Noel K. Tshiani is the founder of Congo Business Network, which works with startups, corporations, and government institutions in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the goal of contributing to economic development. The organization put together a delegation made up of startups and government representatives to participate in the Africa Fintech Summit last week in Washington DC.
Digital identity is a key enabler of financial inclusion and economic development. It can help to verify the identity of individuals, making it easier for them to access banking services, government benefits, and other digital services without having to visit a physical location. The digital revolution has brought numerous benefits to Africa, including access to internet services and online shopping. But the adoption and use of digital identity in Africa have been slow, hindering progress towards fully embracing the digital economy. The factors hindering this progress include:
1. High cost
The cost of implementing and maintaining a digital identity system can be high, especially for governments and small businesses. Developing the system, collecting and storing data, and providing access to users can raise significant costs. Financial difficulties can be a major barrier for governments and businesses that are already struggling to pay other monthly expenses.
2. Lack of awareness and digital literacy
Many people in Africa are not aware of the benefits of digital identity or how to use it and as such do not demand digital identity systems from their governments or businesses. And without demand, there is no pressure on governments and businesses to invest in digital systems and eschew paper-based documentation such as voter registration cards. Furthermore, many Africans lack the technical skills required to use digital identity tools effectively. As such, education and training programs are needed to ensure that people are equipped with the skills they need to properly utilise these tools.
3. Privacy concerns
Some people are concerned about the privacy implications of digital identity. Due to the worry that their personal information could be used for identity theft or other crimes, they are hesitant to share their personal details online. There is also a lack of trust in governments and private entities to protect personal information adequately. Addressing these concerns will require robust data protection legislation, as well as transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure that personal information is stored and used appropriately.
4. Technology challenges
Some areas in Africa have limited access to electricity and the internet, making it difficult to implement and use digital identity systems, which usually require a reliable power supply and an internet connection.
Despite these challenges, there is a growing need for the adoption of digital identity in Africa. Addressing these challenges will require collaboration between governments, the private sector, and the general public to develop a comprehensive strategy that promotes the benefits of digital identity while protecting individual rights and privacy.
Growing the banking industry and advancing financial inclusion in Africa require these obstacles to be addressed as a priority because digital identity will become increasingly important for banks to provide the best possible service to their customers. By providing a secure and reliable way to verify the identity of customers, digital identity can help banks to reduce fraud, increase customer satisfaction, and expand their reach to new markets.
In conclusion, while digital identity has the potential to transform the way people in Africa access services and participate in the digital economy, several challenges must be addressed to ensure widespread adoption. High costs, low levels of digital literacy, and privacy concerns are all significant obstacles that must be overcome.