There is a growing recognition of the importance of identification for sustainable development. Due to a number of powerful factors related to security, development and new technology, many countries in Africa have been introducing new ID programs or upgrading existing ones to increase their capabilities. Conventional ID systems are rapidly giving way to digital ID or e-ID systems, even in poor countries. Almost all of the new systems and upgraded ones involve the use of digital databases, data analysis and transfer, and digital biometric technology. In other words, by using new ID systems, African governments can strengthen state capacity and reduce corruption and waste by making programs and subsidies more effective and transparent. Specifically, in 2014, Nigeria produced and delivered Smart ID cards with multiple innovative applications to enhance security and public services in the country. They accommodate a total of 14 apps including EMV compliant payment functionality, biometrics with MOC (match on card), secure signature, an e-ID application which can even be used as a travel document to certain countries. Few months later, Kenya is the next country to launch new digital ID in February 2015, which aimed to reduce crimes such as human trafficking. This new ID cards connected to mobile phones as well as national database containing data on people, land, assets and establishments.
Some of the largest biometrics applications in the developing world have been in elections. At least 25 low-to-middle income countries have incorporated, or are planning to use biometric technology into their electoral processes. A few countries have issued biometric voter ID cards as part of their registration exercises; this can have positive developmental effects beyond the election, particularly in countries with no formal national ID. In Benin and the DRC, for example, cards issued as part of biometric registration were the first official IDs for many individuals, which they were able to use for wider purposes.
However, many countries have failed spectacularly when they try to apply fingerprint-based election program. The reasons for failure often involve logistics, time constraints and the use of sub-standard technology. Moreover, the lack of proper infrastructure is another concern, like the lack of reliable electricity access – in Kenya, for example, many of the classrooms used as polling stations lacked electricity, and laptops deployed as part of the biometric kits ran out of battery power just an hour after polling began. Another big issue with biometric voter registration and authentication in Africa is “Dirty hand” issue (Mungai, 2015). The fact of the matter is that biometric fingerprint readers will always work best with clean hands. However, a large proportion of the Nigerian population has dirty hands from working the gardens or cooking over a charcoal or firewood stove. Their hands can be dirty or oily when they reach the polling stations and this can create problems for the biometric authentication process. For this reason, as a large number of fingerprint readers may fall in the problems of biometric authentication, alternative technologies may need to consider for regions such as Nigeria.
There are promising possibilities that these systems can upgraded to another kind of biometric which can resolve the limitations of fingerprint scanner. For example, IriTech, Inc. has applied successfully iris biometric education in Kenya, which aimed to provide an accurate attendance tracking for all students in classes (roll-call) or school buses (getting on/off tracking). In other words, this kind of success will be a stepping-stone for the expansion of applying iris recognition in Africa in the future.