IGF 2021 Open Forum #27 AU Interoperability Framework for Digital ID: Challenges, Opportunities and way forward

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (09:45 UTC) - Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (10:45 UTC)
Ballroom B

Economic and social inclusion and sustainable development: What is the relationship between digital policy and development and the established international frameworks for social and economic inclusion set out in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on the Rights of the Child, and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? How do policy makers and other stakeholders effectively connect these global instruments and interpretations to national contexts?
Inclusion, rights and stakeholder roles and responsibilities: What are/should be the responsibilities of governments, businesses, the technical community, civil society, the academic and research sector and community-based actors with regard to digital inclusion and respect for human rights, and what is needed for them to fulfil these in an efficient and effective manner?

Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min


The creation of digital identity systems has kept many institutions busy over the last decade. Striking a balance between privacy, functionality and usability has proven challenging in some cases. With various different identity systems in place in African countries, all at different levels of development, the AU has created a framework that aims to enable trust and interoperability between different digital ID systems on the continent. The advantages and challenges of establishing frameworks on a continental level, while different national systems are already in place, will be discussed during this Open Forum.

Online participants will be able to post questions in the chat, which will be introduced to the discussion by the on-site moderator. Two rounds of Q&A will be conducted during the OF. In the beginning, participants will be encouraged to post questions in the chat and up vote questions of other participants. When the Q&A starts, online questions will be taken first, followed by offline questions. An equal ratio between questions raised by offline and online participants is desired.

  • Moses Bayingana, Acting Director of Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission, Government, Africa
  • Johannes Wander, Policy Advisor, GIZ DataCipation, Technical Community, Europe
  • Mihret Woodmatas, African Union Commission, Government, Africa
  • Toby Norman, CEO, Simprints, Private Sector, Europe
  • Robert Karanja, director, Responsible Technology, Omidyar Network, Africa
  • Jonathan Marskell, Senior Program Officer at World Bank ID4D, Asia-Pacific
  • Gabriella Razzano, Executive Director, OpenUp, Technical Community, Africa


  • Teki Akuetteh, Founder & Executive Director, Africa Digital Rights’ Hub, Civil Society, Africa 
Onsite Moderator

Teki Akuetteh

Online Moderator

Mahlet Tesfahun


Anri van der Spuy



Targets: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

With a significant number of Africans lacking legal identity, ensuring that Africans gain access to digital ID is critical for not only ensuring Africa’s active participation in digital economies. As more African governments work on creating new or upgrading existing digital ID ecosystems, putting in place normative frameworks to ensure that these ecosystems are inclusive, human rights respecting, and interoperable is of critical importance.

Like other challenges in the Internet governance space, digital IDs pose both opportunities and risks. This includes the risk of exclusion from critical services. Having adequate protection mechanisms in place, including data governance frameworks that are appropriate for the contextual realities on the continent, is important for ensuring that Africans can meaningfully participate in global digital societies and economies.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

The AUC’s draft interoperability framework for digital identity is a critical step in the right direction for ensuring that African governments reach normative agreement over what and how enabling, inclusive and transformative digital identity ecosystems should look like. With digital identity being central to digital economies, all stakeholders should become more actively engaged in the design and development of these ecosystems.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Open Forum #27 AU Interoperability Framework for Digital ID: Challenges, Opportunities and way forward

Wednesday, 8 December 2021 (10:45-11:45 CET)

Moderator: Teki Akuetteh Falconer

Online Moderator: Mahlet Tesfahun

Panellists: Mihret Woodmatas, Jonathan Marskell, Toby Norman, Gabriella Razzano, Robert Karanja
Rapporteur: Anri van der Spuy

The session not only provided an opportunity for the African Union Commission (AUC) to share recent developments pertaining to its Digital Transformation Strategy in general and its Interoperability Framework for Digital ID in particular, but it enabled various stakeholders to engage with the opportunities and risks of digital identities in global South contexts. 

Featuring panellists from a diversity of stakeholder groups, including civil society (OpenUp and Africa Digital Rights' Hub), NGOs (SimPrints), aid agencies (the Omidyar Network), intergovernmental organizations (World Bank) (stakeholder categories loosely defined), the session explored the importance of digital IDs for both the development of more inclusive digital economies and for enabling more people to participate actively in societies.

With a significant proportion of African citizens lacking legal identities, the session’s panellists emphasized the importance of ensuring that all Africans gain access to digital ID in order to ensure the continent’s meaningful, equitable and active participation in global digital economies. Panellists noted that digital forms of identification can help to bridge identity gaps as long as relevant safeguards and policy frameworks are put in place to mitigate the risks that accompany the digitisation of identity mechanisms and ecosystems. This is especially important for potentially marginalised communities like women, refugees, migrant, and people living in rural and remote areas.

What would the ‘right’ digital ID infrastructure for Africa look like, i.e. one that responds and corresponds to the unique needs of Africans? In response to this guiding question from the moderator, Teki Akuetteh Falconer, a representative from the African Union Commission, Mihret Woodmatas, shared updates relevant to the implementation of the AUC’s Digital Transformation Strategy and its goals to drive innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth through innovation and digitalisation. To help address poverty, reduce inequality, and facilitate the delivery of goods and services, the DTS emphasises importance of digital ID as a cross-cutting theme. It notes that digital ID is a key mechanism for implementing the SDGs (especially SDG16.9, which calls for legal id for all) and the AUC’s Agenda 2063: The Africa we want. For this reason, Mrs. Woodmatas noted, the AUC recently put together a multistakeholder taskforce in order to develop a policy framework for digital identity. The framework not only builds upon existing efforts and policy guidelines, but also supports the draft data governance framework, which is currently being considered by the AUC and was also discussed in a separate session at the IGF (see Open forum #18).

Other panellists noted that with growing digitisation (including expanding broadband penetration) on the continent, many African governments are currently working on creating new or upgrading existing digital ID ecosystems. This, some panellists argued, is an invaluable opportunity for digital ID to support gender equality, social protection delivery, financial inclusion, safer migration, and even Covid-19 (or other) vaccine delivery. 

Given this growing appetite for digital ID in Africa, panellists agreed that putting in place normative frameworks such as the one being developed by the AUC is important in order to ensure that digital ID ecosystems are inclusive, human rights respecting, and interoperable. Ensuring that these ecosystems meets these basic norms might sometimes be difficult, panellists noted, given that African countries have to contend with tricky colonial histories relevant to identification ecosystems, vastly different contexts, limited resources, and institutions that sometimes lack the capacity or will to invest in better ways of digitising identities.

Other risks highlighted by audience members, online participants, and panellists include not only the risk of exclusion from critical services (e.g., aid or benefit support), but also the risk of being included without adequate representation or protection from unlawful state, social or private sector surveillance. One panellist pointed out that the growing reliance on biometrics for both foundational and functional (digital) identity also introduces new risks. When the Taliban recently took control of Afghanistan, he warned, biometric data collected for humanitarian purposes came under the control of a terrorist organisation and can now be misused to identify dissidents or other at-risk communities. 
While a number of technical developments and innovations might be promising for ensuring the privacy and safety by design of digital id ecosystems, adequate normative and policy frameworks – including relevant data governance frameworks – are crucially important for addressing the risks and maximising the benefits that can accompany digital identities on the continent.

To conclude, panellists, online participants and audience members generally agreed that the AUC’s draft interoperability framework for digital identity is a critical step in the right direction for ensuring that African governments reach normative agreement over what and how enabling, inclusive and transformative digital identity ecosystems for the continent should look like. As the AUC and other multilateral organisations continue to work on the frameworks, other stakeholders (including civil society) should encourage the we implementation of policies that are aligned with the principles of “good” ID.