With a mission to issue a unique identifier that will serve as a primary proof of identity, the Ethiopian National ID Program plans to issue a digital ID to any people residing in Ethiopia, including foreigners.
A bill drafted to govern the implementation of the digital ID system will establish a system that guarantees the rights of every resident Ethiopians to register and receive digital identification services.
With an ambition to issue 70 million digital IDs in less than four years, the national ID program, which reports to the Office of the Prime Minister, plans to issue IDs to 100,000 people by June 2022. This figure is expected to reach 10 million by the end of 2023, according to the plan.
The bill, however, does not make having a digital ID mandatory for anyone living in Ethiopia.
According to Yodahe Areayaselassie, executive director of the program, who gave explanations to stakeholders in the financial sector at the East African Finance Summit this week; the bill comes with a catch.
“We don’t plan to make it universally mandatory. The proclamation says it’s up to you. However, service providers and regulators such as the national bank can enforce it for their particular sector. You must have the ID in order to obtain a specific service,” said Yodahe.
The bill states “Any private or governmental institute may require possession of the Ethiopian Digital Identity as a precondition to providing services to the customer.”
It also requires the possession of a digital identity in order to receive any service based on biometric identity verification.
With this plan, foreigners will need IDs to access various services in the country and to confirm their identity. “Nonetheless, having the digital ID does not necessarily mean foreigners will enjoy the services and privileges that come with citizenship,” Yodahe asserted.
The draft proclamation did not specify the period of residency or any other preconditions, for a foreigner to acquire the digital ID. Related issues will be addressed by a specific regulation that will come after the Digital Identity Proclamation is ratified, Gelila Atinafu, National ID program coordinator, told The Reporter.
“It is going to be inclusive. Anyone residing in Ethiopia can get a digital ID,” added Gelila.
The long-awaited implementation of a national digital ID, which has been in the works in various forms for more than ten years, aims to increase trust between government and private-sector service providers and consumers.
People who obtain the digital ID must provide basic information such as their name, birth date, sex, and address. The most important and obligated requirement, however, is a biometric data, which includes fingerprints, iris patterns, and a facial photo.
The program’s goal in collecting this data is to promote fairness among residents by easily identifying and preventing problems of exclusion, as well as to reduce resource wastage when policies and strategies are being developed.
One goal of the digital ID is to ensure national security by reducing crime-related risks.
“Once you register, the identity given to you will be the one you will use to access various services throughout your lifetime,” Gelila said.
To meet its goal of issuing 70 million digital IDs by 2025, the program does not intend to open branches across the country. It has already established partnerships with Ethio Telecom, the Ministry of Education, Industrial Parks Development Corporation, and a number of commercial banks.
The national ID program is the only coordinator tasking banks and other entities with sufficient infrastructure for registrations and gathering of biometric data.