For the development of citizens and their countries


From Civil Registry to e-Population Registry: different pathways towards smart population registration in Africa

Jean-Paul Alaterre, Gloria Mathenge, Alenka Prvinšek Persoglio

THE OBJECTIVE of this paper is primarily to share the knowledge on needs and possible positive models of registration of population for the merits of both: the population itself and the State. Some good State practice will be presented as a possible model that Interact4c advocates and stands for.


APAI CRVS1 is a well-known brand among African countries and international organizations. Since the first ministerial conference on CRVS in Addis Ababa in 2010, only seven years ago, the continental drive towards well-functioning civil registration systems has continued to be steered with speed and impetus of incredible dimensions.

CRVS systems are recognized by the three lead Pan African institutions2, as being the foundational pillars for the realization of the continental vision “Agenda 20633”In this regard it is worthy to recall one of the conclusions in the 2011 World Development Indicators Report4 ; which acknowledged that the lack of civil registration systems in developing countries is one of the pivotal yet missing pillars, needed to eradicate inequality and enable people to have effective access to the fundamental services of their States. Civil registration is primarily about access to some fundamental civic, social and economic rights, which include health and education, as well as political participation with no discrimination. The estimation in the said report, that only 2% of the overall population in Africa enjoys a full scale personal identity-from birth onward, with all respective changes of civil status to their death – is an important caution to all accountable public institutions and policy makers-domestic, as well as international.

In 2010, one could not have anticipated that the need to build sustainable systems of capacities for registration of civil status of overall population throughout the whole African continent would be echoed among other global challenges, and underlined as one of the development priorities, as laid down in the Sustainable Development Goals report in September 2015.

The SDG 16.9: with stipulation of “legal identity by 2030 for every person, including birth registration” is a clear message for immediate commencement of actions, which will contribute to the expected aim.

The above mentioned goal should be interpreted along with the goal 17 .18: “by 2020, capacity-building support to developing countries including for least-developed countries and Small Island Developing States should be enhanced, to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely, and reliable data disaggregated by income gender, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, geographic location, and other characteristics relevant in national context.”

These objectives are a challenge “par excellence” for many of the countries, which need to build the capacities from zero, in particular in the light of relatively poor availability of vital and other demographic statistics. .

The introduction of new systems of registration of population at national level with support of digital technologies will pave the way towards the goal: that each and every person count. A good system of civil registry, including all necessary knowledge and skills of state institutions is a sine qua non for any further step in this domain.


According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division5, in 1900, the estimated size of global population was 1,65 billioni , with Africa alone contributing 133 million. Population estimates as at 2015 showed the size of global population for October 2015 to amount to 7.3 billion, with Africa’s population reaching 1,2 billion (see projected populations in table below). It is far beyond the objective of this contribution to analyze the figures, which is the mandate of many international organizations, and moreover of the States. However, the figures are indicative enough to conclude that the time to build sustainable systems of population identification which will primarily serve to better the life of the citizens in 21st century, is now.

Projected population growth (2015-2100)*


(in million)















Source: World population prospects, UN economic &social affairs, rev 2015

*The population size is expected to continue increasing across the years. Africa is expected to double its current population in 3 decades

The enormous changes in population sizes across the world and more specifically in Africa call for very refined policy and structural approaches in the way governments manage their populations; of particular importance is the need to ensure that development is inclusive i.e. that every member of such large populations is known and his/ her needs well catered for, hence “leaving no one behind”. The challenges associated with migration, such as cross border crime and terrorism further underline the need to ensure that every individual is well identified and known to their governments. The 2015 UN International Migration Report estimates the number of international migrants at 244 million, from 222 in 2010 and 173 in 2000. This means that all regions of the world will continue to experience immense cross-border movements, which should be underpinned by secure documents and systems of identification.

On one hand accelerated economic growth and development, and on another diseases, possible conflicts and other unpredictable circumstances call for the tools which will support prosperity as well as security for all of a given country. It is imperative for democratic societies to consider establishing robust population files and reliable national Identity management systems, which will also enable production of high quality statistics to support sectorial policies.

In this context, it is meaningful to add, that the role of population registers, and civil registration systems in meeting these development needs has been acknowledged by the global society including by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Independent Expert and Advisory Group on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Statistical Commission as well as by the recently concluded United Nations World Data Forum on Sustainable Development Data held in Cape Town in January 2017. For the SDGs, the UN World Data Forum clearly reiterated the need for strong statistical systems in the measurement of development. In this regard many internationally acknowledged experts underlined the importance of well-developed population registration systems as fundamental sources of good quality statistics.

In spite of missing capacity in many of the States, it goes without saying that new technologies will play a huge role in shaping systems of registration of population. Technology is already a fundamental benchmark as to how well these systems are performing, and provides a critical basis for establishment and integration of systems of governance, that founded on a robust civil registration and population register.


The essence of data and statistics cannot be over emphasized, particularly in the present era of the sustainable development goals.

It has been documented in the past that “what doesn’t get measured cannot be controlled”. The sustainable development agenda provides a generous of list development priorities that the world must pay attention to, ranging from global challenges in climate change, political instability and war, poverty and hunger, morbidity and premature mortality, among others. While the nature and scale of these challenges are numerous and some in some cases unfathomable, all are anchored on the basic need to first be quantified (understand how big the challenge is) and secondly to be monitored.

The 2015 millennium development agenda (the MDGs), provided numerous lessons for Africa6, particularly with regards to the state of national statistical systems and the ability to derive accurate, timely and robust data to measure and monitor development progress. Among the most fundamental lessons derived from the MDGs is the profound value of disaggregated administrative data (primarily birth, death and cause of death data), which has in many cases not featured within the routine data release schedule of most national statistical offices.

While there was commendable progress in the uptake of the 2010 round of census and demographic and health surveys in most African countries, the limitations of these collections as routine sources of population data that can allow for annual monitoring of the goals of the agenda was unveiled during the MDG era. Censuses, surveys and similar periodic collections serve a crucial role in providing demographic and social statistics estimates, which are useful in highlighting the potential scale of a problem. However, it is important to note that these estimates cannot substitute for real data. Estimates cannot be reliably applied to monitor changes over time (between collection periods), and where applied pose a real risk to policy and decisions derived thereof. Administrative collections of birth and death as undertaken by civil registration systems remain the most sure way to derive accurate, and real time fertility and mortality measures for a population.

Civil registration systems are recognized by the United Nations7 as being the most reliable sources of birth, death and cause of death statistics. Core attributes of the system are their continuous, permanent and universal nature, which makes it possible to derive data and related statistics for all the population and on a continuous (including day to day) basis. The systems are also cost effective sources of population data as they do not require heavy operational investments, as is the case with most periodic collections. It should be noted that 26 of the 169 8 targets of the SDGs rely on birth and death data for their measurement, while close to all goals of the agenda rely on a population base denominator, which can be reliably provided by these systems. While embarking on the sustainable development era, civil registration systems, and consequently-population registers, continue to stand out as one of the most worthwhile and timely investments for the African continent.


This section discusses selected elements, which are viewed by experts at Interact4c as crucial to the establishment of a well-functioning civil registration and population registration systems. The information presented here is not in any way exhaustive in guiding country actions in this regard, but is rather indicative of good practices that would yield better outcomes.

Many of experts who have worked on development of any capacity would agree that the best methodology to achieve the objective of the project is transfer of knowledge. In an era of open data society, with broad access to Internet, one might quickly discover the knowledge needed. However, in a practical sense, it takes a long way to build in-country capacity that can reliably run an effective civil and/or population registration system. Some of the very basic yet fundamental knowledge/ skills that civil registration functionaries including the managerial staff need are outlined below:

  • Firstly, it is necessary to have broad experience from the real life in managing the public, as service recipients; dealing with real cases on day-to-day practice; in urban and rural environments, understanding and knowing how to cope with societal traditions surrounding births and deaths and their impacts on registration and needs of the state to register events and acquire data;

  • Secondly, it is crucial to have the knowledge to articulate needs and gaps of the system and to properly assess the size of the challenge. Including Institutional, legislative and technical frameworks

  • Thirdly, having a national institution for training at the level of the Government, as well as appropriate curriculum for Academia in civil registration and identification matters would serve as an important foundation for ensuring that all relevant knowledge and skills are maintained and not dissolved by possible staff turnover.

  • Fourthly, it is necessary that the management is knowledgeable and able to articulate the solutions/ improvement-needs and present them at the highest level of the State

The Interact4c experts agree, that every step towards building up the new system, calls for an interdisciplinary approach: excellent expertise on specifics of the environment, understanding local traditions, knowledge of public administration organization, knowledge of the overall legislative framework including the constitution, civil law code, family law, citizenship, and data protection legislation among others. It is also necessary to understand the role, functions and needs of other relevant institutions that are potential users of the system’s data and records. Infrastructural needs, especially technical-IT expertise, and software as well as hardware requirements must also be looked into. Other fundamental requirements include (i) Political will, with involvement at the highest level of the State; (ii) Financial resources, (iii) Realistic work plan (s) and (iv)Training of national experts with responsibilities in all core functions, including national experts on statistics.

Some of the lessons learnt in other countries, which went through similar challenges in the past, demonstrate that:

  1. In spite of modest financial means, huge improvements can be achieved if the goals are clear and coordinated from an appropriate political position

  2. Many practical solutions from other countries might serve as a model that other countries can build on; hence information and experience sharing is paramount

  3. Introduction of a population register might be considered as a wise option, if founded on a well-functioning civil registration system. Such a register holds multi-faceted benefits for a government and is a critical tool for strengthening identity management.

  4. If introducing e-Population register, the following considerations should be made:

-a Nation wide census might serve as initial point of capturing data of the overall population; such entries when made into a single database must include a personal identifier (Personal Identity Number), which should enable the unique identification of each natural person and prevent duplication of the identities;

-e-registration of vital events: birth, marriage, divorce, death, adoption, affiliation with recognition of paternity, citizenship and its changes-including citizens born, and those that have died abroad.

inter linkage of the data base on CR to Vital Statistics data base, and other relevant databases such as the data base of national identity, immigration (passports), driver licenses and other national databases with identity credentials.

It is important to underline that all the above should be developed in conformity with specifics of each State, including the national data protection and legal standards.

Some of the benefits that a country could accrue from an e-population register include:

  • Provides 100% identification of the members of population (citizens), and partly also foreigners who reside at the territory

  • The system is cost-effective

  • Its central role enables citizens access to the services of the State in whatever part of the State, irrespective of the residence, as well as when staying abroad if the consular service is connected in the system

  • The e-gathered data and their entry and update on daily basis fuel high quality of vital and demographic statistics, and may produce e-registered census of population

  • The e-central population register serves also as an excellent tool in the field of public safety and security, under the condition that access to data is strictly regulated with data protection law and control of independent institution

  • Needless to mention, that the State and local communities may largely benefit from such a system when developing services in the field of education, health, and introduction of e-governance

  • Needless to stress, that such a system provides high quality of data, which may be used for the support of elections: voter’s lists; it prevents fraud and offers transparency of election processes when enfranchising eligible voters in voter lists.

  • The transition of data from paper books on civil status to e-data base might be operationalized in reasonable time, if planned properly.

Model of a population register and its linkage to vital statistic


The following diagram of a Functional CRVS framework demonstrates the needs of linking the different information systems concerned with data issued from civil registration. (Source: UNECA, APAI-CRVS program)

The UNECA proposed target functional scheme for the APAI-CRVS program which should be compared with the reference architecture of the vital statistics system, as recommended by the United Nations Statistical Division, reproduced in the following diagram (Source: UNSD Manual, ref ST/ESA/ST A T/SER.M/19/Rev.3).

In the two diagrams, we can observe that coordination within and between systems (primarily health, civil registration and statistical system) is required, as a response to needs of standardization, data sharing, automation, data protection and quick access to the information, with complete and secure data. The UN manual in reference mentions that computerization of CRVS system is the optimal way to obtain expected results from the system, but this must be preceded by a complete process analysis. The transition from paper registers to digital recording is crucial.



Considering practical experience of the States which went through the phases of digitalization of their national CR VS system, the following are identified as fundamental requirements, in strengthening their national institutions and capacity building in this regard:

  1. Amend and enforce laws, policies and regulations in accordance with international standards

  2. Introduce safeguards to protect confidentiality, secure registration data and archives, and avoid fraudulent use

  3. Improve infrastructure

  4. Strengthen the capacity of civil registration and statistics services; Health personnel for the coding of causes of death. Recommendations are to adopt the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)

  5. Integrate/ undertake civil registration into and/or through institutions such as hospitals, health centers, religious institutions and schools

  6. Connect “CRVS” to other national systems such as national identity systems, population registers, voters’ lists, national pension systems, electronic medical records, etc.

  7. Modernize and automate “CRVS” with information and communication technologies (ICT) solutions

  8. Establish a monitoring and evaluation system

  9. Promote demand through the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)

In Africa, civil registers in most countries are incomplete and in very poor condition, especially for death registers (in some countries, registration completeness rates as low as 10 %). In such countries, the recovery of past events i.e. registration of backlogs is very difficult; as such in such countries, it is more useful to take the stock of past events through a civil census. Such an exercise would necessitate the creation and issuance of a personal identification number (PIN) to each individual, and the collection of information against such a number. The personal identification number (PIN) ensures the uniqueness of the person.

  • A set of data for a single person (prevents duplicates and makes it possible to detect false identifications)

  • Quick and reliable identification of people

  • Exchange of data with other systems and other States

  • The PIN allows the person to be linked to all the civil status records, filiation and her/his children

  • The PIN is the key to interlink civil status data with other data base in accordance with data protection standards

The PIN structure must be analyzed and chosen in consideration of the national data protection legislation requirements and the needs of the civil registration stakeholders. Any digital CRVS project must begin with a definition of the PIN’s structure and must: (i) generate a PIN for all persons appearing for the first time in the registers and (ii) provide a person’s or family civil status,–linking all vital events and filiation as well as addresses.

Interact4C estimates that time line for undertaking such a CRVS project (with complete computerization) would be 48 months from the beginning. This would basically include the capturing of oncoming civil events (flow) and past events (stock).

2 The African Union, the African development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa




Digitalization of civil registration systems in African States (and elsewhere) will pave the way to the next step i.e. digitalization of the population registry.

The rapid changes and progress in societies today necessitate that all persons have a legal identity that can be trusted. Secure identity management systems that capture he whole life cycle of a person can only be supported by appropriate registration of vital events. For many States, establishing proper systems require immense investments and adjustments in the organizational, institutional and technical frameworks. It is necessary that all changes are be implemented in alignment with set international standards.

The balance between the legitimate interest of individuals to identify themselves as well as the interest of states to identify and transact with individuals, coupled by the drive for economic growth, development and impact of globalization call for sound systems of identification that are permanent and that are progressive and responsive to new technologies. In this regard, it is necessary that states invest and build on knowledge and experiences acquired by others as much as possible. This paper attempts to share some of the existing knowledge.