How Trust Frameworks are Helping to Implement Digital ID Ecosystems Across the Continent of Africa
16 December 2020
In this second article examining trust frameworks, Rebecca Leitch looks at how they are paving the way for crucial economic progress and inclusion across African nations
As we saw in part one, trust frameworks enable public and private sectors to work together to build better digital identity systems.
In Africa, one of the biggest incentives for using trust frameworks is to build interoperable digital systems that will enable economic development.
COVID-19 has exposed a lack of infrastructure in some regions, but also provided a much-needed stimulus and opportunity to accelerate the adoption of online technologies.
Many governments across the continent are now pushing for digital infrastructure which will help them to communicate with the hardest-to-reach people, in the hardest-to-reach areas, improve the spread of crucial information, as well as strengthen trading links and increase economic growth.
Africa's population is set to increase from 1.3 billion now to 2.5 billion in 2050, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was set up to ensure the economy grows too in order to cope, while the Digital Economy Initiative for Africa (DE4A), adopted by the African Union in February 2020, aims to ensure that every individual, business, and government in Africa will be digitally enabled by 2030.
Ensuring in-country, as well as cross-country trade, in which organizations and end users are able to make and receive a payment or track their goods all over the continent, will therefore be essential.
One step towards achieving this will be through the Pan African Trust Framework - a common, trusted, and shared approach to verifying identities. Fafunwa explains the important role this will play in the design of inclusive digital systems in future:
An ID in itself is not beneficial however - it is what it gives you access to. If governments are not providing adequate access to services or benefits, having an ID is not going to be seen as essential.
So how are citizens supposed to put their trust in a system when trust across the board is at an all-time low?
Jessica Figueras, a tech strategist specializing in government and regulation, explains how instilling trust in digital identity for citizens ultimately depends on individual governments:
The fact that many organizations on the African continent have signed up for strong governance frameworks, which are independent in terms of the ID issuing authority, and which cover the principles of good ID, are all steps in the right direction and a lot to feel positive about.
Given governments have such a crucial role when it comes to instilling trust and encouraging mass adoption of digital ID systems, can trust frameworks help governments to step up to the plate and play by the rules?
The Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030) aims to support the development of a Digital Single Market (DSM), which is the key driver for the Smart Africa Alliance - an alliance of African Heads of State and Government set up to accelerate sustainable socioeconomic development on the continent. Since it was formed in 2014, it has grown to include 31 African countries that represent 750+ million people.
Lacina Koné, CEO at Smart Africa, explains how its framework is helping to bring together all African countries in a shared vision based on trust:
But achieving an inclusive, trusted digital ID system - which verifies everyone is who they say they are - won’t be possible until everyone can first prove they are who they say they are.
One long-standing problem is the difference between what it means to be a citizen and what it means to be a human.
Having an ID as a unique individual who can access the services needed in order to live is at the heart of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals objective, ‘Leaving No One Behind’ :
Although trust frameworks go a long way to facilitate collaboration, and help improve inclusion and economic development through interoperability, they are not a silver bullet when it comes to an individual human’s rights, because once you move away from starting with a foundational digital identification, you are at risk of building an exclusive system, as Fafunwa argues:
This is why - Fafunwa contends - the work of Smart Africa, the ECA and its partner organizations, as well as the World Economic Forum, is so important.
As Koné concludes: "Smart Africa is aiming to address the issues of exclusion by putting the concept of Levels of Assurance (LoAs) at its core. LoAs define the ability to determine, with some level of certainty or assurance, that a claim to a particular attribute made by a person, or entity, can be trusted.
"In this context, a legal identity is not always necessary, and in many cases, awareness of characteristics of a person are more important than knowing their ‘true’ identity. This is particularly relevant in social programs that can be lifesaving. SATA’s mission is therefore to be context-aware and needs-based, reducing friction where possible whilst remaining risk conscious."
As we have seen in these two articles, being context-aware, needs-based, reducing friction where possible, and remaining risk conscious are ultimately what trust frameworks are designed to do.
As long as putting the individual human needs first remains the bottom line for all trust frameworks - and when it comes to building digital ID systems, trust continues to runs through their center - then let us be hopeful that it is only a matter of time before we see that inclusion becomes their pinnacle.