By Christabel Ligami

Half of Africa’s population is not registered at birth, rendering the continent poor, uncounted and excluded, and by extension, affects it ability to enjoy universal rights, according to a progress report on civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) in Africa.

The report was released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) at the 5th Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Lusaka, Zambia.

It shows that lack of formal and robust identification and poor CRVS on the continent has contributed to marginalization and exclusion of many citizens.

At the continental level, digital transformation is positioned among the top priorities of African Union transformation Agenda 2063 and United Nations SDGs Agenda 2030 Agenda.

Oliver Chinganya, Director of the African Centre for Statistics, UNECA, said in response to that, African Union Commission in collaboration with UNECA, AfDB, RECS, World Bank and other partners have developed a comprehensive Digital transformation Strategy for Africa to harness the full benefits of digital transformation.

Oliver Chinganya, Director of the African Centre for Statistics, UNECA at the opening of COM5 in Lusaka, Zambia.

“One of the specific objectives of this strategy is to ensure that universal legal identity as part of the civil registration system is achieved by 2030,” said Mr Chinganya.

While implementing the digital transformation strategy, AU Member States are encouraged to ratify the AU Convention on Cyber Security and personal data protection to ensure confidentiality.

Improving civil registration systems and identity management systems is imperative for improving migration statistics in a way that is useful for policy making in African countries.

According to the report, civil registration function remains pivotal to registration systems and the key to unlock legal identity. Integrated and interoperable civil registration and national ID management systems form foundational legal identity necessary for proof of multiple functional identity registers. So, civil registration systems should be accessible, inclusive and integrative.

To support member States to address this gap the participation of the government ministries and departments at the conference has been expanded, to include those that deal with national identity registration, information and communications technology (ICT) and E-Governance.

Mr Chinganya said that CRVS systems have a critical and central role in making Africans visible, protecting their human rights and reducing inequalities affecting them.

“For example, the birth registration certificate, as a legal document and proof of age, helps to prevent violations of child rights, including child marriage, child labour and trafficking, and the use of child soldiers in conflict zones,” he said.

“Digital ID can provide enormous benefits. However, in many countries the identification process tends to be fragmented. There is a lack of coordination between civil registration and identity as well as multiple overlapping and incompatible identity systems.”

Global Institute estimates that for emerging economies, if improvements are made in a coordinated and holistic way using Digital ID for authentication alone could lead to average potential per-country benefit of roughly 6 percent of GDP in 2030. Unfortunately, many of the civil registration and identification systems are fragmented and under-resourced.

The legal and regulatory framework around Civil Registration, is many cases quite dated and needs to be harmonized with new laws and regulation for Digital ID, which requires Privacy, Data Protection (including Cybersecurity) and e-Transactions.

“There is also need to develop road-maps with a practical approach to achieving a Digital ID and Civil Registration system,” added Mr Chinganya.

Victor Harison, Commissioner for the Economic Affairs at AU said with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), African countries will benefit with partnerships that can support the universal ratification of the trade agreement by African countries; and assist the countries to develop and implement effective complementary policies and plans.

“In order to realize all this initiatives timely, accurate and disaggregated data and statistics are indispensable for African countries to make evidence –based decisions,” said Prof Harison.

Civil registration data is essential for a functional and people centred integration process that aims to improve well-being, promote job creation, and market expansion through trade, free movement and labour mobility.

The African Union Assembly, in July 2016, declared 2017-2026 as the decade for repositioning civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) in Africa as continental, regional and national development agenda and urges governments to respond with appropriate action.

The conference theme is Innovative Civil Registration & Vital Statistics Systems: Foundation for Legal Identity Management