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The Need for Biometric National ID Cards in Africa


By Mohammad Shahnewaz

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”In the United States, when a child is born, he/she is assigned a number. This is the social security number (SSN). That number follows the child till death. That number is unique and captures the child’s life history.”


In Africa, there is no effective system of identifying citizens. In 2001 Nigeria has tried to introduce national ID project based on photo ID cards, without any identity system and failed (Later in 2010 they moved to Biometric National ID Card for better result & Succeeded). In Kenya, the results are the same indicating widespread difficulties to establish a concrete system of establishing true identities and creating documentation that proves someone is who they say they are. Even when birth certificates are introduced, they are not big deals. Today, many babies continue to be born without being proper documentation that officially registers their identity with the federal government causing “gaps” that could potentially have negative effects on the future ability to secure government benefits or provide proper identification documentation for employment, voting, or other areas.

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Problems Because of not having Biometric National ID Card:

The primary purpose of a Biometric National ID card is to ensure credible identification of a citizen.  However, it is important that every citizen understand the scope of use and importance of the National ID card system extends far beyond basic identification.  Without a valid Biometric National ID card system it might become a huge dilemma for the government to plan and distribute social service programs. Possible problems that might rise due to not having Biometric National ID card includes:

  • Lack of Timely registration and monitoring of citizenship birth, marriages, deaths, aliens, and refugees and eliminating duplicate entries.
  • Service delivery mechanism might not function accurately to deliver social services such as education, health, rations, cross border immigration, and passport control due to improper distribution.
  • Identification & calculation errors of Employment-pension contributions, benefits, and insurance.
  • No authentic way for Law enforcement to ensure tracking of illegal activities and criminals (e.g. financial transactions, money laundering, etc.)
  • Fair electoral processes might not be possible due to inability to identify citizens.
  • Tax administration, management, and collection of every citizen might not be possible.
  • National population statistics (censuses, surveys, segregation, and monitoring trends for planning purposes) data might not be accurate enough to take viable decisions.

The Value of a Biometric National ID card System

Considering the technological advancements of modern identification platforms, leveraging the use of a biometric national ID card system where all the people will be registered and a national database built from it to help increase the utility of the initiative might be a far better idea. By using biometrics to establish a national identification database, governments can eliminate fraud along with multiple registrations and ensure 100% error free identifications. A biometric National ID system is going to be more effective in many ways, as people can just do fingerprints, finger veins or palm veins to identify themselves. This will not only save time but also establish a more secure and systematic authentication process. By integrating National ID database with various government agencies, other sectors will also get benefitted in numerous ways. Let’s take a look at some of the sectors which might get benefited if a biometric national ID card system is implemented:

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Banking Sector

Forget checks and signatures. Under a biometric National ID card system, citizens  will sign with their fingerprints and the national biometric database  can be uploaded to all the major banks and governments so that positive identification has the ability to be applied to other financial service transactions and provide the means for the traditionally underserved to benefit from banking.. Loans can be disbursed with more efficiency since banks can more easily validate applicants based on their biometric credentials.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement agencies can also directly benefit from establishing a biometric National ID card system. Law enforcement officers can instantly identify criminals inside of prisons or in the field with a single scan. The legal system will be more efficient and productive by ensuring justice is served for each and every individual. Jail or correctional facilities will be able to make sure the right person is going in or out of the prison so there is also a positive impact on public safety.


In healthcare, a biometric enabled national ID card can be useful in many ways including:

  • Preventing medical identity theft and fraud at the point of service  ensuring  a high level of patient safety
  • Eliminating the possibilities of generating duplicate medical records for a single individual
  • Quickly identifying patients in cases of disorientation, trauma, or unconsciousness

Border & Immigration Control

Biometric enabled National ID cards can stop illegal immigration problems as well. It is not practical to expect that by putting thousands of border guards a country can stop illegal immigration. Instead a biometric national id card can play an important role by ensuring no one without a valid national ID card gets a job, residence, or any other social services. Without access to employment, social services, or housing incentives for illegal immigrants is significantly diminished.


It is already too late to start any national ID project based on photos and cards. It is time Africa begins to explore the possibility of using biometrics to create a National ID card to help solve some of  these problems. A biometric National ID system can be used to help more effectively identify citizens and stop the waste of photos & card ID systems. Countries like South-Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana have already adopted biometric technology in full or partial capacity to improve their National Identity Management System. Now it’s time for other African nations to explore the benefits of biometric National ID card solutions instead of tradition photo or card based National ID.

Author Bio

Mohammad Shahnewaz is a Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at M2SYS Technology and an occasional blogger. He likes to write on biometric identity management related topics and their after effects. Tweet @M2SHAON



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