Harnessing the power of biometric technology in Africa

The ability to prove one’s identity is fundamental in today’s society; not just in Western democracies, but universally. From participation in elections and receiving government aid, to making payments and conducting business, reliable self-identification is a need and a right.

For much of Africa, as I have written about, access to the worldwide web is not a reality. Many communities are isolated and lack the infrastructure and technologies used elsewhere for proving identity. This is equally difficult when it comes to obtaining physical documents to prove one’s identity without online communication or transportation to the relevant bureaucratic centers.

As a result, the World Bank estimates around half a billion people in Africa are unable to prove their own identity and has mobilized more than $1.2bn to support ID projects in 45 countries.

NGOs like ID4Africa recognise the need to support African nations in building robust ID programs.During the pandemic, this deficit became even more apparent. For example, the government of Togo wanted to provide financial assistance to workers who lost their livelihoods, but lacked the means to identify who these people were or to send them money.

The solution was found in Togo’s biometric electoral register. Citizens were able to register eligibility via mobile phone and the government verified their identities.

Biometric identification – which recognises a person’s unique fingerprint, iris or facial profile – holds much potential in Africa. According to ID4Africa, many African governments have biometric ID programmes in various stages of development.

But it’s also an opportunity for private sector businesses. Many of the issues historically preventing companies doing business in Africa can be solved through the adoption of biometric identification, particularly those whose models require customers to transfer payments securely.

Many Africans are already making use of mobile apps, like Vodafone’s Mbesa, in order to make secure payments. This provides a great solution for accessing paid services, as many citizens do not have a bank account but do have a mobile.

And why? Because opening a bank account requires proof of ID.

With biometrics on the rise among African nations, now is the time to explore their potential. With their ability to eliminate fraud, provide reliable data and connect remote communities to services for the first time, it is no wonder the Africa and Middle East biometrics market is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 21%.

If you would like to secure a place for your business in Africa’s evolution, get in touch.


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