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Nationality Protocol and legal digital identities in Africa

In April 2013, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which reports to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU), adopted a resolution which reaffirmed the right to a nationality as implied within Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which states that ‘Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status’. Following the publication of a comparative study on the Right to Nationality in Africa a year later, in 2015 this process culminated in a Draft Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa. Once the Protocol is approved by the Commission, the process, as explained by Bronwen Manby, ‘would move to the level of state experts, ministers and finally adoption by the AU Assembly before it would be open for signature and ratification by member states’.

As part of this operation, the African Union organised a meeting earlier this month of the Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Migration, Refugees and Internationally Displaced persons. STCs are policy organs of the African Union and in that capacity prepare projects and programmes of the Union and supervise the implementation of decisions taken by its organs. We want to highlight two of the three subjects that were on the agenda:

  • (a) Draft Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa;

  • (b) The Adopted Guideline for the Specification, Design and Production of the African Passport as well as the Features of the Passport;

  • (c) The Financial Implication for the Implementation of the African Humanitarian Agency.

The Draft Nationality Protocol was on the agenda inter alia because ‘arbitrary denial of access to citizenship has become one of the major factors that have led to conflicts and impaired economic and social development in Africa and a threat to the achievement of the 2063 Agenda of the African Union’. It adoption, therefore, is expected to ‘regulate the major problems existing in Africa with regard to nationalities and statelessness’.

The second theme discussed during the meeting, namely the development of an African passport, was a direct follow up to the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment that was adopted in January of this year. As stated in Article 10 of this Protocol:

  1. States Parties shall adopt a travel document called “African Passport” and shall work closely with the Commission to facilitate the processes towards the issuance of this Passport to their citizens;

  2. The Commission shall provide technical support to Member States to enable them to produce and issue the African Passport to their citizens;

  3. The African Passport shall be based on international, continental and national policy provisions and standards and on a continental design and specifications.

A related but different development concerns the African Civil Registration and Vital Statistics System. We have previously seen that a considerable part of the world’s population currently does not have access to identity documents or even lack a legal identity, and the UN Statistics Division has shown that many deficiencies in the African civil registration system can be found. In Africa, 500 million people have no official ID, which is half of the global total. This month the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the Omidyar Network, established by Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar, have announced a partnership to establish legal digital identities in Africa. Creating a continent-wide ID platform for Africa is said to be not only vital for the small and medium sized enterprises which constitute 80% of African enterprises, but digital ID is also an important enabler for access to social and political services as well as financial and economic inclusion.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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