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.