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UNECA targets digital ID interoperability in Africa to accelerate socio-economic progress

Representatives of governments, policymakers, experts, and stakeholders from Africa have made a plethora of suggestions on how digital ID interoperability can be achieved by harmonizing digital ID systems on the continent.

The stakeholders made the point recently during a workshop in The Gambia in which they discussed the challenges and opportunities associated with digital ID development and management, according to a press release issued after the event.

Organized early last month by The Gambia’s Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the regional consultative workshop was a platform for attendees to also highlight the importance of legal and digital identity in having access to many important public services.

Discussions during the meeting touched on different aspects of identity such as the need to get the right policy and legal framework for digital identity, cybersecurity and the growing power of artificial intelligence, and the human rights dimension in the implementation of digital ID ecosystem projects. On the human rights side, the stakeholders underscored the necessity for each country to develop a national data protection strategy based on human rights, and which would ensure inclusive access to digital ID.

Other issues dissected included the need to align and enhance collaboration between national ID and civil registration institutions, and to develop inclusive and expedient interoperable digital payment systems across the continent to drive financial inclusion for millions of the unbanked.

To the experts, there is every reason for African governments to adopt digital ID interoperable frameworks by harmonizing and standardizing policies and technologies that will enable compatibility among digital payment systems. This, they believe, will also contribute significantly to the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a recently born initiative aimed at boosting among African countries.

The Chief of Technology and Innovation Section at ECA Mactar Seck said the deliberations dwelled on the socio-economic implications of digital ID and the need for African states to harmonize their legal and technical regulations “to foster cross-border data protection, financial inclusion and cybersecurity.

“Through national case studies and situation studies, this regional consultative process aims to gather insights on technical and regulatory gaps to better identity opportunities for cross-border harmonization,” Seck noted.

An official from The Gambia’s Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, Osman Bah, said digital ID is a priority for the country’s digital transformation agenda.

Recently at the ID4Africa meeting in Kenya, stakeholders also discussed the possibilities of having an integrated digital civil registration and vital statistics system for African countries.

In a related digital ID story, the benefits and potential risks of the new digital ID system being planned for Kenya have been analyzed in an opinion piece for legal publication, Jurist.

Written by a Kenyan Law School student Edwin Gakunga, the article notes that despite some of the apprehensions, the ID system will be “a superb opportunity to demonstrate how innovation and data privacy protection can coexist.”

Gakunga proposes that in order for the system to success, the government of Kenya must strengthen “the data safety and security safeguards, involves public participation, adopts a multi-stakeholder approach, upholds transparency, protects the marginalized, and must be compliant with all privacy and data protection best practices as envisioned by the Data Protection Act 2019.”

Article: UNECA targets digital ID interoperability in Africa to accelerate socio-economic progress

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