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What Digital Technology Systems Are Procured by African Governments?

By Guest Writer on October 14, 2021

digital identity data

What does the public know about transparency and safeguards in the procurement and deployment of Digital Technology Systems in Africa, including biometric identification, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition technologies. That was the overall question posed by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre, which then created a whole series of follow-on questions:

  • What digital technologies are being procured by governments?
  • For what purposes and the circumstances that trigger their procurement?
  • What processes which these procurements follow?
  • Which laws relate to procurement and use of digital technologies?
  • What are the different perceptions of public and civil society on procurement of digital technologies?
  • Where are safeguards to privacy, security, inclusion and individual control in the procurement and use of digital technologies?

Sunlight in Digital Technology Systems uses an exploratory research design combining a scoping review of grey and published literature with key informant interviews and a survey in Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected for triangulation from varied secondary and primary sources. Each of the three countries developed their draft reports which have been synthesized in this report.

Public Knowledge of Government Procurement

Based on three digital technology systems, namely biometric, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition technologies, the survey explored people’s knowledge of government procurement of these technologies.

Overall, only 38% of survey participants were knowledgeable about government purchase of at least one of the three technologies. Majority of those who were knowledgeable were from Nigeria (80%). In contrast, majority of Ugandans (70%) and Liberians (88%) did not know if their governments had procured any or all of the said Digital Technology Systems.

Over half the sample (56%) were knowledgeable about government purchase of biometric (56%) and facial recognition technologies (52%), compared to only 8% for artificial intelligence technologies.

In Liberia, study participants scarcely know about government purchase of facial recognition and artificial intelligence technologies. More Nigerians were knowledgeable about their government’s procurement of facial recognition (75%) and biometric technologies (73%) than Ugandans (20%) and Liberians (54%).

Artificial intelligence was the least known of the three technologies perhaps because of its nature i.e., less visible than facial recognition technologies which are on the streets, in offices and banks, or biometric technologies that are used during electioneering.

Purpose of Procuring Digital Technology Systems

Digital technologies are procured to serve different purposes in different Government
Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) of the countries studied. The Digital Technology Systems are helping their respective MDAs to deliver their statutory service delivery mandates. Some procured Digital Technology Systems in some MDAs may be used to support other purposes, especially security related, other than the core purposes they were procured.

The main Digital Technology Systems Uganda has invested in are biometric machines, including Biometric Voter Verification Kit, CCTV cameras. Nigeria has also invested in biometrics and facial recognition systems for use in registration for citizens’ NINs as well as voter registration.

In Liberia, government agencies that have acquired Digital Technology Systems have mainly purchased biometric readers and Facial Recognition technologies to support in the management of elections. The Liberia National Police in 2016 procured and installed CCTV cameras in 2016, which were later disconnected under the leadership of the new Inspector General of Police.

Who is Procuring Digital Technology Systems?

In all the three countries, different government MDAs were procuring Digital Technology Systems. However, MDAs in the security sector and those whose functions depend on having accurate information about citizens (for instance, Electoral Commissions) procured Digital Technology Systems more than others.

Fewer MDAs in Liberia procured and deployed DTS than in Nigeria and Uganda. These include the National Identification Registry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liberia Immigration Service, Liberia National Police, and the National Election Commission. The main institutions responsible for managing/deploying Digital Technology Systems in Uganda include the Uganda Police Force (40%), National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) (38%), the Electoral Commission (EC) (33%), Ministry of Science and Technology (26%), and Ministry of Internal Affairs (25%).

The above technologies are procured from different countries, mainly outside Africa. For example, government of Uganda procured CCTV surveillance systems from Huawei, a Chinese company, while FinFisher was procured from Gamma International Limited in the UK. NIRA’s biometric system was procured from Mühlbauer GmbH in Germany.

Sources of Funding for Digital Technology Systems

The primary sources of funding for Digital Technology Systems procurement across the three countries are the national budgets (annual tax revenue). In some of the agencies that Digital Technology Systems constituted over 75% of the total cost, while donors contributed only 25%. The government financed the purchase of hardware while donors raised funds for software.

Procurement Processes and Methods

The procurement of digital technologies in the three countries is part of the overall architecture of procurement of all public works, services and supplies. The architecture of public procurement in the three countries is very complex, with various institutional layers, laws, policies and regulations for checks and balances, and actors.

Public procurement in Uganda is governed by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority. In Nigeria, every MDA follows the procurement process as stated in the Procurement Act of 2007. Whatever the MDA plans/ intends to procure must be included in the annual budget at the beginning of the year.

Safeguards to Privacy and Security

On institutional mechanisms to protect individual data, the three countries have established, or are in the process of establishing institutions for protecting data collected through Digital Technology Systems.

In Uganda, the government created the National Information Technology Authority-Uganda (NITA-U) to oversee government digital platforms and set IT standards. Among others things, NITA-U is expected to offer guidance to agencies to develop institutional data protection mechanisms.

In Nigeria, government promotes acquisition and registration of National Identification Numbers (NIN) and is process creation of a central database linking the NIN with all data collected by government agencies and the private sector such as the sim cards, international passports, and Bank Verification Numbers (BVN). Furthermore, the National Assembly is reviewing the Data Protection Bill, which will create the Office of the Independent Data Protection Commissioner.

Sanctions for data misuse were embedded in various laws and policies as reported by participants from Nigeria, Uganda and Liberia. However, participants from Nigeria and Liberia emphasized sanctions other than those from Uganda and Liberia.

In Nigeria, laws have sanctions that strengthen proper use of data. Hence, although ostensibly procured to ensure efficient service delivery, promote safety, security, citizenship and democracy, evidence suggests that Digital Technology Systems are sometimes deployed against the grain of these ideals when they are used by security agencies to crack down on opposition politicians, especially in Uganda.

Interviews with participants from civil society organizations in Uganda raised concerns on abuse or misuse of Digital Technology Systems, particularly CCTV cameras and the FinFisher spyware. They argue that these technology platforms were acquired primarily to enable state surveillance of opposition figures in order to silence dissenting voices.

Procurement Transparency

It is also not clear whether, and to what extent Digital Technology Systems are supported by prevailing legal and policy frameworks without specific laws governing the procurement and deployment of Digital Technology Systems.

Laws on Procurement and Use

There are no special laws to guide the procurement of Digital Technology Systems in all the countries. Less than one per cent of the value of contracts for Digital Technology Systems is disclosed, increasing the risk for corruption and inefficiency in the tendering and procurement across the three countries. With a lack of disclosure, it is difficult for data users in the public, private and voluntary sectors to meaningfully contribute to the improvement of performance and governance of procurements.

Four Recommendations

1. Data protection laws and policies in respective countries should be enacted and strictly enforced to protect citizens from unwarranted manipulation for commercial and political advertising.

2. Data holding public and private agencies should publish annual transparency reports regarding the release to third parties data collected using DTSs.Governments should also strengthen existing laws to ensure proper usage and protection of individual data that are collected through DTS. In line with this, the public should be sanitized on such laws so that in case of abuse they are able to seek justice.

3. Data holding public and private agencies should publish annual transparency reports regarding the release to third parties data collected using DTSs.

4. Civil society organisations should take interest and monitor the regulation and compliance of data holders the protection of personal information and privacy.

A lighted edited synopsis of Sunlight in Digital Technology Systems: Report on Procurement and Deployment of DTS in Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre

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One Comment to “What Digital Technology Systems Are Procured by African Governments?”

  1. Maurice Sayinzoga says:

    Thanks for sharing this great summary and research piece! We did observe related points around general public procurement laws and how they apply to digital technology acquisition here: https://digitalimpactalliance.org/research/public-procurement-of-digital-technology-leadership-series-brief-3/ and the necessary resources needed to guide the acquisition of digital technology for public service delivery here: https://procurement-digitalimpactalliance.org/