Digitalizing Population and Mobility Control in Africa: The Challenges of Inclusion and Efficiency in West and East Africa

Thursday 11th April 2024, 15.00-17.00 (CET time)


Alphoncina Lyamuya, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California

Humanitarian Experimentation with Predictive Technologies

Agnes Doe Agbanyo, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana

The Impact of National Registration Procedures and State Authority on the Population of the Ghana-Togo Border Region

Moderator: Kossigari Djolar


Le Jeudi POMAF is a public space for inquiry and open discussion about migration policies in Africa. 


Speakers’ bios:

Alphoncina Lyamuya is a Ph.D. student in Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the use of algorithmic decision-making systems and other digital infrastructures by governments and humanitarian agencies in border control and humanitarian management.


Agnes Doe Agbanyo is a doctoral candidate at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana. Agnes is presently engaged in a four-year research project that is a component of the CERTIFICATIONS OF CITIZENSHIP IN AFRICA (CERTIZENS) project, funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). Agnes’ thesis topic is “The Dynamics, Bureaucracies and Practices of Certification in the Ghana-Togo Borderlands.” Agnes’ research interests include identity documents and national identity, border citizenship, and citizen-state relationship in border regions



Humanitarian Experimentation with Predictive Technologies

Citing objectivity in data-driven models, bureaucratic institutions are increasingly incorporating systems of quantifications in border control processes and humanitarian management to ostensibly address challenging operational problems in the forced displacement context. This paper examines experimentation with novel technologies and analytical techniques as the rationality for settling humanitarian emergencies and managing border movements. Focusing on the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Innovation Service’s experimentations with predictive analytics and machine learning techniques to model and forecast refugee arrivals at the borders – from the Somalia-Ethiopia border to the Venezuela-Brazil border – this research interrogates the turn to computational systems in a humanitarian organization with a mandate to protect and find relief for the forcibly displaced people. I particularly focus on this question: How does the UNHCR’s use of automated systems of quantification reshape human mobility and access to legal asylum procedures? This research utilizes data collected through content analysis of publicly available reports and policy documents by the UNHCR Innovation Service and semi-structured interviews with humanitarian technologists and data analysts in and outside the UNHCR. Drawing on critical data studies, science and technology studies, and migration and border studies, I suggest that the turn to predictive technologies and machine learning techniques help to streamline some processes in humanitarian operations while also sustaining efforts by wealthy or relatively stable nations to curtail the inflow of ‘unwanted’ people by restructuring the border into a more complex and selective entity.


The Impact of National Registration Procedures and State Authority on the Population of the Ghana-Togo Border Region

Ghana has lately joined a cohort of developing countries in using digital technology for the purpose of national identification of its residents, with the aim of promoting inclusive development. Nevertheless, the current development strategy towards legal identity fails to adequately consider the ramifications of the intricate and obligatory registration procedures that persons must undergo in order to acquire legal identity, particularly in relation to their citizenship status. This study examines the issue of citizen identification in Ghana, focusing specifically on the national registration procedures that aim to utilize digital identification as an effective strategy to combat crime and fraud, while also enhancing the efficiency of service provision. My research primarily centers on selected communities situated along the Ghana-Togo border within the Ketu-North district of the Volta region in Ghana. These communities are characterized by a predominant presence of individuals engaged in informal economic activities. Notably, despite their involvement in the informal sector, a significant portion of the inhabitants in these communities utilize digital technology such as mobile phones and mobile money services. This paper examines the impact of the registration requirements for the Ghana Card and SIM card on the digitized informal economy of border inhabitants. It also explores how these regulations have resulted in restricted access to both public and private services for individuals in this population. By doing so, it seeks to shed light on the sometimes-misconstrued correlations between legal identity and development. The present argument posits that the state compels individuals to register for citizen identity cards as a prerequisite for utilizing digital technologies, primarily in sectors like communications and banking, under the guise of preventing criminality and facilitating monitoring. However, it is worth noting that there is a dearth of evidence indicating that the majority of border residents encounter significant issues of fraud when employing these technologies. Through a meticulous analysis of the procedures involved in registering citizens residing in border areas within the informal sector, this study showcases the degree to which legal identification aligns with the discourse of facilitating development or exacerbating marginalization, as well as the intricate relationship between surveillance and marginalization.

Séminaire sur l'étude des politiques migratoires africaines

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