ roll-out of user-centric, sustainable and interoperable digital ID systems and frameworks.
Africa is experiencing rapid growth in the development of digital infrastructure. In particular, the development of digital ID systems is high on the policy agenda for the African Union (AU) and its member states as it plays an important role in enabling and improving governments’ service delivery, access to digital services, inclusive economic growth and participating in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). African countries, through the AU, have agreed they need to develop interoperable digital ID to facilitate the seamless movement of people, goods and services continentally. Apart from continental efforts, different Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are also piloting regional interoperable digital ID.
Despite this progress, achieving universal coverage remains a key challenge with nearly 500 million people still lacking a legal identification in Sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, African governments have been developing biometric databases and digital ID systems mostly before establishing robust data governance frameworks such as data protection and cybersecurity laws. These challenges – which put vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and women at risk of exclusion – have hindered the implementation of safe, inclusive and sustainable digital identification systems.