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African Countries Are Struggling To Build Robust Identity Systems

Published by Slashdot on Mon, 09 Dec 2019


The first thing that visitors to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg see is a wall of identity cards-- the pieces of paper that determined where people could live and work and whom they could love. From the outset, the apartheid regime's ability to discriminate against "nie-blankes" (non-whites) depended on having a robust system of identifying people. The opposite problem confronts most other countries in Africa today. Governments have little idea who their citizens are [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: African countries struggle for several reasons. One is racial discrimination. Uganda, Liberia and Sierra Leone explicitly withhold nationality from children of certain races and ethnicities. Other countries do so informally by refusing to issue papers. Another reason is a failure by governments to explain to their citizens how they might benefit. Consider birth registration, the most basic form of official identity. South Asia more than doubled its rate of birth registration to 71% between 2000 and 2014. In sub-Saharan Africa the rate dropped by one point, to 41%, over the same period. For poor villagers, going to a government office to register a birth is time-consuming and expensive, especially when officials demand bribes. Some countries charge a fee, which is a disincentive. Others penalize late registrations. One way to encourage people is to link birth registration to benefits such as child-support grants -- something South Africa did with great success. But that approach may also have the perverse consequence of denying payments to the very poorest. Money is another reason many African countries have fallen behind their peers. Extending the state's reach to remote areas can be expensive. So, too, is paying for skilled labour of the sort required to fill in forms accurately and to operate biometric machines. The technology itself is costly, especially for small countries that do not have much buying power.Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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