Despite importance of civil registration, half of population in Africa not registered at birth

Oliver Chinganya

Civil registration is important. It is the first step to gaining legal identity, and among others, citizenship, but half of the population in Africa are not registered at birth.

Speaking Monday October 14, 2019 at the opening of the 5th Conference of Africa Ministers responsible for Civil Registration, currently going on in Lusaka, Zambia, Oliver Chinganya, the Director of the African Centre for Statistics of the Economic Commission for Africa, said civil registration function remains pivotal to registration systems and it is the key to unlock legal identity.

He cited the call by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations to reduce the identity gap by 300 million by 2025, which is a mammoth but achievable task if the challenges of the continent’s registration systems are addressed.

“Civil registration is the foundation of legal identity – a universal requirement for SDG16.9 to ‘provide legal identity for all, including birth registration’. It also needs to harness the dividends of digitalization,” he said.

He noted that 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 per cent of GDP in 2030,” he said.

“In Africa, half of the population is not registered at birth, which renders most of the region’s poor unseen, uncounted and excluded, and by extension, affects their ability to enjoy universal rights. In our endeavour to support member States to address this gap and in achieving target 16.9 by 2030, the participation of the government ministries and departments at COM5 has been expanded, to include those that deal with national identity registration, ICT and E-Governance,” he added.

Mr. Chinganya indicated further: “We are moving into a new era where the fundamental principle is that civil registration systems should serve as the basis for lifetime identification of individuals through universal recording of life events from births to deaths that present ‘entry into’ and ‘exit from’ identity management system, respectively.

Integrated and interoperable civil registration and national ID management systems form foundational legal identity necessary for proof of multiple functional identity registers. So, our civil registration systems should be accessible, inclusive and integrative.

A holistic and integrated approach on civil registration, vital statistics including cause of death and identity management helps to build a robust and sustainable legal identity system, strengthens the health system, prevents duplication of efforts, save resources and time, and allows efficient public service delivery.”

In his remarks, Prof. Victor Harison, the Commissioner for Economic Affairs Department of the African Union Commission emphasised the importance of the meeting and stated that it will engage in technical deliberations that will lead to the preparation of draft declarations and recommendations on the importance of holistic, innovative and integrated Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) and Digital management systems in Africa that will be considered by our Ministers who will be providing strategic and policy guidance.

“The Fifth Conference will also discuss on new and emerging initiatives: such as the digital identity initiative in Africa and the United Nations Legal Identity Agenda, both of which rely on a functioning and efficient CRVS system,” he said.

He noted that with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), African countries can all reap full benefits of the Trade Area, 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; 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,” he said.

Noting the technological revolution in Africa, with an upsurge in the use of mobile devices, social media, information and communication technologies and big data, creating new channels for human interactions, and economic opportunities;

He pointed out that the lack of formal and robust identification and poor Civil Registration and vital statistics (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 Agenda 2063 and 2030 Agenda of SDG;

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;

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;

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,” he said.

Prof. Harison stated that evidence shows that over a third of the world’s forcibly displaced persons live in Africa due to conflicts, poor governance and natural disasters.

“To address the root causes and achieving solutions to forced displacement in Africa the AU has dedicated the Year 2019 as ‘Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa.’

In order to ensure universality, AU Member States need to continue to strengthen and expand ongoing efforts to ensure forcibly displaced and stateless persons have access to civil registration and are included in national vital statistics systems,” he said.
The conference is under the theme: “Innovative Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems: Foundation for Legal Identity Management”.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, in Lusaka, Zambia

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