Smith Oduro-Marfo and Rebecca Yemo share the key findings from Africa Digital Rights’ Hub’s report on Ghana’s Identity Ecosystem

About a year ago, the Africa Digital Rights’ Hub LBG (ADRH) embarked on a project to assess Ghana’s Identity Ecosystem.

The project was funded through Caribou Digital by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Commonwealth Digital ID Initiative. The Ghana Identity Ecosystem Report was therefore recently published and launched by ADRH as part of the project.

The Report sought to identify and map out the key identity credentials; their issuers; as well as all other stakeholders within the ecosystem and their relationships with each other.

The report also assessed how the ID systems in Ghana shape access to public and private goods, as well as participation in the national economy.

The project culminated in two critical and freely available resources — an analysis report and an interactive map.

The key findings in the report have been summarized below:

  1. Identity (ID) Card Glut

The Report observed the phenomenon of an ID card glut in Ghana and the negative impact this has had on the ID ecosystem. This was attributable to the many years in which various government agencies needed to develop their own ID systems.

These government-issued IDs are mostly biometric (e.g. Ghanacard, Voters ID, Drivers License, Passport, National Health Insurance Card, SSNIT Card, etc.), and are usually required to access the services provided by the respective agencies.

The Report highlighted some of the negative impacts as follows:

  • High cost to the government in the development of all the ID systems.
  • Duplication of ID systems (especially the biometric IDs) increasing risks associated with the authenticity and quality of the information held; security; identity theft; and privacy violations.
  • High enrolment costs for citizens. It was observed that it can take anywhere between 8 hours to 3 months to obtain such IDs, with citizens having to sometimes commute long distances to acquire the IDs.
  • ID enrolment fatigue.
  • Skepticism about the benefits of the IDs.

2. Challenges on access to birth certificates in non-urban areas

The Report found that while the birth certificate is a key foundational credential required in accessing other IDs in Ghana, access to birth certificates in non-urban areas is difficult in spite of the various interventions.

This tends to affect the ease with which certain persons (especially the poor) could access key IDs such as national IDs, voter IDs, health insurance cards, passports, etc. Thereby also affecting access to key goods and services such as education, health, banking, and communications.

This, therefore, means that the poor – who usually live in the non-urban centres – find it difficult to access goods and services that may be critical to their life and health.

Additionally, access to ID cards is often frustrated by corruption, institutional delays, extortive actors, and high transactional costs.

3. The negative effect of partisan politics on the ID ecosystem

The Report also finds that political parties have been very useful voices in opposing the excesses of government ID projects. However, their approaches have often been highly partisan, leading to political interference in the implementation of ID systems and high costs, financial loss, and delays.

The Report observed that every political opponent that assumes power after elections in the past decade has made some radical interventions that affected technology, human resource management, contractors, laws, and policies which had a negative impact on effective change management and institutional memory.

These undermine the autonomy and resilience of the ID institutions and in turn, public trust in them.  

4. The limited role of civil society in the development of the ecosystem

The Report also observed that while civil society organizations (CSOs) have played a key role in the development and growth of Ghana’s ID Ecosystem, their interventions have been ad-hoc and limited to corruption, access, and voting rights.

This is attributable to the absence of an ID-focused civil society. This leads to minimal interventions on emerging challenges, such as non-compliance with data protection, surveillance, threats to privacy rights, and the marginalization of certain groups.

For example, while the girls and women interviewed as part of the project presented very unique concerns about access to IDs including sexism, socio-cultural values, among others, these concerns have hardly been elevated by the CSO’s discourse in Ghana.  

The Report also made various recommendations to governmental actors, international development actors, and CSOs. These include:

  • Building Stronger Institutional Synergies:
    The building of stronger institutional synergies between the various ID-issuing agencies to maximize the use of limited resources, increase access, and protect personal information.

    For instance, a synchronization of the Birth and Death Registry and the National Identification Authority may help in saving costs for the government, and also reducing the inconvenience faced by citizens with regard to enrolment and renewal of multiple ID systems.
  • Adoption of Mobile Strategies to facilitate Birth Registration:
    The need for the government of Ghana to adopt and broaden the mobile birth registration (M-birth) to expand access to birth certificates to as many Ghanaians as possible.

    The M-birth is a project that is designed to provide birth registration services via mobile phones which is currently being implemented by the Birth and Death Registry of Ghana in collaboration with UNICEF.
  • Need for CSOs to improve their Technical Capabilities:
    The need for CSOs in Ghana to invest in the appropriate resources and alliances to improve their technical abilities in critically interrogating ID systems and their implications for surveillance, privacy, function creep, and marginalization.

The Report recognized the critical role IDs play in ensuring a free, fair, just, peaceful, and equitable society.

While the challenges identified put Ghana outside the ideal, it makes a clarion call on the relevant stakeholders to put in the necessary interventions that will get Ghana there.