Skip to content

Can Africa Handle the Next Phase of Documenting its Citizens?

According to the World Bank, Africa is home to roughly half of the estimated one billion people in the world who are unable to prove their identities. To help remedy that, the World Bank has mobilised more than $1.2bn to support ID projects in 45 countries. Nearly every African country with a stable government now has active biometric ID programmes in place or under way, according to ID4Africa, with South Africa and Nigeria’s biometric IDs among the most developed. The eagerness of African governments to build biometric ID systems, coupled with the wealth of international funds available, makes Africa a ripe and coveted market for biometric ID providers. But data protection experts and watchdogs are raising concerns that gaps in Africa’s legal and regulatory ecosystem leave citizens, including vulnerable LGBTQ communities, exposed to privacy abuses. Many African states have incomplete citizen registries, meaning that people without birth certificates, or a biometric identifier, cannot prove their identity. In sub-Saharan countries, for example, rural birth registration for children under five is less than 50 percent.