Changing Verifiable Identity Across Africa: A Sociotechnical and Political Economy Mapping of Initiatives for Digital Public Infrastructure

Monday, 31 July, 2023 - 16:00

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There is a rising politics advocating for initiatives providing financial resources to upgrade digital identity systems under the rubric of digital public infrastructure (DPI). The DPI rubric advocates for three core elements -- identity verification, payments, and personal data exchange -- and often use the Indian national identity system as a model. Assessing the DPI rubric in the African context from the sociotechnical perspective and the perspective of political economy, this paper identifies three levels of organisational fields in identity systems in the provision of publicly verifiable identity. Employing these conceptual tools, a comparative survey of existing identity systems across a number of African states then identifies four different ideal-type variations on the configuration of these fields of public identity provision. Applying an industrial policy/competition policy perspective, this paper welcomes potential investment in digital public infrastructure across Africa but also calls for further research into the dynamics of competition (including infrastructural lock-in) in providing publicly verifiable identity across Africa as well as the appropriate balance of cooperation and competition and the regulatory opportunity structure in these three constitutive fields.

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