Empowering Citizens Unveiling Ethiopia’s National ID Programme

Ethiopia is implementing a national ID system to modernise governance and empower citizens. This transformative initiative provides unique identification numbers, streamlines access to government services, and promotes inclusivity. The system utilises advanced technologies like biometrics and secure databases to ensure accurate verification and protect privacy.

The national ID system fosters economic growth, attracts investment, and empowers marginalised communities by enhancing service delivery efficiency and promoting equal access for all citizens. It also improves security by reducing identity theft and fraudulent activities. However, challenges such as the lack of financial resources and ensuring accessibility in remote areas need interventions to see the project achieve its goals to the fullest. Overall, Ethiopia’s national ID system is a cornerstone of digital governance, driving progress and prosperity for the nation. EBR’s Nejat Ahmed explores.

Recently, Ethiopia has taken significant strides towards modernising its governance and public services by introducing a national identification system. Implementing this system marks a pivotal moment for the country, as it promises to enhance identity management, promote inclusivity, and streamline access to various government services.

At its core, the national identification system seeks to provide every Ethiopian citizen with a unique and tamper-proof identification number. This number is a gateway to various government services, including healthcare, education, social welfare, and financial transactions. The government aims to streamline administrative processes, reduce bureaucracy, and improve service delivery efficiency by centralising citizens’ information under a single identification system.

The technological infrastructure supporting Ethiopia’s national ID system is robust and sophisticated. It leverages advanced technologies such as biometrics, encryption, and secure databases to ensure the accuracy and integrity of citizens’ data. Biometric data, including fingerprints and facial recognition, is crucial in verifying individuals’ identities and preventing fraud. This biometric information is securely stored and protected to safeguard citizens’ privacy and prevent unauthorised access.

Regarding privacy, implementing a national ID system raises concerns about the potential misuse of personal data. However, Ethiopia has recognised the importance of privacy protection and has taken measures to address these concerns. Strict data protection regulations and protocols are in place to ensure that citizens’ information is collected, stored, and used lawfully and responsibly. Ethical guidelines govern citizens’ data’s access, use, and sharing, with stringent penalties for breaches or unauthorised usage.

According to Abenezer Feleke, Strategic Communications Advisor, at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) currently leading us Director of Communications for the National ID Program, data protection and privacy are at the heart of the NIDP digital identification ecosystem. The Fayda technology, which serves as Ethiopia’s primary identification document for confirming one’s identity, follows the principle of privacy by design as a platform that holds sensitive data and provides the basis for many other functional services nationwide. Communication between any end-points, including enrollment stations, supervisor and admin portals, authentication stations, resident service portals, and backup sites, are all end-to-end encrypted. “This offers individuals, service providers, and authentication parties the trust and confidence that their data and interaction are secure, tamper-free, and inaccessible without their knowledge and active consent,” Abenezer explains.

He added, “The Fayda ID assigns a unique identification number, which we call Fayda Identification Number (FIN), to each individual, reducing duplication effort, double dipping or identity theft.” In addition, he further explained that the National ID system helps maintain accurate and up-to-date information about individuals, including biometric data such as fingerprints, Iris scans and face pictures, ensuring a high level of accuracy in identity verification.

Moreover, the national ID system enhances security by reducing the prevalence of identity theft and fraudulent activities. With robust identity verification mechanisms, it becomes significantly more challenging for individuals to impersonate others or engage in illegal activities under false identities. This increases security, protects citizens and contributes to a more stable and law-abiding society in the long run.

This is further backed by the legal framework under the Ethiopian Digital Identification Proclamation 1284/2023, which provides full-fledged data privacy rules and digital identification protection. The proclamation underpins consent-based processes throughout the entire cycle of digital identification, non-disclosure of data, data minimisation, purpose limitation, and data privacy measures to ensure that data subjects exercise control over their data.

One of the primary benefits of Ethiopia’s national ID system is the promotion of inclusivity. By providing every citizen with a unique identification number, regardless of their socioeconomic background or geographical location, the system ensures equal access to government services. This inclusivity has the potential to bridge existing gaps in service delivery and empower marginalised communities, allowing them to participate fully in the country’s socioeconomic development.

According to Abenezer, Fayda rolls, and subsequent service provision will bring unprecedented benefits to marginalised communities and low-income groups such as internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees, rural women, people with disabilities and social safety net beneficiaries through the provision of unique identities, accelerated financial inclusion, and ultimately, access to enhanced services. “This is crucial for individuals who may face challenges in acquiring traditional forms of identification or completely do not have any form of legal identification accelerating inclusion,” Abenezer explains.

Implementing a national ID system also holds transformative potential for Ethiopia’s social and economic landscape. By streamlining administrative processes, the system can improve the efficiency of public service delivery, reducing delays and bureaucratic hurdles. This efficiency can spur economic growth, attract investment, and facilitate the ease of doing business in the country. Furthermore, accurate and comprehensive citizen data can enable evidence-based policymaking, allowing the government to address societal needs better and allocate resources effectively.

Abenezer says, “Fayda shall provide a common digital thread that integrates various digital systems and databases, spearheading a paperless, presence-less, and cashless economy through Digital ID-enabled payments and transactions.” Explaining that Fayda and its authentication services will assist the public sector in facilitating new service delivery models, reducing frauds and leakages in Government-to-Person (G2P) transfers, and improving overall administrative effectiveness by making the processes transparent, accurate, faster, cheaper, and more accessible. “The Fayda system will assist the private sector institutions in verifying their client bases and subsequently expanding through seamless and verified customer onboarding, creating new markets, and generally fostering a business-friendly atmosphere by lowering operating costs related to regulatory compliance.”

Consequently, individuals with Fayda identification can access various services more quickly, smoothly and seamlessly, including healthcare, education, and social welfare programs. This is particularly beneficial for those who may have been excluded from such services due to a lack of proper identification.

However, alongside these opportunities, challenges also arise. The successful implementation of a national ID system requires substantial financial investment, technical expertise, and comprehensive infrastructure. Additionally, ensuring the system’s inclusivity and accessibility to all citizens, including those in remote and underserved areas, can be complex. Adequate awareness campaigns and training programs are crucial to ensure citizens understand the system’s benefits and how to utilise it effectively.

The National ID Authority also recognised the existence of these challenges. “The implementation of Fayda is expected to face challenges in its national expansion both within its internal operations and external environment related with low level of infrastructure and connectivity in remote areas requiring resource intensive operations, and offline registration and authentication mechanisms coupled with aligning all government priorities and strategies to reduce effort duplication as sectors integrate with the Fayda system and technologies.” Abenezer told EBR.

“In addition low digital literacy rates especially in the rural areas could have individuals resist the adoption of Fayda ID due to cultural and religious barriers.” Says Abenezer. “NIDP is working with all concerned partners, regional governments and communities to provide a targeted sensitisation and awareness to citizens to tackle these misconceptions for full endorsement of its digital ID for an all-inclusive adoption of Fayda across the country.” Said the Abenezer.

Ethiopia’s recent implementation of a national identification system represents a significant milestone in its journey towards efficient governance and citizen empowerment. By leveraging advanced technologies, robust data security measures, and privacy considerations, the system has the potential to revolutionise service delivery, enhance security, and drive socioeconomic development. While challenges exist, the benefits of this initiative are far-reaching, promising a more inclusive, efficient, and prosperous Ethiopia for its citizens.

The National ID Program was initiated in 2011 under the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in cooperation with the Information Network Security Agency. However, significant progress was made in 2018 when the Prime Minister’s Office re-initiated the program. The Prime Minister tasked the Minister of Peace and the Minister of Innovation and Technology with carrying out the operation.

From 2019 to 2021, the Ministry of Peace (MOP) led, in collaboration with the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MInT) and the Prime Minister’s Office, to develop the technical and legal platform for the National ID Program. This phase aimed to establish a solid foundation for the program’s implementation.

In September 2021, the National ID Program underwent a restructuring process. The program was placed under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office to ensure the establishment of a robust, reliable, and forward-looking digital identification platform for residents.

According to the National ID Authority Communications Department, “Its main mission is to issue a unique identifier that will serve as the foundational proof of identity to access services for all citizens and residents of Ethiopia with the vision of providing an inclusive and secure digital identity to every resident for seamless and equitable access to services towards a better life.”

During the program’s pilot phase, the Fayda IDMS (Foundational ID Management System) was implemented as the central system for managing foundational identification. This system integrated various external identification systems (ABIS) and provided card printing services to facilitate registration.

In 2022, the National ID Program achieved a significant milestone with one million registrations completed. The momentum continued in 2023, as the program witnessed a substantial increase in registrations. Three million individuals successfully enrolled in the National ID Program during this year.

Building upon the progress made in previous years, the National ID Program has ambitious plans for the future. In 2024, the program aims to expand its reach and impact further. The goal for this year is to achieve six million registrations, doubling the number of individuals enrolled compared to the previous year.

Looking ahead to 2025, the National ID Program has set its sights on a remarkable milestone. The ambition is to reach 45 million registrations by this year. This substantial increase indicates a significant stride towards providing a comprehensive digital identification platform that covers a considerable portion of the population. In 2026, the National ID Program aims to continue its rapid expansion and achieve an even more impressive milestone. The goal is to reach 70 million registrations. By comparing these milestones, the program aspires to establish itself as a vital component of digital governance and contribute to the overall development and progress of the country.

As the registration expands nationwide, the National ID Program is working simultaneously to improve and scale its programmatic, technology, and operational systems to meet the demand of achieving its 90 million enrollment target by 2025.

Eyob Tefera, a 45-year-old resident of Addis Ababa, noticed a tent while passing by the street. Intrigued, he decided to take the initiative and register; after that, Eyob said he received an email from the National ID after a week, informing him his identification card was ready. “I believe it will be useful for different services next to my passport.” Says Eyob.

“Our organisation aims to enhance system integration, data security, and data management through technological upgrades.” Says Abenezer. “It also focuses on reaching marginalised populations, improving legal frameworks, and ensuring compliance with privacy and security standards. Additionally, it emphasises the importance of awareness, communication, and stakeholder consultations to promote the Digital ID program and accelerate enrollment.”

The national ID system aims to make the system accessible to all citizens, especially those in remote areas or with limited resources. They plan to use portable mobile kits to register citizens in areas with little infrastructure and connectivity. “Offline authentication methods and physical ID cards will be provided to individuals with limited access to digital devices and low digital literacy to ensure access at service touchpoints.” Says Abenezer.

Several countries have made significant strides in implementing national identification systems. For instance, Nigeria introduced the National Identity Number (NIN) system, which assigns a unique identification number to each citizen. Through the NIN, Nigeria has streamlined service delivery, improved social inclusion, and enhanced security.

South Africa is another African country that has implemented a successful national ID system. The South African ID system, the Identity Document (ID) system, has facilitated access to government services, particularly in healthcare, education, and social welfare. In addition, Kenya has implemented the Huduma Namba system, which issues a unique identification number to Kenyan citizens and foreign residents. Managed by the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), the registration process involves capturing biometric data such as fingerprints, facial recognition, and iris scans. The Huduma Namba serves as a single source of identification for accessing government services and benefits. It is used for voter registration, healthcare services, social welfare programs, and financial transactions.

Further, Ghana has implemented the Ghana Card, a biometric national identification system. The Ghana Card serves as the primary identification document for Ghanaian citizens. It contains personal information such as name date of birth, and biometric data like fingerprints and facial recognition. The National Identification Authority (NIA) is responsible for issuing the Ghana Card to register all citizens and establish a reliable national identification system. The card is used for purposes such as voter registration, access to social services, financial transactions, and general identification.

The success of national ID implementation can vary across countries, and it depends on several factors, such as the efficiency of the implementation process, public acceptance, functionality of the ID system, and the extent to which it achieves its intended objectives.

In the case of Ghana, implementing the Ghana Card is an ongoing process. While the government has made efforts to register citizens and issue the Ghana Card, the full extent of its success and impact on various sectors is still being assessed. Using the Ghana Card for activities such as voter registration and accessing social services suggests progress in establishing a reliable national identification system.

Similarly, the success of the National Identification Number (NIN) system in Nigeria, the South African Smart ID Card system, and the Huduma Namba system in Kenya also depends on several factors. These include the level of enrollment, integration with other databases, acceptance by the public, and the effectiveness of the ID systems in facilitating access to services, improving security, and reducing identity fraud.

It’s worth noting that the success of national ID systems is often a continuous process. That’s why its impact will only be seen over time as it matures and becomes more widely adopted. Governments may adjust and improve based on feedback and lessons learned during implementation.

Ethiopia benefits significantly from studying the implementation of national IDs in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya. Ethiopia can develop a well-informed plan and effectively navigate potential obstacles by examining its strategies, successes, and challenges.

One key area of focus for Ethiopia should be exploring biometric technology in its national ID system. Biometric data, such as fingerprints and facial recognition, has played a crucial role in the success of many implementations. By learning from the experiences of these countries in capturing and managing biometric data, Ethiopia can enhance the accuracy and security of its identification system.

Integrating the national ID system with government services is another critical consideration. Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya have successfully linked their ID systems to various services, including voter registration, healthcare, social welfare programs, and financial transactions. Ethiopia can gain insights into the benefits and challenges of such integration, enabling the streamlining of processes and improved service delivery.

Public awareness and engagement are vital for the success of any national ID system. Ethiopia can draw lessons from these countries on public education campaigns, stakeholder engagement, and addressing privacy concerns. Ethiopia can build public trust and garner support by understanding how Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya effectively communicate the advantages and processes of their national ID systems.

Furthermore, examining the governance structures, regulations, and data security measures implemented by these countries is crucial. Protecting citizens’ data privacy and ensuring the security of the national ID system are paramount. Ethiopia can learn from best practices in data management, access controls, and data protection mechanisms to establish a robust and secure ID system that safeguards citizens’ information.

It is important to note that while Ethiopia can learn valuable lessons from these countries, it must tailor its implementation plan to its unique context. Legal, cultural, and technological factors require careful consideration while implementing the Fyda project. Thorough research, stakeholder engagement, and the adaptation of international best practices will contribute to the successful implementation of a national ID system in Ethiopia.EBR

12th Year • December 16 2023 – January 15 2024 • No. 124

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