Biometric Identification Cards for Somalis


At the center in Mogadishu, hundreds of Somalis brave the scorching sun, queuing to get their new national identity cards.This was setup up by the regional administration in December last year and with funding from US Aid through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the center sees traffic of between 200 and 500 people each day.

For over two decades, getting any form of official identification for Somali citizens was done through the back alleys of the infamous Bakara market. “In this country we had what they called “Abdallah Shideeye” for the last 23 years you can find in Bakara Market whatever ID card you would like to have, everyone could take citizenship before;” Says Mohamed Yusuf, Spokesman of Mogadishu Municipality and Office of the Mayor, “but now we wanted to reach the digital system in the world that’s why we brought the latest technology here. “

With just 13 workstations and locally trained staff, these men and women are rolling out Somalia’s new and improved IDs fitted with a smart card. The electronic chip contains bio-metric data collected at the centre and has some of the latest security features to protect against forgery.

The New Identification card in Somalia is more advanced than other countries in East Africa, “So we are not going to start where we were in 1991, but we are going to start…Today the world is digital, that’s why we bring the chip Sim-card for the security issue. It is also a very good idea because not everyone can get it and we have the figure prints of whoever takes it in the database as well as every necessary document. That’s why we selected the latest version for the national identity card.” Adds Mohamed Yusuf.


The legal age for one to acquire an ID card in Somalia is 15. There are three steps to the process; first one has to get a letter from their district commissioner’s office that confirms that they are Somali and are from that particular area. They then go to Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to have a criminal background check conducted and seek clearance. When that’s complete, they head to the bank and pay USD 17.50 for the card before coming to National ID card Processing Centre. After filling in their details and giving their bio data, it takes between 4 to 7 days to receive the ID card.

“It has a lot of benefits for me, it verifies who I am and my position in the community and this is written on the ID card.” Says Ugasa Lahi Hashi, an elder and Community Leader in the city. “To the rest of the world it’s a way of identifying one’s nationality and place of birth. With security if something happens with a person, you can get all his details and information from the ID card. So it’s very important.”

In 2007 the then Transitional Federal Government had tried to implement a similar biometric ID and passport system, but the process was marred by corruption and lacked the checks and balances on who qualifies for documents.

Although the new process is working, the centre is clearly overwhelmed. It’s the only centre in the country catering for Mogadishu’s estimated 3 million plus people and Somalis in other parts of the country have to travel to the capital to apply for the service. The Somali Federal Government says it will soon open other centres across the city to meet the demand.

“It took me about a month of moving back and forth, but now I am finally here to sign for my ID card.” Says Samiha Jeilani Kasim, a medical Student hoping to travel to the USA for further studies. “There was a mistake with the spelling of my name on the ID card; where there was single S, they had put a double S. I came back several times but today, thank God, that I have finished the process. Now I want to get my passport so that I can travel with it.”

Biometric card

An excited first time ID card holder and student Zakaria Aweis Sayid had this to add. It’s the first time, because as we know Somalia, we have been at war for 22 years. Now we are going into development, this is part of the development, so I am so happy.”

The new ID cards are a prerequisite for getting Somalia’s new biometric passports as well, measures the government has put in place to not only safeguard its people but to once again reconnect them as global citizens, and give them an identity lost to years of war.

Somalia has taken a huge leap with technology and they are among the first five African countries to use the smart cards ID system. The government hopes that with the data collected, it can create a national database of its people, and that will help in the fight against extremism and groups like al Shabaab.