Earlier this week HID Global attended the annual ID4Africa Identity Week conference as part of its Pan-African commitment to provide a broad range of biometric solutions and cloud-based ID issuance.

This is prompted by the need to promote legal identity for all in Africa and develop a journey to robust and responsible ID ecosystems around digital identity, says the firm, specifically in the service of, humanitarian action, security and facilitation.

We had the chance to speak to HID Global’s director of citizen identity solutions, Joby Mathew, who gave his insight on the importance of identification and the impact it could have on the African continent.

Hypertext: What was experience like during the ID4Africa Identity Week?

Joby Mathew: It has been an overall positive experience, considering the event is focused on Africa. Having a major focus on emerging markets, we consider this as an important event. It is an opportunity to interact with senior officials, ministers from various regional governments, and there was a good representation from governments across the continent.

Hypertext: What kind of discussions have you had over the past couple of days?

JM: We have had discussions around the general requirements for digital and identity management requirements across Africa.

One of the key issues that Africa is facing in general is a lack of identity management systems or governments not having the ability to identify citizens as there is a large number of the population that is unregistered, or they don’t necessarily have means of biometric verification to prove their identity.

The other issue identified is identity on mobile, because traditionally we have had physical identity documents like passports and ID cards, but the increasing trend is identity moving to mobile phones as there is a very high uptake of mobile usage across the continent, so there is a need to bring the identities of people on mobile phones and make it easier for people to access to government services, as well as authentication remotely.

Hypertext: What do you think governments can do to improve e-ID’s?

JM: Governments should firstly register people, and have the ability to biometrically verify them, which will add certainty that citizens are able to confirm and prove their identity, which is an idea that needs focus.

Governments should also invest in selecting the right partners who have the financial capability to support governments. These projects require strategic and large investments and this is considering the population size of the country and their needs, but these are long-term strategies and therefore a lot of planning is required. You also need a credible partner to do those things.

In many cases there are rural areas which are not connected well to their cities or they have deficiencies such as people travelling hours to get to an area where government offices are at, but by bringing in more services online and digitising them, electronic identity will improve, and may bring and overall positive economic impact and productivity.

Hypertext: What are some of the stories you can tell us in terms of technology empowering such solutions?

JM: An example of a very successful project HID Global has done is for the government of Tanzania. This was a e-immigration programme where the government wanted to look at the overall improvement of immigration services, including upgrading their passports systems to electronic passport solutions.

This also includes a number of other components which have been part of that programme, which is issuing of electronic visas, considering that Tanzania has a very large visiting population who are primarily tourists who have positively contributed to the Tanzanian economy.

Then there are permits which are for people living in Tanzania or working in the country and they had a problem of identifying them. This has expanded and included border control. Their borders have a secure and efficient method of identifying and verifying people, in the absence of an identity document. Now they are able to biometrically enrol them for the first time in the system and thus have a record of who the person is.

Hypertext: HID Global is placing a huge emphasis on promoting legal identity for all Africans, why is that?

JM: There is absolutely a need to register and identify the citizens because there is a large percentage of people who are undocumented. Governments are looking towards the welfare of their citizens, so everything starts by identifying who your citizen is and therefore an effective way of identifying them is what will fuel interaction between the citizens and the government. This will also improve satisfaction for the people with the level of services and governance they are receiving.

From the government’s point of view improving their efficiencies will certainly impact revenues and enhance overall productivity in the country. It will have a positive economic impact, with the new generation growing up with the confidence that they belong to the country.

So everything is very closely linked by identity and the ability to identify people. Living conditions for example will see more people out of poverty, so overall it is a positive impact because identity management is the centre of all of this, and an effective mechanism that will go a long way.

HID Global wants to be a positive change provider in this scenario. We have the expertise and experience in providing identity management solutions in a variety of countries and we are involved in more than 60 percent of the world’s electronic identity documents so we would like to bring that expertise and contribute to the overall growth of the continent and positively impact the change.

Hypertext: What have been the challenges that HID Global has faced thus far in their bid to bring ID ecosystems to the continent and how have they been tackled?

JM: There are different kinds of challenges and one of them is finding financing for these programmes. We have to find a mechanism that governments are prepared to partner with HID Global on a long-term basis and consider HID as a trusted partner.

Funding of these programmes is the key challenge. Equally important is the way in which such projects are awarded or the selection process of how governments would identify someone as a trusted and credible partner in this journey, because this is a matter of national security and governments should entrust credible partners who are serious about that.

Those are some of the challenges.

Hypertext: National e-ID cards are being implemented in several African countries, what value does it hold for South Africa?

JM: We have several ideas that would certainly contribute to and improve the systems that are existing currently, and one of them I would consider is digital identity or identity on mobile as the key aspect to be considered. HID Global has a lot of expertise in this area and we are keen to partner with the government.

Biometric verification is one of the areas that we see we can contribute because our methods offer a variety of solutions to address this need. We certainly consider the identity document aspect as the idea and the future of migration of the electronic passport by the government of South Africa.

We are looking at building a partnership with the South African government.

Hypertext: When do you think Africa will reach a fully fledged responsible ID ecosystem?

JM: This initial steps that being taken will go a long way, but there are very many challenges such as regional co-operation between the countries. The risk though is the developing solutions and technologies outside the national standards.

Hypertext: Looking to the future are there any innovative solutions that HID Global is working on for the African continent?

JM: Yes, identity is certainly an area that we think could be hugely beneficial to the continent.

There will be a period of time where people will continue to use physical identity documents, but with the growth of mobile phones and data usage on the continent, it is a very easy way to connect through areas of a country.

I would consider that as a centrepiece of this evolution going forward.

[Image –Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash]