For the first time in living memory, nations across the world have imposed strict travel restrictions to minimize the damage caused by COVID-19. Many countries have decided to pre-emptively close their borders and halt the spread and transmission of the virus.
The current health crisis and the closure of borders remind us of the importance and origin of biometric technologies and African governments’ core ICT infrastructure when, only a few years ago, basic information systems were non-existent. Tracing the presence of foreign nationals within a particular country would have simply not been possible.
As little as 20 to 30 years ago, many African nations had little to no ICT infrastructure embedded into government operations. Technologies that did exist elsewhere in the world, such as biometric fingerprints or facial recognition software, were not effective in the African market and required significant modification.
Today, the use of ICT systems holds significant promise in areas of governance, reducing the likelihood of corruption while increasing government transparency and accountability across the board. Of note, biometric technologies and e-Government services have gained considerable ground in Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa, amongst others, as these governments have chosen to prioritise the implementation of key technologies.
“I have been able to witness first-hand the benefits of aiding governments in their implementation of ICT technologies as an integral part of their operations. Even in challenging markets, we have proved that it is possible to deliver high-tech solutions, such as one of the world’s most affordable biometric passports using bespoke technology in Niger,” says Managing Director of Contec Global, Roheen Berry.
“Pioneering the application of technology in African markets involves significant adaptation. As an example, the finger-print technology used in the United Kingdom would not be applicable in countries like the Central African Republic. Fingerprints are impacted by factors such as the impact of manual labour and, as we have learnt at Contec Global, technology must be designed to suit local markets.”
ICT services are effective tools capable of advancing and accelerating a nation’s socio-economic growth while shedding light on their potential competitive advantages. Proper ICT infrastructure enables the success of e-Government projects.
“Now more than ever, governments are being forced to consider the extent of data available on foreign nationals entering African countries. Such data is currently afforded by the United States and its ICT capabilities. It has become essential for African governments to provide themselves with the same comprehensive infrastructure,” continues Berry.
“ICT services are effective tools capable of advancing and speeding a nation’s socio-economic growth while shedding light on their potential competitive advantages. That is why the proper ICT infrastructure enables the success of e-Government projects.”
While some African governments do not have the capabilities or funds to provide themselves with secure technologies, the desire to innovate alongside the private sector is key. The success of shared infrastructure, therefore, comes as the result of a public-private cooperation business model.
“In South Africa, biometric technologies have served a great purpose for citizen services. The South African Department of Home Affairs works alongside the NEC, a telecommunications supplier based in South Africa, to implement the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), for passport registration, election registration, and pension payment verification purposes, amongst others, in an effort to prove the identity of citizens more effectively,” Berry adds.
“As a result, the rapid spread of ICT services across the continent has enabled economies to leapfrog stages of economic development, as technological innovation has the power to address infrastructural issues that many governments are currently facing.”
Yet, it is vital the private sector continues to work hand in hand with governments. Such partnerships aim to prepare both the public and private sector in tackling the challenges posed by our current information society, notably cybersecurity threats. Cooperation can help bridge potential information gaps, on both sides.
“The desire to innovate is key when developing systems that are to become integral in day to day government operations. As shown by projects across the continent, technological innovation has the power to transform African lives while contributing to the creation of efficient systems of governance,” concludes Berry.