Sierra Leone putting digital ID at the center of its digital transformation agenda

By Ayang Macdonald

The West African nation of Sierra Leone is at full throttle with its digital transformation efforts, and its MOSIP-based foundational identity system is the nucleus of this undertaking, according to an official with the country’s ID authority.

The Deputy Director of ICT at the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA), Moses T.F. Vibbie, in an interview with Biometric Update on the sideline of the MOSIP Connect event which took place last month in Addis Ababa, explains that the strong political will of the country’s Head of State, Julius Maada Bio, and the dedication of the NCRA’s Director General, Mohamed Mubashir Massaquoi, are the other driving forces behind the initiative. Massaquoi is also an ID4Africa Ambassador.

“Foundational digital ID managed by the NCRA is at the centre of Sierra Leone’s digital transformation agenda. The National ID Card or NIN is mandatory for accessing services in Sierra Leone as enshrined in the National Civil Registration Act of 2016 (NCR Act 2016),” says Vibbie.

So far, he says digital ID has been instrumental in the country’s ongoing digital government efforts as almost all government services have been digitized and linked to the digital ID.

“According to the parliament of Sierra Leone’s ratification and directives, the NIN is linked to all government and key private sector services including SIM card registration, education, government payroll, employment in public and private sectors, insurance, financial inclusion and services, vehicle registration and driver’s license, health care, pension and social security, properties and land registration and more,” he outlines. It is required for passports, work and residence permits.

Sierra Leone started to implement a modern ID system in 2016/2017, and later signed a Memorandum of Understanding with MOSIP to establish an open-source ID system that will respond to the specific needs of the country and enable citizens have access to a number of important public and even private sector services.

Successful MOSIP pilot

“NCRA Sierra Leone, which is responsible for civil registration and ID services, first piloted the MOSIP Platform as a test case in order to understand the modules, features, functionality and level of customization and localization of MOSIP and to ascertain if it can work for us or meet our use case in Sierra Leone. The pilot was completed in February, 2024, and we are okay with the outcome,” the official discloses.

Explaining why Sierra Leone opted for the MOSIP-based digital ID, Vibbie remarks: “Sierra Leone is a strong believer in open-source and Digital Public Goods (DPGs), and a founding and board member of Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA).”

“We are switching to a MOSIP platform because it’s an open source (DPG), has no vendor lock-in, no license fees, we can customize it to our requirement, and it’s flexible, as compared to its commercial and closed-source counterparts.”

Enrollment for the digital ID has been ongoing in the country with over 90 percent of the population already registered, according to Vibbie. He says the government has underscored the fact that the digital ID is mandatory for all citizens to ensure effective service delivery, and for legal residents in the country to easily access services.

New deadline to obtain ID cards

As part of measures to encourage more digital ID adoption, the NCRA set a deadline of March 31, 2024, for all citizens and legal residents to acquire the new digital ID card as part of the push to expand adoption, Vibbie told Biometric Update. However, in a public notice issued on March 28, a new deadline has been set for June 28, with authorities saying the move is to allow more time for people to go for the ID as part of their fundamental right.

“The director general of NCRA, Mohamed Mubashir Massaquoi, who is also an Ambassador for ID4Africa, is a determined and committed man working fervently to advance CRVS and ID Services in Sierra Leone, in line with the strong political will from the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Julius Maada Bio,” Vibbie acknowledges.

“He is strongly committed to see that Sierra Leone works with the MOSIP team to implement a MOSIP-based ID in the country. We may start with few modules and transition gradually since we already have an ID system in place. That’s in fact the beauty of MOSIP because it is modular, so we can implement modules that are of interest to us at a given time.”

In addition to the strong technical leadership and political will propelling the national digital ID project, the Vibbie cites other factors including legal and institutional reforms, public awareness and sensitization campaigns as well as other collaborative efforts aimed at popularising civil registration and vital statistics and identity services. As the implementation of the project advances, the deputy ICT director at the NRCA says the agency is open to more support and partnerships for the digital ID and digital transformation drive.

Over the last couple of months, the NCRA has been urging citizens to acquire the digital IDs not only to facilitate access to services, but also to ensure their personal security.

Sierra Leone delegation lauds MOSIP Connect

Vibbie, who was among a delegation of representatives from Sierra Leone at the MOSIP Connect 2024 in Addis Ababa, admits it was an interesting event from which they learnt so much.

“I learnt a lot from there. We had experience sharing with other countries, and learning from those that have implemented MOSIP. It was also an opportunity to better understand current trends in Digital ID using Digital Public Goods (DPGs) and Digital Public Infrastructure, and the drive towards digital ID and verifiable credentials.”

“There was a lot to learn about identity verification and authentication, networking with other identity stakeholders including government, the private sector and donor partners/NGOs. The presentations and panel discussions, as well as the solution corner where different companies, service providers and partners showcased their Identity solutions, products and services, were other important points of attraction for the event.”

Sierra Leone’s CRVS and identity system is integrated and managed by the NCRA, in line with the resolution of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registrations, as well as the recommendation of UN on CRVS Systems.

Source: Biometric Update

Ayang Macdonald is a freelance journalist based in Yaounde, Cameroon. He boasts 10 years of professional experience in journalism in which he has a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Buea in South western Cameroon. He is a versatile reporter with interest in ICTs, innovation, digital entrepreneurship, defense and military, politics, economy, health and environment, humanitarian issues and sports.

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