Mutual recognition across identification systems can become a powerful driver of regional economic and social integration through facilitating travel and access to services across borders, safe and orderly migration, and increased trade.

In this context, the first World Bank Regional Operation on Identification is currently being prepared in West Africa to set the foundation for national ID systems with mutual recognition and the capacity for authentication across the ECOWAS region. The operation will be rolled out using a staggered approach, with Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea participating in the first phase and potential other countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso, and Benin joining in subsequent phases.

The project has three objectives. First, it aims to strengthen the legal and enabling environment within and between countries by developing legal and technical standards for systems across the region to ensure privacy and data protection, as well as clear institutional mandates. Second, it aims to improve the robustness, coverage, and reliability of ID systems where they already exist, and help develop them where they do not. Finally, the project will promote the use of IDs for free movement and service delivery, by creating linkages across systems that allow users to authenticate themselves for key services such as receiving social transfer payments, completing financial transactions, and crossing borders.

In Guinea, 40 percent of the population currently has no form of government-issued identification—this project will improve current coverage to ensure access to services such as conditional cash transfers, vaccinations, and primary schooling. In Cote d’Ivoire, improvements to the ID system will facilitate linkages with the national social registry, allowing for improved targeting of various social programs such as safety nets and subsidized health insurance.

Building identification systems with mutual recognition in West Africa can pave the way for regional approaches in other parts of the globe, allowing for free movement and access to services for all.