International ID Day on 16 September will see the digital identity cause begin a move to the mainstream, explore what identity means to people and begin establishing a legal identity as an existential right.
The 16th of September is the date chosen to reference the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16:9: “By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.”
Dr. Joseph Atick, the executive chairman of the ID4Africa Movement which launched International ID Day in 2018, spoke to Biometric Update about plans for the day itself (and the day before), urging mass reflection on the meaning of identity and how to take the movement beyond the identity community and development contexts to everybody, everywhere with the notion that identity is more even than a human right.
“We want to go mainstream; we’re trying to reach out to the communities and see how they see identity and share with them how we think identity could play a role in their lives,” said Dr. Atick, describing the first four years of the campaign as engaging with the identity community and then governments.
The movement is now opening up the concept of the importance of identity for all by pursuing the representation of identity – past and future – in music, art and film. The body got in touch with more than 500 art schools across Africa about a competition to create iconic work for what identity means. Two hundred submissions were shortlisted to 54 by a panel.
Entries revealed “how difficult the concept of identity is for the masses” according to Atick. The identity community carried out a first round of voting and the five finalists will be invited to speak during ID4Africa’s events the day before International ID Day.
The committee decided to hold its events on 15 September to leave the day itself free for national events worldwide. Nigeria has plans for a week of events.
The winning artist will receive a prize of $3,000 and the runners up will each receive $1,000.
The event will begin a year of activities for artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers to produce mainstream media content tackling identity, to go beyond the core of the identity community.
“To take stock on how much progress we’ve made since inception,” the Movement is launching ‘i On Africa,’ a series of in-depth reports delivered during the webinars examining progress in identity across the continent. The initial episode covering Nigeria and Rwanda will air as part of the livecast on 15 September, with a new episode released every two weeks.
Developed nations and a UN vote
The International ID Day movement ultimately has its sights on recognition by the UN. But Atick is not pushing for that vote. Instead, he is seeking to drive awareness in countries with developed identity systems of the need for legal identity for all.
“This is an existentialist right. Whether you qualify it as a human right, to me it’s something even more fundamental than that. It has to do with your existence,” said Dr. Atick.
“In developed countries, our attack on this issue is existentialist, meaning it’s related to your right to exist. It resonates much better than saying ‘you need it to open a bank account’.”
In previous years, developed countries have not hosted events to mark the day. Such countries still see identity issues as developmental issues, according to Atick. He hopes France, “where identity’s recognized as a fundamental right for everybody to have and for everybody to insist on its protection,” might become a champion for the cause.
“COVID has made the case for the importance of giving people digital identity that’s recognized by the state and used to provide services and cash transfers for those who need it,” said Atick, noting the resilience against shock will be the theme for the movement’s 2022 AGM.