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  • Writer's pictureID4Africa


By Dr. Joseph J. Atick, Executive Chairman, ID4AFRICA And Mory Camara President, ID4Africa Identity Council (IIC) Director General, ANGEIE - National Agency for Electronic Governance and Digitalization of the State Member of the Technical Team, ANIES - National Agency for Economic and Social Inclusion, Guinea


The question of identity and identification has become a major preoccupation around the world at many levels today. It is an issue for governments who continue to believe it’s their responsibility to officially manage the identity of their populations. It is a growing requirement for the people who need it to navigate in a society that has increasingly become more identity-centric because of security concerns and for convenient interactions between both the public and private sector. It occupies a prominent position on the agenda of the international development community working towards making it a right, financing it, and using it as an enabler for development. It even continues to attract the attention of innovators who see in identity, their fortunes or opportunity to create new paradigms for data and digital governance, such as decentralized and self-sovereign identity.

With such diverse attention to this singular topic, it is no surprise that a myriad of notions about identity has emerged. This proliferation is leading to confusion as to what the priorities should be for those responsible for providing identity. The confusion is exacerbated because of the ongoing digital transformation of society, which requires that whatever notion is adopted, must lead to an identity that can co-exist in both digital and physical worlds, on a priority basis.

From the outset, we should dissuade the reader from thinking that there is a unique answer to the question of what notion of identity should take priority in the world. The answer, of course, varies depending on the context, especially when we look at the state of development of any given country or region, and its needs. As such, we appeal to the readers not to take our answer in this blog out of context. Rather, to acknowledge that our response is based on what we heard from the African Government authorities attending the ID4Africa 2019 Annual Meeting, regarding the type of identity systems they are keen to develop, and the help they are looking for from the international community, including from ID4Africa. We met with numerous country delegations anxious to modernize their national identity ecosystems and what they are looking for is very consistent with what one of us can corroborate from having direct first-hand knowledge in Guinea, a country that is embarking on implementing what is being discussed in this blog.

From what we heard, the message should be clear, the priority in Africa today is to establish what can be called Service-oriented Identity (SOI). These are identity schemes that allow their populations to participate in economic development by giving them access to the widest range of services possible.

In what follows, we will develop this concept further by elaborating on the question of how a government can arrive at an SOI platform.


SOI is a form of foundational identity that is ready to support any services that can benefit from identification. Generally speaking, to turn an identity repository (such as a national population register, -NPR, or a civil register) into an SOI system, the following ingredients need to converge:

Service-oriented Identity (SOI) = NPR + Authentication Subject to the following conditions:

  • SOI should be unique and hence each record should be attributed to a unique service number.

  • Ideally, authentication can be built as online services with a published API that allows any authorized 3rd party to authenticate the identity.

While uniqueness and authentication naturally call for biometrics, and hence SOI most likely relies on biometrics, it is not a requirement if other convenient and effective mechanisms can be found to achieve deduplication and authentication. In addition, it goes without saying that a viable SOI is one that achieves total inclusion, is robust and can lead to low transaction costs, in order to ensure sustainability. We leave the details of good practices for elsewhere, so as to focus on the essentials of SOI and its implications here.


There are several excellent examples of SOI in development or in full operation around the world today. These include:

  • Kenya: The National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) has managed to enroll over 37 million people and is in the process of associating them with a unique identity known as the Huduma Namba (‘service number’ in Kiswahili). Over 300 e-services are expected to be linked to this platform.

  • Nigeria: The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is developing an ecosystem where the entire population of over 210 million people will be registered and attributed a National Identity Number (NIN), with the expectation that an increasing number of services will be linked to the NIN over time. Already over a dozen services are linked to the NIN and nearly 37 million people have it.

  • India: Aadhaar, and specifically the IndiaStack, can be considered the mother of all SOIs. India has already reached a point where nearly every physical person is associated with a unique 12 digit Aadhaar number, and where hundreds of services are already relying on the stack for presence-less, cashless, and paperless transactions.

All those schemes share several characteristics among them: They are all biometrically enabled, they contain relatively minimal amounts of data fields, and they pragmatically focus on core identification functions without mandating or depending on linkage to civil registration or other more traditional identification systems. Essentially, they focus on the question of who are you, instead of getting entangled in the follow-up question of what are you entitled to, and what benefits you are eligible for. They do not have to deal with trying to change legacy systems or approaches, and the challenges associated with that.


SOI is a form of “good ID”, which is useful. It empowers people’s actions as opposed to simply recognizing their basic rights. It is an essential ingredient in digital economic development especially if the Authentication APIs are opened to the private sector, such as banking, telecom, insurance, travel, health, and education. SOI can be used to deliver e-services, improve social inclusion, enhance governance and government efficiency, stimulate innovations and economic growth, and ultimately it may just be the key to lift people out of poverty.

Given such potential, it is not difficult to see why SOI is a priority for African countries.

SOI will play an even more critical role in the context of regional and global economic integration, a topic that has risen in importance recently with the signature of the landmark African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) on July 7, 2019, which paves the way to the world’s largest freetrade zone. In that case, a new ingredient would need to be developed:

Regional SOI = NPR + Authentication+Trust Framework for Mutual Recognition of National SOIs

The added Framework is needed for interoperability of trust so that authentication can be performed, and identity attestation can be relied upon outside the country of origin. It is an essential ingredient for economic integration. Examples of such frameworks include the “PanCanadian Trust Framework - PCTF”1 for Identity, which represents an important milestone for the Canadian digital identity ecosystem. Another is the European eIDAS Regulation2 . Both are anchor stones in attempts to build economic zones based on robust identity and trust standards.


SOI is an economic driver and hence should be built as part of an overall economic development or stimulus plan with clearly defined return on investment (ROI). In side meetings that we had conducted with numerous delegations attending ID4Africa 2019, the authorities saw in SOI the opportunity to bring in financial participation from the private sector in ways that could help sustain their identity platforms. Sectors such as telecom and banking could be very good partners as they can reap the benefits of robust, performant identity systems that would help improve their KYC, manage their identity risk and fraud, and create new services that could generate revenue. In a nutshell, the SOI can lower the financial risk associated with the investment required to establish an identity system, thereby making them more appealing to launch. The projects could be designed such that they would only need seed funding to reach the point where they deliver sustainable economic value for the ecosystem.


So how should we interpret the rush towards SOI? Does it mean that legal identity is not important? The notion of legal identity became prominent about five years ago in association with the Sustainable Development Goals discussions and in particular with SDG 16.9, which calls for “Providing legal identity for all including birth registration by 2030.” It could be interpreted to tie identity to a well-functioning civil registration system.

While this notion of identity is important from a rights perspective, it is NOT what many African nations are prioritizing at the moment. The reason is pragmatic and has to do with the relative impact SOI versus legal identity can have on core structural problems in Africa, including economic stagnation and poverty. They also in SOI the opportunity for tangible impact and quick ROI which can be used to finance broader reforms of their identity ecosystems including civil registration.

Therefore, it is perhaps a sequencing issue. Those that we spoke to assured us that the link between the SOI and legal identity and hence civil registration is inevitable and will happen over time, as it is required to give SOI its robustness and legal legitimacy. (delete will involve participation). They argue that ultimately all aspects of identity need to be regularized and brought up to world standards within the life-cycle framework from birth to death. But this does not mean that the path of identity development needs to follow the identity life-cycle in the short term. It is a question of priorities, budgets and time. Africa is worried about missing the 4th industrial revolution (4IR) if it is not able to develop the pillars needed in a timely fashion, even if it can recognize the right of its people to identity. They have the opportunity to leapfrog the identity trajectory that OECD countries have taken.


SOI is a notion that views identity not as an end in itself, but as a means of opening the door to the world of service and economic empowerment. It is an identity that enables people to do more and to be included in society. Because of its power, it is important to recognize the dangers of abuse and hence pay attention to ensure it is done within a responsible context. This issue has risen to the forefront at ID4Africa 2019 and it shows maturation in the attitude of the identity authorities seeking to put in place responsible platforms that can earn the trust of their populations, can have real impact from day one, and can be economically viable.

As such, it is agreed that data protection, privacy, and respect for human rights should be at the core of any initiative to develop SOI. We have also seen an interest in pan-African trust frameworks that have the ambition to address cross-border privacy and data protection, even when the legal standards for data protection are not yet harmonized across the Continent.

Finally there is the question of whether SOI should be made mandatory. We urge the authorities to offer SOI within frameworks of opt-in, that respect the wishes of their people to join or not to join such identification schemes that can deliver added value and simplify their lives.


ID4Africa 2019 was a milestone event on many significant levels, not least of which is the clarity that emerged around SOI and the commitment to responsible adoption of digital identity through privacy and data protection. The dialogue has attained a certain maturity, having shifted from the question of what to do on a priority basis, to that of how to do it. There was competence, commitment, and confidence, and there was Africa First – a reassertion of focus on the priorities as perceived by African nations. We at ID4Africa and the IIC – the newly formed Pan- African institution representing all 43 Ambassadors will work with our partners within the international community and with our constituencies – the African identity stakeholders – to help respond to that demand, consistent with the stated priorities.


Why SOI in Guinea?

The National Agency for Economic and Social Inclusion (ANIES) is a first in West Africa. ANIES will use digital identity to provide services to the most vulnerable populations of Guinea. It will contribute greatly to the evolution of Guinea’s economic dynamism, which has collectively improved, if we consider the evolution of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), especially since the majority of Guinean population are, for the most part, in a situation of extreme poverty (less $ 1.25 per day). ANIES will be a powerful vehicle for redistributing the fruits of economic prosperity.

What is the purpose of SOI in Guinea?

  • To make a financial contribution of at least 2% of GDP by the end of 2020 in favor of sharing the prosperity, following the recommendations of the Africa Progress Panel;

  • To reach within five years the goal of 4% of GDP, oriented towards 40% of the population most poor (40% bottom, as recommended by the World Bank in its goal of sharing prosperity, “shared prosperity”);

  • To reduce poverty in the medium term, which currently affects almost 60% of the population (65% in rural areas);

  • To promote financial inclusion, which barely reaches 3%, by placing at least 40% of the population with access to basic financial services.

How will Guinea establish SOI?

  • The first phase, from August to October 2019, will focus on registration and biometric enrollment of the extremely poor (about 40% of the population).

  • The second phase will involve experimentation, which will take place from October to December 2019 and will focus on four prefectures focusing on target territories (one per natural region).

  • The third phase will be generalization of the pilot phase to the rest of the country, starting in early 2020.


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