Bolstered by an $11 million contribution from the United Kingdom, the nation of Malawi formally launched its national identification card program this week, though full-scale deployment of the initiative has been delayed until 2017.
As southern Africa’s only country without a national ID, Malawi’s launch of a proper identification method has been highly anticipated. The nation had originally hyped this week as a full-scale launch, but that appears to have been postponed — government officials now say wide availability of cards will begin next year, according to the Nyasa Times.
Still, officials hope they will be able to register more than half of the nation’s population — 9 million people — as part of the initial phase.
An identification system is sorely needed in Malawi, where some citizens use driver’s licenses or passports for proof of identity. But most of the country’s 17-million-plus residents do not have those forms of identification, making it difficult to prove their legal citizenship.
The U.K.’s $11 million contribution makes it the largest donor to the project, helping to ensure that Malawi remains on a track toward modern development.
The government has been running ads in local newspapers promoting the launch of the national ID project, for months, according to Africa Blogging. Without driver’s licenses or passports, citizens have been turning to voter IDs to prove their citizenship — and in some cases registering to vote solely to do basic tasks, like open a bank account.
Critics contend that the new national ID program comes with an expiration date for cards, and that fees associated with renewing a card will exclude many in the poor country. Malawi has the world’s lowest gross national income per capita, according to the World Bank report, and the nation ranks 160th out of 182 on the Human Development Index.