Kathy Gibson is at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town – The digital identity agenda will help to foster better inclusivity across Africa.

Nineta Diop, founder and president of Femmes Africa Solidarite, points out that refugees are an ongoing problem that could be eased through proper identity.

She points out that many refugees haven’t got any identity documents and this means they are unable to access any services, or to travel, among many other issues.

“You don’t exist without an identity. I think a digital identity could help us.”

She adds that the issue of land ownership or tenure could also be eased through a digital process that links title with identity.

The solution lies in public-private partnerships, Diop adds.

One country that is well ahead of the curve in implementing digital ID among other digital services is Rwanda.

When Rwanda started rolling out biometric identity documents for citizens over the age of 16, it decided it had to also include minors as well as non-citizens.

“We also decided we needed to have a smart ID,” explains Paula Ingabire, minister of communication technology and Innovation in Rwanda.

This means citizens can use a single card for multiple purposes, and the government is now thinking about setting up a digital platform for Rwanda.

“Even as we think about our own ID system, we need to think about cross-border travel.”

These are among the underlying standards and frameworks that need to be put in place, and which are now being negotiated.

Ingabire adds that the digital ID will become a platform for enabling  digital market for Africa.

“We are working together with multinational organisations to put in place a co-ordinated strategy to make sure that our systems are inter-operable with other services across the continent.”

Rwanda has about 97 government services online. Importantly, many of these services are available on USSD so citizens don’t have to have a smartphone, but can use the tools they have at their disposal.

“This is also an opportunity to create jobs,” Ingabire says. “We are putting together 4 000 agencies across the country so citizens don’t have to travel far to get to a government office.”

In the past, it would take four or five trips to a government office to access a service. Government aims to cut this down to one trip at most – and preferably no trip.

“You need to be able to apply for a government service and receive it without having to leave home,” Ingabire says. “In other instances, you could do it with one trip, where you are notified where and when your certificate or service can be picked up.”

Beyond simply identification, the ID number is used to authenticate citizens when they request a service.

In addition, it is important that all systems are integrated so the onus is not on citizens to provide government-issued certificates in order to access government services.

“We also need to think about automating backend systems so that citizens can access services easily.”

When there is so much information flow between citizens and government, and between government agencies, it is critical to ensure they are safeguarded.

“We build a lot of infrastructure for secure identities,” says Margaret Franco, senior vice-president: marketing at Dell EMEA.

The success of systems like this relies on four pillars, she adds.

This starts with educating end users about the benefits of secure ID; setting up public-private partnerships; country collaboration to facilitate the movement of people; and a secure infrastructure that starts with a certified supply for products that are intrinsically secure.

“Once you have all these elements you have a system that will work well together,” Franco says.