Smartphones are only as smart as the applications developed for their use; to this effect, some of the most clever and useful applications can be found in a few African nations where some mobile apps are improving society as a whole. Such is the case in Tanzania, a country that has partnered with UNICEF and a wireless service provider to launch a mobile birth registration initiative. As a developing African nation, Tanzania presents some barriers to birth registration, a vital civil process that many countries have been taking for granted since the 19th century. More than half of all babies born in Tanzania are delivered at home and in remote areas that require long journeys to the registrar office in their corresponding district.
Tanzania has been taking steps towards adopting the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, which calls for proper registration of all births for the purpose of establishing identity and nationality. Without a birth certificate, access to programs such as public education and government nutrition becomes complicated. When children reach adulthood, access to land grants, farming loans, and even voting is not possible without birth certificates. In 2002, the Births and Deaths Registration Act was enacted and deemed compulsory in Tanzania. In 2009, new laws were enacted to boost the issuance of birth certificates, but the most significant step towards this goal arrived in 2011 when the Global System for Mobile Association partnered with Tigo, a prominent wireless service provider in Tanzania, and with UNICEF to develop a mobile platform for birth registration.
The platform works by means of SMS. Health workers who serve the most remote areas of Tanzania are issued a mobile phone with a SIM application toolkit that issues various prompts to register a birth they have witnessed or ascertained. The data is sent by SMS to a registrar office and the birth is registered. The health worker can then issue a short form, authenticated paper copy of the birth certificate for the parents. UNICEF provided guidance and solar panels to keep these mobile phones charged. Tigo updated the platform once to work with rugged Android smartphones that offer a more intuitive interface.
As of 2016, more than 800,000 children have been registered thanks to this new platform. Health and registrar workers are now busy trying to issue certificates to children under the age of five who were not registered upon birth. Similar systems are being used in Botswana and Pakistan. This platform is a good example of the smart mobile apps and systems improving life across the Continent. M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer and digital wallet system launched in Kenya, recently celebrated its tenth anniversary.