By Christabel Ligami

Civil registration is a vital tool to Africa’s economic and social development, and that is at the core to eradicate poverty, say African ministers responsible for Civil Registration in Lusaka Zambia.

To lack a legal identity, the ministers say means that you do not exist at all in the eyes of the state, a scenario that is critically alarming and that contravenes each of our human development efforts.

Specifically, the ministers say undocumented persons who are often women, children, refugees and migrants face critical challenges in exercising basic human rights, in participating in society and seeking protection by the law, a situation that only worsens their vulnerability.

The ministers attending the fifth Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration meeting are expected to forge a plan to have all countries in the region implement the UN Legal Identity agenda by end of 2020.

African minister responsible for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics systems at COM5 in Lusaka Zambia.

Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said at an aggregate level, universal and complete legal identity records facilitate important governance processes ranging from electoral processes, taxation, pension schemes to social security programmes.

“The lack of these records in many cases prompts the creation of independent and multiple silo databases which are expensive to manage, and that have been linked to immense loss of government revenue,” said Ms Songwe.

“Without knowing the numbers and characteristics of the residents of a country, governments cannot plan neither can they craft adequate policies or monitor progress. This steers us further away from achieving our human development commitments as set out by the Africa agenda 2063 and the 2030 sustainable development agenda.”

Civil registration is aimed at verifying and authenticating the identities of persons, with the goal to uniquely identify one individual from another.

Charles Lufumpa, Acting Chief Economic and Vice President, and Director of Statistics at the African Development Bank (AfDB), said Africa has made progress in revitalizing its CRVS systems in the past decade but, more still needs to be done to ensure the continent develops viable ideas and solutions that can address significant challenges that remain, including lack of adequately skilled human resources.

“It is high time we upscale our efforts regarding modernization and digitilisation. Lingering challenges in the areas of infrastructure, use of technology, legal and regulatory frameworks, coordination and resources, have left CRVS systems weak in most part of the continent,” said Mr. Lufumpa.

Among the key challenges cited at the meeting that Africa is facing on civil registration is the weak and archaic civil registration systems that fail to achieve key principles of completeness, universality and accuracy.

Many countries run fragmented paper-based systems, with a huge burden of reporting placed on the public, and with a requirement to travel long distances to access registration services. This manual nature of civil registration data bases in many countries limits their ability to support other important government functions therefore contributing to their under resourcing and underutilization by governments.

The other challenge, which is of growing concern is the notable increase in investments made by many African governments towards sophisticated civil identification systems that are delinked from civil registration systems.

The conference is being attended by Ministers for Health, ICT and ID management as well as for E-Governance.

Zambia’s Vice President Inonge Mutukwa Wina said African leaders have a great vision of building an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent that is driven and managed by its own citizens, and represents a dynamic force in the international arena.

“If you truly understand civil registration, the reality is that we cannot achieve this great African vision without counting and recording our citizens,” she said.

“A fully functioning CRVS system with universal birth, marriage and death registration is the foundation of a comprehensive, robust and sustainable legal identity system.”

African Union Commission’s Deputy Chairperson, Thomas Kwesi said the theme of the conference; “Innovative Civil Registration and Vital Statistics System: Foundation for Legal Identity Management” was timely as ensuring legal identity would contribute to the implementation of major continental initiatives including the African Continental Free Trade Area, the Protocol on Free Movement of People, the African Passport and the Single African Air Transport market.

Kwesi noted that the realization of Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030 for sustainable development required that every vital event is registered and relevant statistics are collected, compiled, produced and disseminated in a regular and continuous manner to guide policy and planning, to inform decisions, enable all stakeholders to track progress and make the necessary adjustments to ensure transparency and mutual accountability.