By Joseph Atick, IBIA and Greg Pote, APSCA (Nov 2015)
Development agencies are bullish on Africa’s prospects. The World Bank’s June 2014 Global Economic Prospects report lists sub-Saharan Africa as one of the fastest-growing regions globally. According to a recent report by the African Development Bank, average growth was 3.9% last year and is expected to accelerate in 2015. An article in The Economist in May this year stated that foreign direct investment (FDI) is expected to reach $55 billion in 2015, 20% higher than in 2010. In contrast to inflows of capital in previous years, recent investments are increasingly targeting the less resource-rich countries and Africa’s booming middle classes. According to the same article, the amount of investment into technology, retail and business services in Africa increased by 17 percentage points between 2007 and 2013.
Although European states spearheaded trade with Africa, today Asia is increasingly playing a larger role in the growth of African GDP. Chinese investment and development projects in Africa have been a significant driver of economic growth for several years. Anyone who has taken a recent flight from Shanghai to Africa would have found it packed with Chinese blue-collar workers going to work as middle managers in construction and mining projects in East and West Africa. Despite the inroads already made by China, African trade with India is now growing at a faster rate than Chinese trade and is projected to reach $100 billion in 2015.
However, while Africa’s economic growth is accelerating, the benefits are still by far unevenly distributed. For social development to match economic growth and generate long-term gains, inclusiveness is essential. There is a clear need for robust national systems that provide digital identity to all Africans, ensuring that everyone can access government services and benefits, prove their eligibility and be included in Africa’s economic takeoff. This is why the recently launched ID4Africa event held in June this year, was an event whose time had truly arrived.
The idea for ID4Africa was motivated by the need to change the current situation of identification systems in Africa, where large segments of the population continue to suffer from the lack of robust and accessible ID. In many cases they are not documented in the civil register and as adults they do not hold identity credentials that enable them to exercise their rights and participate in society. As a consequence, they remain in the shadows of society; excluded, burdened and unable to benefit from the fruits of development.
This clearly has to change.
ID4Africa was conceived to promote the responsible adoption of modern digital identity systems as drivers of socio-economic development. It is a forum designed to allow African nations to compare experiences, share knowledge and pool resources to build capacity related to developing identity systems. It is a movement of empowerment where Africa would take matters into its own hands and would dictate how it will respond to its identification needs.
In June 2015, the unprecedented ID4Africa – 1st Government Forum on Electronic Identity, brought together over 300 regional and international representatives of four key stakeholder groups in the identity space in Africa: the identity authorities and users, the international development agencies, the solution providers and the domain experts. The convergence of these four groups in a focused forum created unique opportunities for networking and exchange of ideas, experiences and funding sources. It united all the necessary ingredients for enabling the right ecosystem to emerge for the adoption of e-ID in the service of socio-economic development
The forum featured an exciting lineup of government and identity experts that presented on real experience relevant to Africa, on topics that are hot today. Many discussions were held on the subject of establishing central databases, biometric enrolment and verification, as well as the different services that could be offered through national ID systems. Most importantly, this was the first forum in Africa that brought together under one roof over 30 global identity industry leaders, to exhibit their latest innovations related to digital identity and secure credentials.
It created a unique opportunity for identity experts to demonstrate and explain to senior African government decision-makers responsible for national identity systems, how these solutions can be used to build identity systems that will support socio-economic development in Africa.
At the end of the first day, Forum Chairs Joseph Atick and Greg Pote highlighted a number of key issues, which had quickly surfaced during the presentations and discussions. It was clear that while developments in digital identity systems are being undertaken in a number of African countries, many of these systems are still a far way off from ensuring that the benefits they were designed to provide are being received by the citizens who need it most, and that this would hamper all efforts in having citizens view their national IDs as a fundamental part of their existence.
Another vital issue expressed throughout the forum was the stifled level of investment given to developing civil registries (which include birth, death and civil status records), particularly when one considers they are the wellspring from which all other identity systems grow. However, what became certain was that Africa has a united resolve to make the best investments forward to improve on, and provide sound and effective national identity systems that will equally benefit all citizens.
ID4Africa calls for an annual meeting to allow the movement to define the agenda year after year and to achieve the stated objective. The inaugural event was proudly hosted by The National Identification Authority (NIDA) of the Ministry of Home Affairs of Tanzania, and organised by APSCA and the Identity Counsel International (ICI).
ID4Africa 2016 will be held on May 24-26, 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda and will be hosted by the National Identification Agency of the Government of the Republic of Rwanda.