A joint exploration on bridging Namibian Communities with Digital Legal Identity

Yrika Maritz, Head of Experimentation

April 30, 2024

Lydia !Gontes lives at the outskirts of Namibia’s capital, Windhoek in an informal settlement known to many as Groot Aub in Namibia. Despite her happy disposition and warmth, Lydia faces a huge obstacle and does not qualify to receive a number of essential social services: she lacks a crucial piece of identification - an Identity card.

For Lydia and countless others like her, the absence of a legal identity document serves as a barrier to unlocking a world of opportunities. Without proof of her existence in the eyes of the law, Lydia finds herself excluded from accessing vital services such as healthcare, education, grants and banking.

Groot Aub is an informal settlement brimming with untapped potential but faces its fair share of challenges. Here, the UNDP Namibia's Accelerator Lab embarked on a transformative journey, collaborating closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety, and Security (MHAISS) to pioneer a groundbreaking initiative: the integration of digital legal identity into everyday life.

Looking for entry points to make a difference on the most underserved communities in 2021, the Accelerator Lab found a pressing need to address the lack of legal identity documentation among the residents of Groot Aub. Many found themselves on the margins of society, unable to access essential services or fully participate in socio-economic opportunities due to the absence of recognised identification.

Teaming up with the MHAISS, who was already working on delivering “services closer to the people” and exploring digitalisation as a means of streamlining their services, the Lab offered to support the Ministry by conducting an assessment of existing systems and ICT infrastructure, laying the groundwork for a series of pioneering solutions. The assessment provided invaluable insights into the challenges the Ministry faced but equally identified opportunities for innovation in the realm of digital legal identity and systems integration.

Simultaneously, the Lab forged partnerships with local stakeholders, including the Office of the Khomas Regional Constituency Councillor and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, to leverage the Rural Community ICT Centres as hubs for community empowerment. This collaborative effort aimed not only to bridge the gap in legal identity documentation but also to empower residents by providing access to essential services and fostering a sense of belonging.

The culmination of these efforts saw the Lab sourcing funds from its Legal Identity Office to procure, deploy and test a portable and mobile device designed for the digital management of remote citizen registration and identity documents. This innovative solution enabled the seamless capture of personal and biometric data, including fingerprints and facial images which addressed the accuracy requirements and compliance with international standards.

The success of the pilot initiative in Groot Aub paved the way for broader collaboration and implementation, with the MHAISS scaling up the registration campaign to remote areas across Namibia. The initiative showcased how technology and collaboration might demonstrate the transformative potential of digital legal identity in unlocking opportunities and empowering marginalized communities.

Part 2 of this blog delves into Namibia's groundbreaking role as the first country in the world to implement the UNDP’s Model Governance framework on Digital Legal Identity, paving the way for a more inclusive and empowered future.