It is easy to understand why Gen Aronda Nyakairima, the minister of Internal Affairs, has spent the last few weeks combing every corner for all the support he can get for the ongoing registration for the national ID card project.
If he is to succeed where others have failed before, observers say, he has to craft a corruption-proof system and effectively manage the otherwise negative perceptions sections of Ugandans, not least opposition politicians, have against the exercise.
In four months, starting April 14, the government targets to register about 18 million Ugandans, who the National Bureau of Statistics estimates to be 16 years old and above. These will be issued with national IDs, starting September, as preparations for the 2016 elections gather pace.
Gen Aronda is charged with coordinating the effort, which brings together different state agencies – the Electoral Commission, Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the Citizenship and Immigration Board, and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau.
The job of issuing Ugandans with ID cards has proved tough in the past and a $100m [about Shs250b] contract to German firm Muhlbauer Technology to make ID cards for Ugandans only yielded a few hundred cards, which mostly went to top politicians.
However, Ms Pamela Ankunda, the spokesperson at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, says even those who got the ID cards made by Muhlbauer will have to register afresh and get new cards. She adds that the government will “still hold Muhlbauer to the terms of its contract and we are still working with them.”
That said, however, it is important to note that it is not Muhlbauer which is playing the lead role regarding the technical aspects in the new arrangement, it is the National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U).
Ms Ankunda says the ID cards to be produced will be much more superior to the ones Muhlbauer was contracted to produce in 2010.
Partly for that reason, Ms Ankunda says, the project has only managed to upgrade “few” of the equipment Muhlbauer bought during the earlier project.
Otherwise, she says, most of the equipment Muhlbauer had procured cannot be used in the new project because “the demands are higher.”
For the new project, for instance, Ankunda says they are using four-fingerprint scanner equipment instead of the one-fingerprint scanners Muhlbauer had procured.
The new project, therefore, is projected to cost Shs285b over the next two years. It could cost more.
In the military, where Aronda has spent all his working life, assignments usually go by code-names.
A heavily funded effort against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebels at the turn of the century, for example, was code-named Operation Iron Fist.
Another one, also looking to take out Kony in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo which was done when Aronda was head of the military, was code-named Operation Lightning Thunder.
Probably not seeing his current assignment as very different, Aronda has code-named it Operation Kitambulisho. Kitambulisho is a Kiswahili word for ID card.
When the current mass registration exercise concludes, Ankunda says, continuous registration of citizens of all ages will then commence at the sub-county level.
Every Ugandan will then be registered upon birth, be issued with a unique number, and on clocking 18 years be issued with an ID card. We understand that the government is considering setting up a National Identification Authority for that purpose.
But the task now falls to Aronda. Hitherto renowned for being media-shy and saying precious little most of the time, the former chief of defence forces has courted practically everyone who can help in the process – from bankers to the Katikkiro of Buganda. But, insiders say, he still relies heavily on soldiers to run for him the critical errands.
Apart from mobilising the people to register for IDs, Aronda also knew he would be swimming against the tide sometimes, especially with regard to how the Opposition politicians view the process.
Sections of the Opposition, after all, still question his appointment as minister of Internal Affairs without first retiring from the army.
When some Opposition leaders and civil society activists met Aronda for a discussion over the police breaking up their rallies recently, for example, Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga told us that the meeting should not have taken place because Aronda “is in office illegally.”
Mr Mpuuga also has questions regarding the registration of Ugandans. He asks: “How can the government rely on estimates by UBOS, which last carried out a census in 2002?”
The census has been suspended twice in the last couple of years, citing lack of money. Mpuuga says the government should have conducted a census first in order to plan the registration for national ID cards better.
Mpuuga also claims that autonomous bodies like the Electoral Commission and Uganda Bureau of Statistics “have been co-opted by the government with the danger that the integrity of their data may be interfered with.”
In a press conference on Tuesday, says Muwanga Kivumbi, the shadow minister of Internal Affairs, Opposition leaders will focus on the ongoing registration for national IDs, which he says is “over-securitised”, with a number of soldiers leading it.
Kivumbi says: “We are scared whenever security forces get anywhere near elections because they are the main vehicle of vote rigging for Museveni.”
In 2001 and 2006, the Supreme Court faulted the electoral processes that returned President Museveni as winner of the respective presidential elections, partly due to the involvement of security forces.
Since the key objective of the ongoing registration is to prepare for the 2016 elections, Kivumbi adds, the Opposition is concerned that non-Ugandans and other ineligible people could get national IDs and eventually vote in the next elections.
For that matter, he says, the Opposition is “reluctant” to trust the ruling party to prepare an accurate voters’ register for use by the Electoral Commission in the coming elections.
He claims that it could even be illegal for the Electoral Commission to “surrender its independence” to the ruling party by allowing it to register voters.
But what does the Electoral Commission think?
“That is unwarranted suspicion; but we can’t stop people from suspecting,” says Sam Rwakoojo, the secretary to the Electoral Commission.
Mr Rwakoojo says the ongoing process does not primarily target voters but Ugandans. After the registration, he says, the Electoral Commission “will extract from the national register the data that is relevant to our purposes, compose our register and display it as usual.”
During the register display process, Rwakoojo says, the register will be subjected to the “usual scrutiny and people in each locality will study it to ensure that there are no people on the roll who are not eligible to vote.”
But many in the opposition disagree, singling out the registration of Ugandans who are below 18 years of age (they register from age 16) with the view to giving them ID cards starting September.
The first phase of registration – which will last four months – targets people who will vote in the next election, about two years from now.
Mr Kivumbi says, however, that if someone clocks 16 this July and he is therefore registered and issued with an ID card, for example, he will be eligible to vote in the next election – expected around February or March 2016, despite being a few months short of 18 years.
This would be illegal, Kivumbi says, since “the law only allows people who are 18 years and above to vote in elections.”
This is one of the multiple arguments two individuals – Daniel Muwonge and Robert Mayanja – will make at the High Court as they seek to suspend the process of registering Ugandans and subsequently issuing them with national IDs.
In the suit, filed on Tuesday, April 15, through Okurut and Co. Advocates, the petitioners argue that the process through which the government is registering Ugandans with the view of subsequently issuing them with IDs is illegal.
They say according to the law, the Citizenship and Immigration Control Act in particular, Ugandans have to apply to the Citizenship and Immigration Board to be registered as citizens and also apply to the same Board for a national ID.
The petitioners add that the Citizenship and Immigration Board is by law mandated to conduct the registration and verification of citizens and not the verification committees that have been constituted to carry out the function at the parish level.
For a person to be registered with the view of getting an ID, the petitioners add, he is required to present a letter of introduction from his area local council (LC1) “yet such committees don’t legally exist.”
They want court to declare the use of LC1 chairpersons to verify applicants for national ID cards illegal, discontinue the issuance of ID cards until new LC1 councils are elected and also discontinue the registration process “until a proper process of identification and registration of Ugandans is done.”
They also want the court to issue a permanent injunction against issuing ID cards to Ugandans below the age of 18.
The duo says they acted in their individual capacities, though they are members of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party.
Mr John Kikonyogo, the acting FDC spokesperson, says he is aware of the court case although he says his party did not sanction it. Kivumb, too, says he is aware of the court case.
Our attempts to get a comment from Aronda failed but Ms Ankunda said that was not an issue for the minister to worry about since the Attorney General is the one charged with defending the government in court.
For Aronda and his team, Ankunda said, “what matters is to produce ID cards for Ugandans and on schedule.”
The verdict will start to be written in four months’ time.
THE LONG ROAD
In March 2010, the government signed a 64.2m Euros (over Sh200b) contract with the German firm Muhlbauer Technology to produce IDs for 28m Ugandans, amidst protests that the company had been sourced in contravention of procurement rules. The contract had been awarded on the orders of President Museveni.
That time, the government was in court, having been sued for breach of contract by the South African data processing company, Face Technologies, which said it had an existing contract with the Government to implement the national ID project, having emerged winner in the bidding process in 2006.
Dizzying back-and-forth followed, and the office of the minister of Internal Affairs changed occupants – from Kirunda Kivejinja to Hillary Onek and now to Aronda. Issues were continually raised and more supplementary financing sought. But the cards have not yet come, save for the few hundreds which the government now says will be discarded anyway.
In April 2013, for instance, Onek tabled before the Defence and Internal Affairs Committee of Parliament a plea for an additional Shs60b for the construction of “a permanent coordination centre” in this financial year with the view of registering 18 million Ugandans. More money has since been availed and Aronda is coordinating the effort.
In September last year, the government ordered for fresh nation-wide registration of all Ugandans and suspended issuance of national identity cards. Suspension of the project, where taxpayers had sunk more than Sh300 billion, was the latest in a string of procurement controversies surrounding the deal awarded to a German company on the orders of President Museveni in 2010.
Junior Internal Affairs minister James Baba said yesterday that data for 5.5 million people registered in the run-up to the February 2011 general elections cannot be used. “There is a problem with the integrity of the data for the 5.5 million people we received from Electoral Commission,” Mr Baba said.