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The World's First Biometric Money: Ghana's E-Zwich and the Contemporary Influence of South African Biometrics

Abstract
ABSTRACT

In January 2008 the Ghanaian Central Bank announced that it had introduced a new centralized mechanism for the settlement of transactions between the Ghanaian banks. This interbank switch, as it was called, was purchased from, and managed by, the South African company Net 1 UEPS, and it had a unique central organizing principle. The switch was indexed biometrically, using a key derived from the ten fingerprints of account holders. This new interbank switch and a smartcard encoded in the same way has equipped Ghana with the world's first biometric money supply. This article is an effort to explain the development and significance of this biometric money, which Ghanaians call the e-Zwich. It traces the way in which biometric registration in Ghana (as in other African countries) has leaked from the mundane, difficult, and mostly unrewarding, task of civil registration into the more properly remunerated domain of monetary transactions. Viewed in the light of the rich historical anthropology of money in West Africa, what is at stake in Ghana may be much more significant than any of the current participants fully realize. Perhaps the most interesting finding of this study is that the e-Zwich system might actually succeed.

RÉSUMÉ

En janvier 2008, la Banque centrale du Ghana a annoncé l'introduction d'un nouveau mécanisme centralisé de r`glement des transactions entre banques ghanéennes. Ce mécanisme, appelé « interbank switch » (transfert interbancaire) et acheté auprès de la société sud-africaine Net 1 UEPS, qui en assure également la gestion, s'articulait autour d'un principe central unique. L'indexation des transferts était biométrique et utilisait une clé dérivée des dix empreintes digitales du titulaire du compte. À travers ce nouveau système de transfert interbancaire assorti d'une carte à puce codée selon le même principe, le Ghana dispose du premier système monétaire biométrique au monde. Cet article tente d'expliquer le développement et l'importance de cet argent biométrique que les Ghanéens appellent l'e-Zwich. Il retrace l'évolution de l'enregistrement biométrique au Ghana (comme dans d'autres pays africains), quittant les limites de la tâche d'état civil prosaïque, difficile et souvent peu gratifiante pour filtrer le domaine plus adéquatement rémunéré des transactions monétaires. À la lumière de la riche anthropologie historique de l'argent en Afrique de l'Ouest, ce qui est en jeu au Ghana peut être bien plus important que ne le réalise pleinement les participants actuels. La conclusion la plus intéressante de cette étude est peut-être que le système e-Zwich a des chances réelles de réussir.

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