Biometrics for economic development

Kenya: Biometric Exercise Boosts Kenya Adolescent Girls (All Africa)

Implemented by Save the Children, the exercise uses easy-to-use and inexpensive equipment to read students’ fingerprints to record daily attendance.

The biometric information is then used to identify those students who meet the conditional threshold of 80 percent school attendance and, therefore, qualify for a cash transfer twice a term.

The cash transfer goes to their household head, whose biometric details have also been captured and linked to a bank account to facilitate electronic household cash transfers.

Many families in the developing world face difficult decisions about whether to invest in a child’s education (even if it’s “free”) or to maximize the family’s current earnings by putting children to work. Programs like the one described above have made a difference in the lives of millions in Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia and backing up the cash transfers with a biometric audit trail should help insure that available funds are used efficiently.

Biometrics for the financial “last mile”

Kenya: Biometric technology eases banking in rural areas (KBC) — Kenyans in rural areas can now open and get access to their bank accounts with ease following the roll out of a biometric technology…

Somalis panic as cash flow dries up after US remittance lifeline cut

Somalia’s remittance crisis has been intensifying for years. Britain’s Barclays Bank closed its accounts with Dahabshiil, the largest Somali money transfer company, in 2014.

In Australia, Westpac, the only bank partnering with Somali remittance companies, is due to close their accounts at the end of March, the report said.

“We are just lurching from crisis to crisis”, said Ed Pomfret, Oxfam’s Somalia campaign manager. “These governments need to take action.”

Britain has been working with the World Bank on a “Safer Corridor” initiative to tighten the scrutiny of Somali money transfers through measures such as biometric identity cards for recipients in Somalia.

The “last mile” problem is usually reserved for describing the challenges of connecting retail customers with physical infrastructures such as plumbing, electricity or wired communications.

It’s also a real challenge in connecting recipients of aid and remittances to the global financial system. In the Somali case above, the global financial system appears to end at Somali money transfer companies. The Kenya efforts (linked above) and others, such as India’s UID project, are two examples of how people are using biometrics to extend the benefits of the global financial system to people who desperately need them.

Somaliland testing iris for electoral biometrics

Iris register to eyedentify voting fraud in Somaliland (New Scientist)

THE eyes have it. Somaliland’s election commission is trialling an iris-based biometric system that it hopes will put an end to duplicate registrations. This would make it one of the most advanced voter registration systems on the planet.

Per the CIA world factbook

In May 1991, northern clans declared an independent Republic of Somaliland that now includes the administrative regions of Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag, and Sool. Although not recognized by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence and continues efforts to establish a constitutional democracy, including holding municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections.

Nigeria vetting public sector pensioners with biometrics

Nigeria: Govt to Commence Nationwide Verification of Pensioners (All Africa)

…[T]he departments within its supervision include the civil service pension, police pension, pensioner support service, information technology and corporate support services as well as Treasury Funded Parastatals Pension.

She noted that verification exercise is expected to among other things, eliminate ghost pensioners, and halt the duplication of payments; Correct and eradicate anomalies such as over payments and under payments; pay pensions, gratuities, death benefits and other pensioner entitlements; update records of next of kins; and enrol new pensioners.

She said PTAD had also succeeded in establishing a robust complaints resolution mechanism which had improved services to pensioners.

More on African leap-frogging with biometrics

Using biometrics to secure African identities (HumanIPO)

African nation states are leaping the technology divide with the rapid deployment of electronic identification systems to register their entire populations. The possession of a bonafide identity document is foundational to the creation of civil society. It enables citizens to exercise fully their rights as members of society: their right to vote in an electoral system that is fraud and error free; provide access to health insurance coverage, apart from other valuable legal documents, and lastly restore the bond of trust between these citizens and their governments.

US & EU to help Nigeria with fingerprint biometrics in counter-terrorism effort

Insecurity: US, EU renew support for Nigeria (The Nation)

“We have figure prints of possible over 10 million travellers at the same time in a system. We are expanding in Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso and we are doing a major upgrade in Ghana. We are possessing about 10 thousand finger prints per week in West Africa.”

When reporters sought to know what the US stood to gain in the partnership, Moro responded that the assistance was at no cost to the country but an extension of a hand of fellowship from a caring ally.

Other members of the delegation are: Mr. Dwight Brown, Miss Theresa Keens, Mr. David Svendsen, Mary Johnson, Thaddaeus Hoyt and Diana Kohn, who are programmes personnel at the US Embassy.

The European Union also renewed its continued support to the Federal Government “until terrorism is defeated”. Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the EU to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Dr David MacRae, dropped the hint at a media luncheon hosted by the commission in Abuja.

This news article from yesterday provides important context.

Nigeria: Boko Haram Threat Chokes Trade With Cameroon (All Africa)

Cameroon has stepped up security over the Boko Haram (BH) threat.

In November 2011, Nigeria shut its border with Cameroon, prompting Yaoundé to bolster security in the largely Muslim Far North Region, close dozens of Koranic schools and hand over suspected BH members to Nigeria, which reopened the border in 2012.

Despite the intensified security, suspected BH militants on 19 February abducted seven French tourists, including four children, from a national park in the Far North Region, freeing them two months later.

Cross-border trade sustains the local economy in the Far North Region which sells onions, rice, maize, livestock and other agricultural goods to Nigeria, and imports sugar, cement, textile and electronics.

“Tight border security and checks are making business impossible for some of us. This was worsened by the kidnapping of [the French] tourists. Today all the goods must be checked before entry, and taxes are so high,” said Doudou Yaouba, a trader in Maroua, the regional capital.

This last, detailed, article illuminates major concerns within ECOWAS and among other interested parties. Biometrics can be a leap-frogging technology for providing domestic services, as in India’s UID project. They can also be a leap-frogging technology for bringing less rigorous international security protocols into a standard operating environment where highly sophisticated capabilities can be brought to bear.

Not all biometric elections are created equal

Africa’s election aid fiasco — It’ll take more than mobile phones and biometrics to make Africa’s elections fair and trusted (The Spectator)

The development industry is as fashion-prone as any other. Fads come and go. There are a few giveaways when it comes to spotting them. Deceptive simplicity is one indication. The idea should have a silver-bullet quality, promising to cut through complexity to the nub of a problem. Even better, it should be a notion that can be rolled out across not just a country, but a region.

Covering the Kenyan elections, which climaxed with the inauguration last week of Uhuru Kenyatta as the country’s fourth president, I suddenly realised I was watching a fad hitting its stride: the techno-election as democratic panacea. We’ll see it again in Mali’s elections this summer.

There is a lot to recommend this article, but I’d caution the author to take things one case at a time rather than encourage a bounce from one extreme — techno-election as democratic panacea — to the opposite: it’s all a scam. Of course, neither is true.

As we’ve so often said: biometric systems are extremely effective tools in the hands of capable managers. They can’t do anything, including run clean elections, all by themselves. ID management is about people, after all.

No one should paint, for example, Ghana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe with the same brush. They have almost nothing, not even biometric elections, in common.

Malawi opts for 2019 rather than 2014 for biometric elections

Malawi wont use biometric voter registration for 2014 polls-official (Star Africa)

“We have resolved that the implementation of the biometric system be used in the 2019 elections,” he [MEC Chief Elections Officer Willie Kalonga] said.

Kalonga said the commission will conduct a comprehensive field tests and civic education programmes on the solution.

Countries that haven’t rushed the process have done a better job implementing biometrics into election ID.

Malawi: Biometric voter registration

Malawi electoral commission adopts electronic voter registration system (Nyasa Times)

“The old method of registering voters did not have the inbuilt mechanism for accurate capturing of fingerprints which will assist in detecting multiple registrations and, therefore, there were instances where some unscrupulous individuals registered more than once.

“Biometric technology will make the detection and hence removal of multiple registration from the system resulting in the production of a more accurate and reliable register for all elections,” says the statement.

This means that the upcoming registration exercise will have an entirely new voters’ register that will replace the existing one and all voters identity cards.

In addition to capturing fingerprints, a voter’s photograph will also be taken on the spot. The photograph will be printed on the new securer voter identity card that will be issued to the voter at the point of registration as well as in the voters register.

Biometric voter registration without biometric voter verification leaves some gaps.

Biometrics as engines of cultural change

The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) in Sierra Leone is adopting a new biometric system to reduce impersonation among test takers and also to help eliminate bureaucratic errors.

We’ve covered the return on investment (ROI) of biometric ID systems quite extensively and the decision makers at the WEAC obviously saw the ROI potential of adding a biometric check to the testing process. Something else we have talked about (and it’s one aspect of biometrics that is intensely interesting to development types) is the accountability biometric systems can help bring to organizations and the cultural changes better ID management allows for.

Sheriff Sapateh, Head of the WEAC National Office gets this part, too:

WAEC launches Biometric Registration system (Awoko h/t @Argus_Global)

The Head further noted that examination malpractice unlike HIV/AIDS has a cure, adding that in order to win the war against examination malpractice there must be a holistic effort by all stakeholders in the education sub-sector.

He said that to avert a total collapse of our education system, there is a need for an entrenchment of a culture of examination ethics which is the respect for the rules, regulations, expectations, codes of conduct and moral principles governing the conduct of assessment and evaluation system, not only in educational institutions but in all sectors of the economy.

Using better ID management techniques can help to develop and encourage a more ethical culture — one less hospitable to corruption. Managers who understand this and want to do something about it have an ally in biometric ID management systems.

Praise for Ghana’s recent elections

We Should Learn From Ghana Experience (PM News)

“Having been based in Ghana as the Nigeria High Commissioner for four years, going back for the last election was an added value to my trip, in the sense that I can confidently say that their last election where I was an observer, was an improvement on what transpired during the previous presidential and parliamentary election in Ghana.

The introduction of the biometric data-based machine actually assisted in terms of verifying and authenticating the voters and orderliness despite the huge turn out. The orderliness demonstrated by Ghanians was highly commendable.”

If I recall correctly (and unlike the recent Ghanaian elections), the last Nigerian elections featured biometric registration but not biometric voter verification. That recollection is supported here, where a Nigerian official expresses hope for 100% biometric voter authentication by 2015, and later in the interview.

More at the link.

Sierra Leone votes today

Can tech revolutionize African elections? (CNN)
by Jonathan Bhalla at Africa Research Institute

An often overlooked aspect of the current electoral cycle in Sierra Leone is the use of biometric technology to capture thumb prints and facial features in the registration of voters.

“Credible elections start with credible voter registration,” remarked Christiana Thorpe, chief commissioner of Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission, during a presentation at Africa Research Institute in London in July 2011. For Thorpe, a bloated or inaccurate voter register always has a negative effect on the electoral process.

Read the whole thing.

Africa: Other biometric elections

KENYA: IEBC Briefs Kibaki on Poll Preparedness (All Africa).
Training electoral workers and informing the public is a HUGE part of the challenge of implementing biometric elections. It’s also one of the most expensive parts ‵ more expensive than the technology, I’d say, even in places with low labor costs.

CAMEROON: Keeping the veil on women’s electoral participation (News Day)
“Allowing women to get national identity cards could also be potentially upsetting for men who want absolute control over their wives.” We’ve made the point here over and over that a legitimate ID is a prerequisite to full participation in the modern world. It seems our point of view is widely shared.

SIERRA LEONE: 2012 Election: A test democracy (In Depth Africa)
The election will be the first since the end of the 11-year war in 2002 to be conducted entirely by the Sierra Leone government. The country’s 2.6 million voters were registered for the first time on a biometric system to prevent multiple voting and avoid electoral fraud. The Guardian (UK) also has a useful article on the stakes in Saturday’s Sierra Leone election.

Kenya Elections: Many reasons for worry

The whole sad saga dating to September of last year is here.

Today’s news doesn’t inspire optimism that Kenya can deploy a successful biometric voter registration system (which, without voter verification, is really only half of a biometric election system anyway) by March.

The Biometric Voter Registration Kits are late.

Anxiety is also increasing due to several other factors that are well covered in Fear grows over delays in voter registration at the Kenya Standard.

That fear has grown to the point where public officials are publicly beginning to wonder whether there isn’t some conspiracy afoot that aims to delay elections. Placed against the historical backdrop of Kenya’s electoral experience — only three presidents since 1964, and many hundreds killed following the last presidential elections in 2007 — it’s no wonder Kenyans are starting to worry.

Correctly deployed and well managed biometric voting technology can be extremely helpful in bringing rigor and transparency to electoral systems at a cost that less developed countries can afford. Through careful planning and wise investments in technology, countries can build an affordable and rigorous ID infrastructure that strengthens democracy, which in turn opens the door to other benefits.

The systems themselves are technically complex but there are plenty of organizations like SecurLinx that can supply the technical expertise to implement them. The technical complexities, however, make up only a fraction of the overall bureaucratic load of running a decent election.

The logistical and human resources challenges are far larger and more expensive to address than the technical challenges of biometric systems.

Like we always say… Biometrics & ID management: it’s about people.

UPDATE: 
Kenya: Justice Minister Eugene Says Treasury Was Poll ‘Saboteur’ (All Africa)

Yesterday Prime Minister Raila Odinga chaired a crisis meeting at his office to resolve the delay in the procurement of the Biometric Voter Registration kits with the IEBC top officials, Finance minister Njeru Githae, Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa, Lands minister James Orengo and Treasury PS Joseph Kinyua among others.

However President Kibaki missed the meeting for a second time. On Tuesday Wamalwa accused “some people” of attempting to sabotage preparations for the polls.

“There was an anxiety and finger pointing that had started creeping in. The culprits I had in mind were actually the Treasury,” said Wamalwa who had promised to name the saboteurs.

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