African ministers responsible for civil registration are gathering in Lusaka, Zambia where they are discussing ways to improve civil registration, a practice where governments record vital events such as births, marriages, divorces, and deaths of their citizens and residents.
The conference aims to provide strategic and policy guidelines on pathways toward innovative and integrated civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) as well as digital identity management systems to help close the identity gap in Africa where more than 500 million people have no legal identity.
Charles Lufumpa, the Acting Chief Economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank, said that while significant achievements have been made regarding CRVS, there remains considerable challenges to overcome.
For example, he said, the current practices of issuing personal identity documents in most African countries still do not follow proper procedures.
"Specifically, countries with inadequate civil registration systems are in a disadvantaged position in establishing secure personal identifications. Birth registration is the starting point in the business process of issuing secure identity documents with unique identifier," he said. "For national identity systems to prove the required level of security and efficiency, universality of birth registration is the first requirement."
Birth and death registrations, Lufumpa said, are the cornerstones of issuing and voiding national identity documents and hence the backbones in establishing secure identity management systems in a country.
There will be discussions on new and emerging initiatives including the United Nations Legal Identity Agenda and the digital identity initiative in Africa, both of which rely on a functioning and efficient CRVS system.
After the initial session of experts, later this week, ministers will seek to chart the way forward by identifying key challenges in the implementation of the Africa Programme on Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (APAI-CRVS) at the regional and national levels and proposing solutions.
"It is important that as a continent we modernize and harmonize civil registration and digital identity systems, which are foundational to legal identity ecosystems. Vital statistics systems that enable member states to monitor progress towards the sustainable development goals and Agenda 2063 should be strengthened," said Oliver Chinganya, the Director of the African Centre for Statistics at the Economic Commission for Africa.
The conference will also review and share best practices from African countries on CRVS and identity management system digitization processes, using appropriate information technology infrastructure and improving innovative business processes to ensure that universal CRVS statistics systems are interoperable with national identity management and various government functions.
Ministers are expected to reach an agreement on the strategic direction for a comprehensive legal framework, adopting technological innovations, improving interoperability and strengthening institutional capacity and coordination across ministries and agencies for the integrated improvement of CRVS and identity management systems.
Member states are also expected to declare their commitment to ensuring integrated CRVS and digital identity management systems reach their full potential in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, which are both rooted in universal rights and inclusive development and driven by the key principle of "leaving no one behind".
Josephine Mukesha, the Director-General of the National Identification Agency, told The New Times that last week, they were in Parliament presenting proposed amendments to the law governing persons and family.
She said: "There are about six articles we want to be amended in the law, most especially one that determines civil registration matters. Presently, civil registration is handled at Sector level and abroad (in embassies) but now, we want to extend the civil registration mandate to some staff in health facilities."
By and large, Mukeshimana explained, what they want is to "have the one-stop centre principle" established in the national civil registration framework so that the process is streamlined for efficiency.