Africa Urged to Harness Digital Technology for Legal Identity

14 October 2019

Lusaka — Advances in technology present Africa with an important opportunity for the digitalization of its civil registration and vital statistics systems through which the strategic benefits of legal identity for all can be harnessed for the continent's development.

This was said Monday by Zambia's Home Affairs Permanent Secretary, Ms. Liya Mutale, in remarks to the 5th conference of African Ministers responsible for civil registration (COM5) which opened in Lusaka under the theme: Innovative Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems: Foundation for Legal Identity Management.

Ms. Mutale said digital technology, including the extensive use of mobile devices in Africa, provided an incomparable opportunity for interoperability and real-time data sharing through interconnected systems across public and private sectors.

"Inclusive and trustworthy civil registration and digital systems are also crucial components for accelerating progress towards many of the sustainable development goal targets relating to poverty, good governance, social protection, financial inclusion, gender equality, migration and universal health coverage," she said.

The Permanent Secretary also spoke of the importance of integrating digital identity with civil registration systems.

"This combination helps to improve the lives of millions of people while also boosting national capacities to register vital events and produce vital statistics. When digital identity systems are recognized across borders and used online, they can be a powerful platform for innovation and for fast-tracking the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area," she added.

Zambia, Ms. Mutale said, has embarked on the implementation of the integrated national registration system through which the collection of biometric data and eventual issuance of birth certification and electronic identity cards to all citizens seeks to make civil registration a foundation for legal identity.

For his part, Mr. Oliver Chinganya, Director of the African Statistics Centre at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), emphasized the importance of digitalization as a facilitator of CRVS.

"We have gathered here for COM5 with an expanded mandate and with the full acknowledgement that civil registration is the foundation of legal identity - a universal requirement for SDG16.9 to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. It also needs to harness the dividends of digitalization," he said.

"A holistic and integrated approach on civil registration, vital statistics, including cause of death and identity management helps to build a robust and sustainable legal identity system. It also strengthens the health system, prevents duplication of efforts, saves resources and time, and allows efficient public service delivery."

He said the Africa Programme for Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statics (APAI-CRVS) Costed Strategic Plan 2017-2021, with the vision of making Everyone Visible in Africa, offered a platform for the continent to collaborate on CRVS issues.

"I am sure if we all combine our efforts and we speak with one voice in the various countries that we work in, we will reap the multiplier effects of collaboration," said Mr. Chinganya.

Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance for Africa to modernize and build a comprehensive civil registration and vital statistics system for the betterment of its people.

The conference was organized by the African Union Commission in collaboration with the ECA, the African Development Bank (AfDB), and Government of the Zambia. The conference is also supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Health Organization (WHO), Plan International, the Africa Symposium on Statistical Development (ASSD) and other partners.

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