Millions of Africans face exclusion from the digital economy due to a lack of basic IDs or street addresses. Mobile and voice biometrics technology are set to make authentication as mobile as today’s users are.

Stakeholders across the African continent are preparing to leapfrog the first three industrial revolutions and move directly to an Industrie 4.0 era, where data, things and people engage in a myriad of new ways across a fully digitised global ecosystem. But participating in this exciting new environment demands that participants can be authenticated and identified simply, and with 100% accuracy.

In many countries across Africa, attempts to mitigate fraud risk and assure accurate user authentication have depended on producing photographic ID and proof of residence. Across digital platforms, these measures have extended to include PIN codes and passwords. Unfortunately, none of these authentication measures are foolproof, and in the African context, many of them simply serve to exclude millions from the digital economy.

Proof of Identity in Africa

According to the World Bank Group Identification for Development (ID4D) an estimated 1.1 billion people in the world are unable to prove their identity. Across Africa, where rates of failure to register birth or loss of identity due to unrest are high, this means millions may have no formal identity documents. In addition, a lack of formal street address systems across vast areas of the continent means hundreds of millions of people may not be able to produce proof of residence as an authentication measure. According to the African Union, only 22% of people in Africa receive mail at home. In a continent populated by a rapidly-growing youth sector, with a massive urban migration underway, IDs and proof of residence do not adequately meet authentication needs.

Mobile as the Trusted Source

Fortunately, mobile technologies present the promise of digital economy access to Africa’s people with mobile penetration rapidly increasing across the continent. The mobile device, now making its way into the hands of a rapidly-digitising populace, offers numerous opportunities to authenticate and connect users to financial services, trade, business development, education and public services.

Mobile users across Africa can now be authenticated using a combination of technologies, including fingerprint  scans, iris scans and biometric voice identification off a single device, allowing customers even in remote areas to transact and engage in the digital economy – quickly, securely  and at lower cost than ever before. Voice biometrics, extracting multiple levels of data from a voice and speech patterns, is now a highly accurate authentication tool which can allow for advanced digital authentication of users – even if they only have access to a feature phone. Harnessing technologies such as voice biometrics as part of a broad spectrum of multi-factor authentication technologies, is critical for the provision of secure authentication services. For Africa, in particular, is also essential that ubiquitous technologies such as USSD are incorporated into multi-factor authentication to enable service provision to all users, regardless of data connection. This will enable service providers and the public sector to give credence to the voice of Africa, using the unique characteristics of every individual’s voice to authenticate and empower people across the continent.