“COVID-19 has enabled us to explore new platforms and ways of identifying people,” said Vera Songwe, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) who suggested that digital platforms such as Facebook, Google could help “change the way we do censuses, identify, and locate people.”
She made the remarks on 17 June 2020 during a webinar organized by ID4Africa to discuss issues related to ID for development in a COVID and post-COVID Africa. Ms. Songwe noted that access to ICT will be crucial to enable Africa build back.
“The build-back-better contest will be won by countries with better technology and ICT platforms. Africa needs reliable, affordable and accessible ICT to reach the most vulnerable but also to support innovation and new job creation.”
The meeting was also attended by experts from UNDP, the World Bank, UNICEF and the Center for Global Development (CGD) who all agreed that identity for all must be accelerated, especially given that about 70% of Africans operate in the informal sector and mostly without identity.
Vyjayanti Desai, Program Manager for Identification for Development (ID4D) at the World Bank, said “COVID-19 has accelerated the agenda for digital identity, which is far more efficient and accurate in terms of getting money directly to the neediest.”
She said many countries now realize the importance of digital ID “as it helps them move available cash assistance faster,” and that digital ID has the added advantage of inclusion, stating “We see examples in India where within the month of May, there were five million new account holders (women who opened up accounts to received payment).”
The UNDP expert on legal identity, Niall McCann, said “The importance of everybody being registered in a state ID system is absolutely clear now because you cannot trace contacts, or find out your infection or death rates if you don’t know who is in your country.”
The need for urgent investment in comprehensive ID systems was also highlighted by UNICEF’s Associate Director, Cornelius Williams who said:
“We used to have financial inclusion as the economic argument for a comprehensive national identity system, but now we have the public health argument. We must make sure the investment that is coming to build back governance systems includes investment for comprehensive national identity management system”
Oliver Chinganya who heads the Africa Center for Statistics at the ECA used the opportunity to highlight ECA’s work “with telcos to support countries to effectively respond to COVID-19 through transmission of information to and from citizens at lower costs.”
The webinar was moderated by ID4Africa’s Executive Director, Joseph Atick”