The African nation of Ghana is going digital in a big way – starting off with the launch of a smart national identification card and a digital postal address system.
“You don’t have to have six different IDs – you can have all of that on one platform,” says Kwaku Kyei Ofori, Deputy Director General of the National Information Technology Agency (NITA). Citizens will be able to use just this one card when using government digital services, he tells GovInsider.
NITA wants to leap forwards by getting a better grip on citizens’ data; doing more on digital identity; and connecting up the nation to make the most of technology. GovInsider caught up with Ofori to find out more.
The Ghana Card
The new national identification card, called the Ghana Card, will be issued to citizens later this month, and will be the primary identification for all government services, he says. With it, Ghanaians may apply for a bank account, passport, and driver’s license, for instance.
It has features such as “tactile elements for the blind, chip-embedding technology and iris capabilities, in addition to taking all ten fingerprints of an applicant”, President Nana Akufo-Addo was quoted by Modern Ghana as saying.
The launch of the ID scheme is part of a broader objective of the newly-elected President to establish a “credible” national database, which will “modernise and formalise the Ghanaian economy”.
The post goes digital
As part of the ID registration process, citizens will also be required to submit their digital addresses. However, Ghana doesn’t have a functioning post code system, so they are using new technology to get this up to speed.
It is worth noting that there has been some criticism of the GhanaPostGPS app, which was launched last month. An IT expert deemed GhanaPostGPS “poorly designed”, and critics have also pointed out the app’s similarity to existing services that are free of charge, such as SnooCODE. SnooCODEs are alphanumeric codes that work like a UK postcode or US zip code.
National tech priorities
The third pillar of Ofori’s work is building up connectivity – starting off with essential infrastructure, such as undersea and fibre optic cables, both of which the government are working to increase, he says.
There are also plans to launch a pilot to equip public buses with Wifi. While the pilot has yet to kick off, Ofori says that it will be “rolled out to a full project if the pilot goes well”.
Furthermore, the government is moving its internal communications onto a unified platform, he shares. “Connectivity is key,” he believes. “Without that, we cannot get any other conversations going.”
“Connectivity is key. Without that, we cannot get any other conversations going.”
Only with connectivity will Ghana be able to “bridge the digital divide, and also help reduce poverty and boost education in rural parts”, Ofori continues. NITA is working with key agencies such as the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications to bring the internet to the country’s rural areas, he explains.
Ghana has still a long way to go to achieve its ambitions to digitise its public service. In the 2016 United Nations’ E-Government Rankings, Ghana was ranked 120th out of 193 countries. While this represents notable progress – in 2012, Ghana ranked 145th, and in 2014, jumped a dozen places to 123rd – the country is still lagging behind some of its neighbours. Amongst the 54 countries on the African continent, Ghana comes out 11th, behind South Africa (3rd).
The country has clear ambitions to propel itself into the 21st century, but it will require a serious coordinated effort for Ghanaians to see change.