Stakeholders who recently gathered in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh for discourses on digital identity at the ID4Africa Augmented General Meeting 2022, once again met virtually June 28, 2022 for an ID4Africa Livecast to stitch together their recommendations on two of the four workshop topics treated during the in-person meeting less than a fortnight ago.
During the Livecast anchored by ID4Africa chairman Dr. Joseph Atick, the first component of the virtual discussion was co-chaired by Liv Marte Nordhaug, co-lead of the Digital Public Goods Alliance, and MOSIP Founding Chairman and Technology Board Member Sanjay Jain, who both shared their thoughts on the importance of building digital public goods, or digital stacks, which are crucial for digital transformation projects undertaken by governments, such as the implementation of digital identity ecosystems.
Because these digital public infrastructures are systems that countries need to build other systems on top of them, they have to be built in a way that can enable countries keep their national digital sovereignty, and allow them customize or adjust these systems to appropriately respond to new and future needs.
Highlighting some of the key takeaways from the in-person workshop, Jain said one of things to keep in mind is for countries to ensure that any DPI systems they intend to build should serve the people and their interest first. He also underlined the need for participation in international standards bodies and cooperation across the various agencies involved, and also the need for capacity building for stakeholders involved in building digital stacks. Corroborating Sanjay on the aspect of capacity building, Nordhaug said it is important as part of a long-term investment which can be useful for other future projects.
A select group of other workshop contributors also spoke, sharing their experiences on how countries can leverage the power of DPIs as an important digital transformation template, especially for those that lack the financial, human or logistical capabilities to build their own technologies.
The speakers also shared best practices on how to leverage Digital Public Goods on building DPIs in terms of policy, regulation, procurement, and vendor models, among others. The speakers included Mike Straub from Smile Identity; Colleen Elliott from Microsoft; Yodahe Zemichael from Ethiopia national ID; Rosemary Kisembo from the Uganda’s NIRA, and Stephanie de Labriolle from the Secure Identity Alliance.
de Labriolle, sharing industry experience, remarked that when it comes to building DPIs, there is no one-size-fits-all solution or approach. She said it could be open source, or some other system, but all depending on the capacity and ambitions of the country concerned. In any case, she insisted on the adoption of free open standards.
Identity management for frictionless borders
In the second segment of the livecast, participants crossed views and summed up recommendations on how digital identity can be better managed as a lever to seamless and convenient border crossings.
During the session which was chaired by Damien Thuriaux, head of immigration and border management at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), alongside his thematic specialist colleague from IOM West Africa, Alvina Samjawon, discussants through their various interventions, identified ways through which the integration of identity management into border processes can lead to frictionless human mobility especially in times of major social crises like the outbreak of wars or pandemics.
Putting the discussion in context, Thuriaux said this had become so important given the major risks cross-border mobility has been exposed to, especially with the COVID pandemic which has laid bare how much work countries still have in terms of employing identity solutions to ensure fluid borders for people and goods. He also elaborated on the IOM’s legal identity strategy, insisting that legal identity is a key element for safe and regular migration.
The lack of legal ID affects migrants, IDPs, returnees and all other members of vulnerable groups trying to cross borders, and most of them often resort to irregular migration channels exposing themselves to acute risks, the IOM official regretted.
On country-specific experiences, speakers who included the Director General of the Immigration Services of Kenya, Alexander Imbenzi; an official from the National Police of Niger, Saadou Boubacar Cissé, and the Director of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs, Rosina Senona, all agreed that it is important to have legal identity for frictionless borders, and so shared their thoughts on how to facilitate cross-border mobility and put in place systems that meet the evolving requirements for travel while avoiding to deepen already existing inequalities.
The major conclusion of the workshop was that countries have to make deliberate efforts to strengthen their existing legal systems, and then try to integrate them with other human and technological efforts and coordination, in order to ensure frictionless borders.
Meanwhile, at the start of the livecast, Dr. Atick used the opportunity to make a panoramic flashback on the just-ended Marrakesh in-person meeting, which he said, has been described by many as the best ID4Africa general meeting ever organized. He said despite the lingering constraints imposed by COVID, thousands of delegates from about a hundred countries made the trip which sought to take the global digital identity discourse a notch higher.