Civil registration said to serve as platform for state accountability, achieve MDGs in Africa

The term civil registration is alien to most Africans. The only few who are familiar with the term are experts, officials working in government ministries, departments and institutions that deal with the issue. Students who are studying subjects that include the term will also come across it.

However, civil registration is not just a mundane term, it is an important activity and system that has far reaching implications for good governance in Africa and can impact how far African countries achieve the millennium development goals by the deadline of year 2015.

At the Second Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Durban, South Africa September 3-7, 2012 the importance of civil registration to the continent’s development was stressed.

In his address at the opening of the conference, South Africa President, Jacob Zuma called on African leaders to deal with the situation known as the ‘scandal of invisibility’ that many African citizens end up in.

It is the situation where citizens on the continent live and die without ever being registered.

“Today, there are still people on the African continent who are born and die without ever leaving a trace in any legal record of their existence. This is a phenomenon that has come to be known as the ‘scandal of invisibility’,” he said.

“It has meant that the most vulnerable people in Africa remain unseen and not counted. They practically do not exist,” he added.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), countries need to know how many people are born and die each year – and the main causes of their deaths – in order to have well-functioning health systems.

“The only way to count everyone and to track all births and deaths is through civil registration. Civil registration provides the basis for individual legal identity but also allows countries to identify their most pressing health issues,” it says.

The UN health agency adds that civil registration is the way by which countries keep a continuous and complete record of births, deaths and the marital status of their people.

“For health agencies like WHO, civil registration systems are the most reliable source of statistics on births and deaths, and causes of death,” the agency says on its website.

President Zuma pointed out that civil registration is the system through which citizens confer authority on their leaders.

“We can’t fulfill our development agenda unless we know where we live, work and go to school,” he said.

He said in this age of globalization, and greater interdependence among countries, civil registration serves more than just the purpose of identifying one’s nationality. Civil registration, he said, serves to facilitate Africa’s integration and smooth movement of people among countries of the continent.

He indicated that civil registration has far reaching implications for development, especially, with regards to education, health and among others, social security. It can also be used to monitor the MDGs, and other development efforts on the continent, he said.

The conference reiterated that civil registration “forms a stable platform for state accountability and helps to continue change.”

Addressing journalists at a press conference at the close of the meeting, Mad. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister, and African Union Chairperson who chaired the conference said since the ministerial conference of 2010, most countries in Africa have improved the legal frameworks for civil registration.

The ministers she said have also “agreed to recognise civil registration and vital statistics as regular activities of government that should have regular budgets.”

She also indicated that the meeting agreed on the use of improved technology as well as the localisation of civil registration activities.

“Civil registration should not only be centralised. Should include local levels too,” she said.

The conference further agreed that African countries must ensure that registration of deaths also include causes of death.

In its recommendations, the conference urged that while there are different ministries involved in civil registration activities, there is always a lead ministry and there should be legal linkages.

Among others, the ministers noted that civil registration is an important factor in security, monitoring and evaluation and it also vital in monitoring the MDGs.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, back from Durban, South Africa

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