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Sierra Leone News: MRU calls for harmonious biometric ID cards

The Mano River Union (MRU) organized a two-day conference on the way forward towards harmonizing the four countries economy through security, peace, and biometric ID cards, with the UNDP. The Mano River Union an intergovernmental organization established on October 3, 1973, by a declaration signed by the President of Sierra Leone and Liberia. It was expanded by the accession of the Republics of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire on 25th October 1980 and 15th May 2008, respectively. Its mandate is to pursue the revival, growth, socio-economic development and integration of the sub-region through a framework of four pillars: institutional revitalization and restructuring; peace and security; economic development and regional integration and social development. Ambassador Medina Wesseh said the MRU is striving to create a single market so all four countries benefit. She said the development of agriculture and the management of natural resources and the environment is another core value of MRU as the four countries look to increase trade among themselves. On the biometric ID cards, Wesseh said developed and developing countries are implementing national biometric identity databases and all four countries in the MRU too are doing the same. But, she said, the form of identification that recognizes and analyzes an individual, based on their physical and behavioral traits, e.g fingerprints, eye retina and iris scanning, voice recognition, facial patterns, and body movement, must be applied in the MRU. “Biometric cards also include a non-visible chip containing information or biometric data of the card’s holder, e.g name and surname, sex, place of birth, address, size, eye color, fingerprints, and photograph. Some African countries have implemented a number of successful ID programs, making use of digital technologies to reform the delivery of social grants, manage government payrolls and facilitate access to credit.” The MRU region is one of West Africa’s most mobile regions, with intra-regional migration representing a large part of its cross-border movement. This movement has widely been recognized as key to the region’s economic growth and stability. “To address this need, MRU in collaboration with its Member States will seek to develop and introduce an MRU National Biometric Identity Card that will serve as a travel document within the region, in place of a national passport or the ECOWAS Travel Certificate.” Wesseh said robust biometric ID can facilitate free movement of persons across MRU numerous borders without compromising security, and can help monitor disease outbreaks (as in the case of Ebola); facilitate cross-border emergency responses by aggregating and sharing patient level data (e.g., cause of death) across communities and borders, as well as, improving border control and electoral management. Madam Wesseh averred that the ECOWAS Commission is taking the lead to introduce the biometric ID card system for its member states, and the process remains slow with numerous challenges. “MRU has the comparative advantage in terms of its geographical and demographic specificity, with Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali formally adopted biometric card by their population. No member of the Mano River Union uses it. The overall objective is to use the MRU region as a pilot to harmonize the national biometric ID cards of the member states into an MRU biometric national ID cards.” She said the specific objectives are to conduct a sensitization campaign on the introduction of the MRU biometric national ID cards; design the features of the MRU biometric national ID cards consistent with the ECOWAS; harmonize the civil status databases of the Member States; and to implement the MRU biometric national identity card.

AT/12/3/19

Wednesday March 13, 2019.

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