Key Drivers for Biometrics in Africa in The Next 5 Years

Biometric market is growing fast in Africa, especially in recent years. Current challenges such as national security threats, lack of infrastructure, large geographic area, manual processes related forgery, etc. have greatly driven the need for biometrics based electric systems in this region. In order to build a strong national security and reduce the incidences of fraud and corruption, South Africa government have taken initiations in large-scale projects which turn on the green light for the strong growth of biometrics technology in Africa later on. As early as 2001, the South African Police Service (SAPS) installed biometric system using palm and fingerprint to monitor and track down criminals. Portable readers are also placed at roadblocks around the country to identify wanted criminals and bring them to justice. After that, national ID smart card, biometric election/ voter registration have been deployed widely by many other nations’ governments. According to Giulia Piccolino, GIGA Research Fellow, at least 25 sub-Saharan African countries have already held elections employing a biometric voter register including: Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc. These applications aim to reduce “ghost” voter, multiple voting and deliver a transparent election which will likely to curb the violence.

Biometric technology in election in  sub-Saharan Africa

By Giulia Piccolino, German Institute of Global and Area Studies

Africa is known as the world’s poorest and undeveloped continent with serious problems such as: internal terrorism, religious and ethnic conflict, organized crime, people’s lack of awareness due to illiteracy, etc. There is an obvious need for governments to improve the living condition for its people and put them in a higher level of security protection. Projects for biometric education and pension have been carried out in recent years. Typically in 2012, South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) issued debit cards with biometric functionally to authenticate beneficiaries for social grants to fight fraud and misappropriation of funds. Also, biometric systems for tracking students were installed in thousands of schools in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya not only to prevent identity fraud but also reduce child trafficking which also a serious social problem in Africa.

On the other hand, finance is one of the emerging sectors boosting the biometric growth in Africa. First, in early of 2014, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bankers’ Committee have officially launched the first biometric banking system. This enabled the customers of all Nigerian banks to identify themselves at ATMs or at the checkout using their fingerprint. It therefore makes a significant contribution in guarding against the misuse in financial sector and preventing money laundering and fraud by means of identity theft and fake identities. Later 2014, Nigeria rolled out a national project to issue an electronic identity card which combines electronic payment with biometric authentication. Millions of Nigerians without bank accounts now gain access to financial services. This is considered to be the milestone in Nigeria finance industry which “break down one of the most significant barriers to financial inclusion – proof of identity”, said MasterCard’s Daniel Monehin.

Besides, there are many other biometric projects which are ongoing throughout the continent in border control and healthcare such as: biometric registration for HIV/AIDs patients (Kenya, 2014), biometric passport system (Uganda and Gambia 2014), biometric visa (South Africa 2014), etc. This has proved that there is a huge untapped market for biometrics in this territory. As 6Wresearch stated in its recent report, the share of African region is expected to increase on account of increasing IT security spending, government investments in which South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria would be the major contribution. Although, fingerprint is dominant in overall but this is also the chance for other biometric technologies to penetrate into this lucrative market.