Georges Eyenga

Georges Eyenga's picture

Main profile

Email Address:
Georges Macaire Eyenga holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Paris Nanterre. His research focuses on technoscapes in Africa, based on case studies of telesurveillance, drones and biometrics. He is currently working on the digitisation of voting registers and on how the Leave No Voter Behind principle is monitored on a daily basis in Cameroon. He is the author of several scientific articles.
  • What is your professional and education background? How did you get interested in policy and research at the intersection of population registers, ethics and human rights?

My name is Georges Eyenga and I did my education at the University of Yaoundé II where I obtained a Master’s degree in Political Science in 2014. In 2015, thanks to the Erasmus Mundus scholarship, I went to France where I did an M.A in Public Law at the University of Rouen and a PhD in Sociology at the University Paris Nanterre. My Ph.D focused on the function of prison in the management of the state in Cameroon and led me to observe the issue from a human rights perspective. After my PhD in 2020, I taught political science at the University of Dschang in Cameroon. In 2021, I started postdoctoral research at Wits University, in South Africa on African technoscapes and their effects on spatial transformations and governance regimes. I was interested in the introduction of drone into the supply chain of the healthcare system in Ghana. I show how drones reconfigure space and nourish imaginaries of better healthcare. This research also led me to produce studies on CCTV in cities and biometric identification. The latest was the beginning of my interest in population registers and their implications for human rights and ethics, and led me to become an IUSSP Fellow in 2023.

  • Through the IUSSP Fellowship on Population registers, ethics and human rights, you are undertaking an individual research project while resident at WiSER and ISER. Can you give us some background on that research project and explain how the fellowship is helping you to advance your project?

My participation in the IUSSP programme is an opportunity to pursue my reflections on population registers and what digital technologies such as biometrics do to registration practices. The research I am carrying out in this programme aims to capture the transformations of voting registers in Cameroon under the effect of biometric technologies, paying attention to the implications in terms of human rights and ethics. More concretely, my study focuses on the work of the experts, namely the technology provider  and the technocrats of the electoral management body, in producing a more inclusive and less discriminatory voting register. The funding of this programme allows me to access a vast literature on population registers worldwide, to conduct fieldwork to collect empirical data, to participate in scientific meetings at the national and international level to cross-check my field intuitions with a larger epistemic community. This programme also allows me to meet other researchers who, like me, are working on these issues in Brazil, South Africa, Uganda, Europe, and the USA. 

  • You are already 2+ months into the fellowship. How’s it going? What are you learning from your mentors and fellowship cohort colleagues? 

I started this program in February 2023. Since, many things have been accomplished. We had a workshop, from 11 to 19 February, to do an initial framing and potential results to be expected. We have regular meetings to share our ideas, compare our approaches and exchanges to enrich our research. I learn a lot during these working sessions about what others are doing, about the available and little-known literature on population registers. There is a interdisciplinary group that enriches the way we look at our research. The research carried out by my colleagues indirectly feeds into the questions that I ask myself. I benefit from the exchanges with the mentors who have a significant experience on these issues and who always try to whet our appetite by encouraging us to ask interesting questions on population registers and the issue of human rights and ethics. The most interesting thing is the possibility of crossing the research experiences of colleagues, their different fields and the debates that arise differently according to the disciplines. The mentors, who have equally varied profiles (academics and practitioners), also help us to understand current issues around population registers and principles such as "Leave No One Behind".

  • Has there been anything unexpected that has come up during your fellowship to-date (e.g. an interesting area of the field that you are getting exposed to during a chance seminar or conversation, or some new insights from interactions from researchers at WiSER or consultations with South African civil society groups and researchers)? 

There are some surprises I would like to share about my research in this programme. The first is my discovery of the universality of identification problems. In the past, I thought that identification problems concerned a well-defined category of individuals in poor countries of the South where the State is sometimes non-existent. However, my research reveals the extent of the phenomenon and the existence of global programmes dealing with this problem. I discovered that the problems of identification vary according to societies and contexts. The other surprising fact is the awareness of the sometimes counterproductive character of registration projects by means of digital technologies, as shown by the biometry. I thought that digitisation was a solution always beneficial for individuals. The exchanges allowed me to understand that sometimes, the digitalisation of a registration can go against the interests of certain populations. Finally, the other surprise was the discovery of the existence of an important and global market around population registration with a plurality of multinational companies offering technological solutions for identification and registration projects.  This points to the importance of the subject and the need to engage in critical discussions about the whole issue of population registers.

  • What are you hoping to achieve by the end of this 1-year fellowship? Are there specific research outputs that you will produce through this fellowship? Can you brief us on your expected research outputs and where you see your work fitting into the broader research and praxis at the intersection of population registers, ethics and human rights?

My research aims to produce original analyses, anchored with empirical data, in the form of reflective essays, scientific papers and podcasts to understand the socio-political and international context of biometric voting register reform in Cameroon; to understand the work that scientists (technology providers), EMB (Electoral Management Body) practitioners and related groups (civil society, NGOs, associations, etc.) are doing to enable everyone to be a voter; to understand that digital voting registers can be more inclusive and less discriminatory, but that they can also, through the standardisation (automation) of registration, work against the needs of individuals by depriving them of the opportunity to become potential voters; to answer more critical questions such as: why, in 2023, more than 60 years after independence, Cameroon is still building a reliable voter register; to understand the challenges that lead to the creation of a sustainable voter register anchored in stable democratic institutions.

  • Would you like to share a Interesting and indeed funny fact about yourself or your time so far as an IUSSP Population Ethics, Human Rights Fellow?

I would like to share with you an amusing but significant fact for research on population registration practices. In Cameroon, Elections Cameroon (EMB) officials told me the story of an old man with whom they had to negotiate for several minutes before he finally agreed to be photographed.  Indeed, before this negotiation, the agents were surprised to see that after the photo was taken, the image of the old man did not appear on their screen.  Instead, they saw a black background, which suggested that there had been a problem with the photo. After several attempts, they realised that the old man was using magic so that his image would not be captured in the biometric kits. Once the negotiation was over, the old man agreed to be photographed and this time his image appeared normally. Whether real or imagined, this story shows that registration is an experience of negotiation between these agents and people. Agreeing to negotiate is what is done in the process of developing the voting record. Whether it is this kind of old man or the citizen who believes that the election is already played out, my research promises to be very interesting.