Malawi’s first digital Citizen’s Registry and National ID Card

0.6%

Only 55,000 of 9 million adults held a legal ID

2,000

Biometric Registration Kits distributed

5 minutes

To register
one citizen

The Identity for Development (ID4D) initiative reports that a billion people around the world have no official identification. These are citizens of low-income countries, with nearly half living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Before 2017, Malawi did not have an effective national registry, and only 55,000 people out of an adult population of 9 million held legal IDs. To change this, the Malawian government, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), initiated a multi-phased project to create the country’s first National Registration and Identification System (NRIS).

Project

Solution
National ID

Country
Malawi

Year
2017

Laxton played a pivotal role in providing customised Identity Technology, planning and implementing a Proof-of-Concept phase and the mass registration of all adults. “Our robust, reliable solutions create secure digital identities for people around the world. This grants them access to fundamental services like government support, healthcare, national elections, and the ability to participate in civil society,” says Lyle Laxton, CEO at Laxton.

In a record time of 180 days, 9.1 million citizens were registered with their biometric attributes. Malawi’s first biometric citizen database was established, a model for other countries to follow

Tariq Malik
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Before implementing the programme, Malawi relied on traditional methods to identify its citizens. Ninety-nine per cent of the population did not possess legal ID documents and could not access certain government services, travel documents, or banking facilities.

“To address this issue, the UNDP partnered with Malawi’s National Registry Bureau to create internationally recognised and secure IDs.” Tariq Malik, a Technical Advisor to the UN and a key member of the project team, explains. “By recognising the need for a secure digital infrastructure, the UNDP joined forces with Malawi’s National Registry Bureau (NRB) to provide internationally recognised and secure IDs.” 

In 2016, Laxton and its project partners crafted a plan to formally register more than nine million adult citizens by the end of 2017. The Proof-of-concept (POC) phase aimed to register a small number of citizens from select regions. 

It would be used to establish registration policies, procedures, and resource requirements. It would also test the equipment’s reliability and performance.

A Laxton service centre was established in Blantyre to serve as an admin and technical support base during and after the project. Four Laxton staff members were based in Malawi for four years, providing guidance and support throughout the project. 

The hardware and software systems that went into the Biometric Registration Kits (BRKs) were designed to register everyone, even in areas with no access to the internet and electricity. The rugged case housing the equipment, the compact size, and its light weight made it easy to transport to the field.

The trial phase allowed Laxton to determine whether the BRKs would withstand the dusty conditions and the extreme heat. Adjustments were made to the hardware as soon as challenges arose.

By visiting various sites during the registration pilot, the team could identify which pieces of equipment were not optimal. Better alternatives were procured before the delivery of the main batch of more than 2,000 Kits for mass registration.

The software system enabled the consolidation of new data into the existing national database. Continuous registration throughout the day was assured by incorporating alternative power sources, such as solar.

With the security of citizens’ personal information of paramount importance, this testing phase proved that the data security system performed flawlessly. There were no viruses or security breaches reported.

An average of 65 people were registered per kit per day, resulting in the registration of just over 6,000 people across 11 districts in three days. The success of the proof-of-concept phase exceeded all expectations. 

Twenty-seven urban and rural locations in 11 districts were identified for the POC phase. Nine teams of four Registration Officers each were selected to cover these areas. 

Laxton conducted a week-long training session for the officers, covering all aspects of efficient registration:

Understanding the legal mandate on national registration
Various ways to provide proof of citizenship
Setup and basic troubleshooting of the BRKs
Demonstration of the BRK packing sequence
BRK recharging using solar equipment
Overview of the National Registration Software
Accurate completion of the national registration
Flow of the registration process to ensure quick and efficient registration  

“Many trainees had limited computer skills. The training was a good way to determine whether our Kits are easy to use,” said Adriaan Booysen, Laxton’s Post Sales Technical Specialist. “By the end of the week, Registration Officers had an average data capture speed of eight minutes per registrant. Fast data capture was needed to guarantee an efficient process.”

A team of local technicians received hands-on training to service and repair the BRKs. Detailed manuals were provided to the technicians to help them resolve technical issues quickly. Maintenance kits and spare parts were also supplied with the understanding that citizen registration would be an ongoing process.

Public awareness and education drives were essential for local leaders and citizens to understand the benefits of obtaining a legal identity and how the registration process would work. Once these campaigns were completed, the Proof-of-concept phase began.

During this three-day registration pilot, feedback sessions were held daily to discuss lessons learned and address any issues. The equipment was checked, charged, and information backed up at the end of each day. 

With the support of local leaders, people assigned to be registered arrived early in the morning. The cooperation of the registrants and the capabilities of the BRKs made the process flow smoothly and efficiently.

Registration Officers registered many more citizens than planned as their proficiency in using the Kit improved. By the end of the third day, it took only five minutes to complete the registration of one citizen. 

Logistical plans for the official registration were adjusted and finalised. A clear timeline was created for mass registration and what was needed from everyone involved.

The mass registration began in May 2017 and was completed by the end of November. In record time, 9.1 million citizens were registered, and Malawi’s first-ever digital citizens’ database was established.

President Peter Mutharika praised the project’s success. With National Identity cards, the government could allocate resources effectively, combat identity theft, and curb corruption. The new National Register would inform development policy, improve social development plans, and increase service delivery to every Malawian citizen.

Every citizen’s ID card was linked to the NRIS, including various government departments and the Electoral Commission. With their ID numbers linked to the appropriate government departments, citizens were able to:

Access government assistance, such as healthcare and education grants
Have property and land legally registered in their names
Apply for formal employment and register to pay tax
Participate in the local economy by trading formally
Enrol to vote

Malik praised Malawi’s NRIS project as a game-changer. He cites that commitment, coordination, and cooperation among all stakeholders as key drivers of its success and continued effectiveness.

The Malawian government’s sustainable approach made the BRKs a valuable government asset. The benefits of a national ID system are being widely realised, with Registration Officers now employed to work with the Kits for various government activities. 

The Electoral Commission used the devices to enrol more than eight million voters. The same BRKs are now used for other government services like registering births, deaths, and grant recipients. The Kits have been placed in Embassies and post offices throughout the country to provide passport application and other services.

“This is one step closer to a world where citizens have access to essential services and governments can function optimally,” said Nick Perkins, President for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Laxton.

“With a secure and digital ID, the people of Malawi now have access to opportunities they have waited more than 50 years for.”

The National Identity Cards will save a significant amount of money in many areas, such as on voter registration when the time comes

Peter Mutharika
President of Malawi from 2014 to 2020

Malawi’s first digital Citizen’s Registry and National ID Card

Only 55,000 of 9 million
adults held a legal ID

Biometric Registration
Kits distributed

To register one citizen

The Identity for Development (ID4D) initiative reports that a billion people around the world have no official identification. These are citizens of low-income countries, with nearly half living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Before 2017, Malawi did not have an effective national registry, and only 55,000 people out of an adult population of 9 million held legal IDs. To change this, the Malawian government, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), initiated a multi-phased project to create the country’s first National Registration and Identification System (NRIS).

Project

Solution
National ID

Country
Malawi

Year
2017

Laxton played a pivotal role in providing customised Identity Technology, planning and implementing a Proof-of-Concept phase and the mass registration of all adults. “Our robust, reliable solutions create secure digital identities for people around the world. This grants them access to fundamental services like government support, healthcare, national elections, and the ability to participate in civil society,” says Lyle Laxton, CEO at Laxton.

In a record time of 180 days, 9.1 million citizens were registered with their biometric attributes. Malawi’s first biometric citizen database was
established, a model for other countries to follow


Tariq Malik
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Before implementing the programme, Malawi relied on traditional methods to identify its citizens. Ninety-nine per cent of the population did not possess legal ID documents and could not access certain government services, travel documents, or banking facilities.

“To address this issue, the UNDP partnered with Malawi’s National Registry Bureau to create internationally recognised and secure IDs.” Tariq Malik, a Technical Advisor to the UN and a key member of the project team, explains. “By recognising the need for a secure digital infrastructure, the UNDP joined forces with Malawi’s National Registry Bureau (NRB) to provide internationally recognised and secure IDs.” 

In 2016, Laxton and its project partners crafted a plan to formally register more than nine million adult citizens by the end of 2017. The Proof-of-concept (POC) phase aimed to register a small number of citizens from select regions. 

It would be used to establish registration policies, procedures, and resource requirements. It would also test the equipment’s reliability and performance.

A Laxton service centre was established in Blantyre to serve as an admin and technical support base during and after the project. Four Laxton staff members were based in Malawi for four years, providing guidance and support throughout the project. 

The hardware and software systems that went into the Biometric Registration Kits (BRKs) were designed to register everyone, even in areas with no access to the internet and electricity. The rugged case housing the equipment, the compact size, and its light weight made it easy to transport to the field.

The trial phase allowed Laxton to determine whether the BRKs would withstand the dusty conditions and the extreme heat. Adjustments were made to the hardware as soon as challenges arose.

By visiting various sites during the registration pilot, the team could identify which pieces of equipment were not optimal. Better alternatives were procured before the delivery of the main batch of more than 2,000 Kits for mass registration.

The software system enabled the consolidation of new data into the existing national database. Continuous registration throughout the day was assured by incorporating alternative power sources, such as solar.

With the security of citizens’ personal information of paramount importance, this testing phase proved that the data security system performed flawlessly. There were no viruses or security breaches reported.

An average of 65 people were registered per kit per day, resulting in the registration of just over 6,000 people across 11 districts in three days. The success of the proof-of-concept phase exceeded all expectations. 

Laxton’s solutions brought an effective registration process to people across Malawi. They met the government’s specific needs and swiftly adapted to the local conditions.

Twenty-seven urban and rural locations in 11 districts were identified for the POC phase. Nine teams of four Registration Officers each were selected to cover these areas. 

Laxton conducted a week-long training session for the officers, covering all aspects of efficient registration:

Understanding the legal mandate on national registration
Various ways to provide proof of citizenship
Setup and basic troubleshooting of the BRKs
Demonstration of the BRK packing sequence
BRK recharging using solar equipment
Overview of the National Registration Software
Accurate completion of the national registration
Flow of the registration process to ensure quick and efficient registration  

“Many trainees had limited computer skills. The training was a good way to determine whether our Kits are easy to use,” said Adriaan Booysen, Laxton’s Post Sales Technical Specialist. “By the end of the week, Registration Officers had an average data capture speed of eight minutes per registrant. Fast data capture was needed to guarantee an efficient process.”

A team of local technicians received hands-on training to service and repair the BRKs. Detailed manuals were provided to the technicians to help them resolve technical issues quickly. Maintenance kits and spare parts were also supplied with the understanding that citizen registration would be an ongoing process.

Public awareness and education drives were essential for local leaders and citizens to understand the benefits of obtaining a legal identity and how the registration process would work. Once these campaigns were completed, the Proof-of-concept phase began.

During this three-day registration pilot, feedback sessions were held daily to discuss lessons learned and address any issues. The equipment was checked, charged, and information backed up at the end of each day. 

With the support of local leaders, people assigned to be registered arrived early in the morning. The cooperation of the registrants and the capabilities of the BRKs made the process flow smoothly and efficiently.

Registration Officers registered many more citizens than planned as their proficiency in using the Kit improved. By the end of the third day, it took only five minutes to complete the registration of one citizen. 

Logistical plans for the official registration were adjusted and finalised. A clear timeline was created for mass registration and what was needed from everyone involved.

The mass registration began in May 2017 and was completed by the end of November. In record time, 9.1 million citizens were registered, and Malawi’s first-ever digital citizens’ database was established.

President Peter Mutharika praised the project’s success. With National Identity cards, the government could allocate resources effectively, combat identity theft, and curb corruption. The new National Register would inform development policy, improve social development plans, and increase service delivery to every Malawian citizen.

Every citizen’s ID card was linked to the NRIS, including various government departments and the Electoral Commission. With their ID numbers linked to the appropriate government departments, citizens were able to:

Access government assistance, such as healthcare and education grants
Have property and land legally registered in their names
Apply for formal employment and register to pay tax
Participate in the local economy by trading formally
Enrol to vote

Malik praised Malawi’s NRIS project as a game-changer. He cites that commitment, coordination, and cooperation among all stakeholders as key drivers of its success and continued effectiveness.

The Malawian government’s sustainable approach made the BRKs a valuable government asset. The benefits of a national ID system are being widely realised, with Registration Officers now employed to work with the Kits for various government activities. 

The Electoral Commission used the devices to enrol more than eight million voters. The same BRKs are now used for other government services like registering births, deaths, and grant recipients. The Kits have been placed in Embassies and post offices throughout the country to provide passport application and other services.

“This is one step closer to a world where citizens have access to essential services and governments can function optimally,” said Nick Perkins, President for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Laxton.

“With a secure and digital ID, the people of Malawi now have access to opportunities they have waited more than 50 years for.”

The National Identity Cards will save a
significant amount of money in many
areas, such as on voter registration when the time comes


Peter Mutharika
President of Malawi from 2014 to 2020