Digital Identity in Zimbabwe: Case study conducted as part of a ten-country exploration of socio-digital ID systems in parts of Africa
Source: Research ICT Africa and the Centre for Internet and Society
Ngwenya, N. (2021). Digital Identity in Zimbabwe: Case study conducted as part of a ten-country exploration of socio-digital ID systems in parts of Africa (Towards the Evaluation of Digital ID Ecosystems in Africa: Findings from Ten Countries) [Case study]. Research ICT Africa (RIA).
Countries are moving to adopt digital ID systems to help address the exclusion of their citizens under the traditional analogue registration frameworks as well as ensure access to basic services, including healthcare, education, social welfare and voting.
As this has progressed, challenges around full registration of citizens have persisted while new risks and threats to citizens’ rights have emerged. This is more prevalent in some African countries, including Zimbabwe, whose digital ID programme is still at an introductory stage and only partially implemented.
Aside from the foundational ID framework, which many Zimbabweans have experienced, there is little information available on digital ID systems in the country. The few times that the topic has been publicly mentioned, it has been in the context of the government announcing sectoral and functional systems, such as registration of civil servants or updating the voters’ roll. Even then, there is insufficient public awareness of the systems, let alone transparency around data collection, purpose, usage, storage and destruction.
This paper derives from research and analysis of the state of digital IDs in Zimbabwe and examines how the programme complies with principles and standards relating to data protection and the promotion of human rights. As there is no overarching law governing digital IDs in Zimbabwe, this case study used the Centre for Internet and Society’s Evaluation Framework to test the extent to which the country’s proposed Cyber Security and Data Protection Law complies with human rights principles on digital IDs. If enacted, this law will guide the storage and processing of data including digital IDs.
The research shows that the country’s legislative framework is weak and largely fails the three-tier checks, namely rule of law tests, rights-based tests and risk-based tests. The paper then makes recommendations on how the situation could be improved, starting with ensuring mass and inclusive registration of all Zimbabweans, and progressing to enactment of an overarching law anchored on human rights principles to guide the governance of digital IDs.