Inclusion and Exclusion: Reflections from the Digital ID Talk
African governments are among over 161 countries that are rolling out digital ID systems with the reasoning that digitalization of national ID programmes will improve the delivery of services. However, technology is just but one aspect when it comes to digital ID. Identification is generally considered to be a global challenge especially when it comes to universal coverage and accessibility. According to the World Bank, 1 billion people worldwide are unable to prove their identity, 48% of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 33% in South Asia. Additionally, according to UNICEF, approximately two-thirds of African children under the age of five were not registered at birth and as such, do not have a birth certificate.
The African Digital Rights Hub undertook a study on the inclusion and exclusion of national IDs in West Africa and found that although laws, policies and regulations encourage inclusion for all, the implementation practices are exclusionary. The study assessed laws and practices relating to enrolment and the use associated with each ID system in the respective countries namely, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria. The general observation was that national ID systems can lead to exclusion, discrimination and marginalization of minority communities and immigrants. The denial of state-issued identity credentials leads to denial of access to public and private goods and services. The full report is available here.
During a discussion on the findings of the report, The existing national ID programmes have caused and continue to cause problems. As such, digital ID cannot be considered to be a cure to these problems if the existing issues are not addressed. The discussion included reflections from digital ID systems in East African countries of Kenya and Uganda. Some of the issues raised during this discussion included:
Kenya’s Huduma Namba case shed light on potential points where exclusion may occur when the programme is rolled out: enrolment, data verification and use. Although the Constitution of Kenya guarantees equality and freedom from discrimination, minority communities and marginalized groups have been experiencing discrimination with the existing national ID system. The Nubian community had faced barriers in accessing identity documents due to security vetting. Not only will the system enable discrimination but it will also encourage profiling. The use of biometrics also encourages exclusion, particularly with vulnerable groups (children and the elderly) and manual labourers who may have a difficulty passing the biometric authentication test.
The work of Unwanted Witness in Uganda also shows how Uganda’s new system risked excluding the elderly . This shows that if digital ID programmes do not start by addressing existing issues on discrimination, will only encourage digital exclusion.
- Double registration
Kenyan CSO Haki na Sheria has been documenting the peculiar issue of double registration, where Kenyans also appear in refugee databases. The civil war in Somalia in the 1990s led to some Kenyan Somalis being registered as refugees in refugee camps in Kenya. This happened when they were children and now that they are older and unable to be registered as Kenyan citizens, they have been rendered stateless. Without the national ID, these individuals cannot access basic and necessary services. Since they lack foundational documentation, which is required for Huduma Namba registration, they are automatically excluded from digital IDs.
The roll out of digital ID systems has also raised questions on accountability. In Uganda, for example, most citizens have experienced challenges when renewing and replacing their national IDs. The challenges have been due to errors in the input stage especially age and address, which are fundamental in determining accessibility to services. These are issues which were neither foreseen nor are they covered in the law. Additionally, the high transactional costs in the processing of the IDs hinder citizens from replacing and renewing their national IDs. There is a need for accountability mechanisms to be put in place especially on the implementation agencies.
If digital ID systems are rolled out without addressing the problems that are currently being experienced with national ID systems, particularly inclusion, then the systems will only be promoting efficiency in exclusion.