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African Union to Consider Good Digital Identity Principles at Summit

Framework aims to help millions of Africans benefit from the digital economy while keeping the interests of African people at the center of digital identity systems

By Abiah Weaver, Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, Omidyar Network

This weekend, the African Union (AU) will consider a framework for Good Digital Identity in Africa in relationship to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). On the eve of this important policy decision, Omidyar Network investment partner Magdi Amin tells us why a set of ten principles are shaping trade discussions and what the AU’s endorsement could mean for Africa.

What is Good ID?

Magdi Amin: Digital identity, simply put, is a digital means of establishing you are who you say you are. Good ID is an empowering form of identity designed to be inclusive, private, secure, and controlled by the individual with the goal of helping people to participate more fully and fearlessly in society and the digital economy. Issuing Good ID, backed by safeguards and principles, helps countries maximize the benefits and continental aspirations while minimizing the risks for people, business, and government.

What is the Good Digital Identity for Africa Framework?

Magdi Amin: The Framework is a set of ten principles designed to guide and govern national digital identity systems in countries across the continent. The principles build on the AU Data Protection Guidelines and help define Africa’s views on inclusion, data ownership, interoperability across borders, compatibility with existing systems, privacy, security and safeguards, governance, neutrality, and accountability. The framework also addresses exclusion, discrimination, surveillance, consent, and other key issues of our time.

What’s happening at the AU Summit?

Magdi Amin: The Framework has been recommended to the executive committee for inclusion in the official AU Summit agenda. Between Feb. 10 and 11, heads of state will have the opportunity to take a comprehensive assembly decision on digital identity for Africa. We are optimistic that leaders will embrace these foundational principles and seize the opportunity to shape the future of digital identity for the continent.

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and co-chair of the UNECA Digital Identity Initiative, has already demonstrated his support of a Framework: “Our continent must take full advantage of the digital revolution. Achieving a harmonized digital ID framework … would be a first and would put Africa at the forefront of the digital economy. That is why we will work towards adopting a comprehensive Assembly decision on Digital ID for Africa at the AU Summit.”

Who created the Framework?

Magdi Amin: The Framework was developed in partnership with the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The World Bank Group, UNICEF, UNHCR, and other stakeholders were also engaged in the drafting of the Framework.

With Omidyar Network’s support, UNECA launched the African Center of Excellence on Digital Identity in November 2018, which seeks best-in-class solutions to harmonize digital identity systems and put Good ID in the hands of Africans. UNECA shares our belief that the significant economic value of identity systems can only be realized in a sustainable way if it is Good ID, inspires trust (through privacy and security), and therefore increases engagement.

We recently supported a McKinsey Global Institute study that shows how Good ID can lead to an increase in gross domestic product, fuel technological innovation, save money, lower institutional risks, improve trust and acceptance, increase efficiency, and contribute to financial sustainability.

Why does digital ID matter to Africans?

Magdi Amin: Today, more than 500 million Africans do not have a foundational form of ID. This means many Africans cannot access employment and education opportunities; health and financial services; and critical social protection. Digital identity helps to include people in the growth and advancement of the continent.

Recently, Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the AU, described the benefits of digital ID in this way: “Digital ID is necessary for social and financial inclusion, access of benefits; contributes to trade exchanges and e-commerce and transactions; facilitates the movement of people across Africa.”

The Framework ensures the type of ID Africans use is Good ID, and the efforts to drive economic growth keep the interests of African people at the center. Providing people with an empowering form of digital identity and other protections boosts trust and participation in the digital economy, which is expected to grow in Africa to over US $300 billion by 2025.

How does the Framework fit into Agenda 2063?

Magdi Amin: In Agenda 2063, the African Union commits to eradicating poverty in a generation, catalyzing education, promoting science and technology, fast-tracking the establishment of AfCFTA, strengthening domestic resource mobilization, and introducing an African passport. An important foundation for realizing these objectives is establishing legal identities for African people.

As countries increase access to ID within their borders, the Framework helps to align their approaches to digital security and ownership as well as interoperability across other systems and across countries, while respecting country sovereignty.

Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and co-chair of the UNECA Digital Identity Initiative, is modeling how each country can apply the framework to advance its economic and social priorities: “On February 2, the Council of Ministers of Ethiopia approved Ethiopia’s membership to the African Continental Free Trade Area. In Ethiopia, we are liberalizing the telecommunication sector, reforming the enabling environment for technology entrepreneurship, and are embarking on the path of Good ID. Digital identity, as a pillar of the digital economy, can help Africa build inclusive economic growth, and move us toward a digital common market across Africa…”

If the Framework is endorsed, what happens next?

Magdi Amin: If endorsed, the AU — in collaboration with member states, UNECA, and other key stakeholders — will develop a comprehensive AU Digital ID, Digital Trade, and Digital Economy Development Strategy.

For Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UNECA, this step is imperative: “(We) must agree on minimum requirements for the establishment of Digital Identification platforms through a continental approach. …digital identity is an imperative for the AfCFTA, including cooperation on a policy framework for e-commerce.”

To advance the strategy, UNECA will develop a set of tools to help countries harmonize and improve their digital identity systems based on the principles. Omidyar Network has provided UNECA with a grant to develop a capacity building program to help senior officials understand the complexities of digital identity and to support countries as they design, deploy, and manage Good ID systems.

Post-Summit Update: Recognizing the importance of digital identity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the African Union Executive Council has requested UN ECA and other stakeholders develop a comprehensive strategy that links digital economy, digital identity, and digital trade. Member States and other constituency groups will have the opportunity to further develop the digital identity principles through a consultative process running through June 2019. UN ECA will then propose a strategy reflecting those inputs at the next Ordinary Summit of the African Union in 2020.



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