The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Verification and Legibility in Somaliland's National Identity Card Scheme

In early Autumn 2014, twenty-three years after a council of elders and soldiers had declared independence in the wake of a bitter and bloody civil war, the unrecognised state of Somaliland began an ambitious programme to register and document all adults over the age of fifteen. Termed 'civil registration', this was in fact a programme to produce national ID cards using biometric identifiers. Although the registration began almost on time, the Ministry of Interior has faced criticism for insisting on the priority of the national ID card over the biometric ID card being produced by the National Electoral Commission for the June 2015 parliamentary and presidential elections. Opposition parties, civil society and international observers have added to this debate over sequencing by expressing concern that voter registration will be seriously delayed, impeding the holding of timely elections. Obscured by these election concerns is the politicisation of institutionalised identification in Somaliland, in which the authority to make legible Somaliland's citizens is claimed by different agents, including clan leaders. In this paper, I explore the rationale for the national identity card, placing it within the narratives of statehood, nationhood and capacity that have been variously used to justify and explain the project. I argue that the ID carries a burden of state-making, which has brought the government into tension with the international community and the opposition parties over the relative importance of civil and voter registration, leading to overt nationalistic policies when it came to the development and implementation of the card. I further consider how the scheme works in concert with ‘traditional identification’, and draw some conclusions about the success, or rather ambiguity, of this hybridity.

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity