WASHINGTON — For more than three decades, Somalia’s digital identity system remained stagnant, untouched by the major technological changes sweeping the globe. That standstill is now coming to an end, says Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre.
In a historic move, Barre convened a two-day conference in Mogadishu on Saturday, marking the official return of civil registration and the issuance of national ID cards.
“Today marks a great day for Somalia as we finally lay the foundations of a reliable and all-inclusive national identification system that is recognized worldwide,” Barre said.
After the official inauguration of the system Saturday by the prime minister in Mogadishu, the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was in the city of Dhusamareb commanding the fight against al-Shabab militants in central Somalia, received his national identification card.
“The ID card issuance was started by the president and the PM and it is part of a rollout in the country, which every Somali citizen is eligible to acquire,” a government statement said.
“It is a significant milestone in Somalia’s state-building journey. The national ID rollout is set to enhance security and address crucial national issues,” Mohamud said as he received his card.
Digital identity systems, often referred to as eID, are the bedrock of Somalia’s new digital services. The government says they empower citizens to exercise their liberties and businesses to operate efficiently.
“Through this system, the government reaffirms its endeavor to ensure that Somali citizens enjoy equal rights with regard to the participation of all national commitments,” Barre said.
Barre cited the need to combat security threats, terrorism and identity fraud as compelling reasons to introduce a national ID.
“This system will boost our businesses and economy, our banks, communication and Hawala money transfer systems. It will strictly deal with terror networks and the fight against extremism,” Barre said.
In a video message to the conference from the front line in central Somalia, Somalia’s minister of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation, Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, reiterated the importance of a reliable national ID for the government’s fight against al-Shabab militants.
“A national identification system is a powerful tool in our fight against extremism, providing a sense of belonging and identity to our citizens,” Fiqi said. “National ID is not only a piece of plastic, but it represents access to essential services like health care, education, elections and economic opportunities to the Somali people.”
In March, Somalia’s upper house passed the National Identification and Registration Authority Bill, which enables every Somali citizen to legally register their identity and gain access to the government and private services to which they are entitled.
Somali government officials, businessmen, members of civil society and international partners were among participants in the conference in Mogadishu.
Speakers at the conference included United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia Catriona Laing and the World Bank country manager, Kristina Svensson.
Those who spoke at the conference expressed optimism that the national ID will help in the fight against the al-Shabab terror group.
The story of Somalia’s digital identity resurgence finds its roots in the turbulent year 1991, when the national citizen registry collapsed. National unrest, instability, disorder and economic turmoil led to the downfall of government leadership and the disintegration of the registration system.