Saturday April 19 2014

National ID project is not a tribe identification parade

By Asuman Bisiika

Hussein Rugaba Kashillingi asked: “Why should the national ID have an expiry date?” Well, and I ask: “Who qualifies to hold Uganda’s national ID?”
And Nuwamanya Wakabirigi Sula, an old friend from my old digs in Kigali made a Facebook post quoting President Museveni as saying: “Bafumbira are ethnically Banyarwanda. But you cannot say they are Banyarwanda”. Sula accompanied Museven’s quote with this: “True, and, therefore, the ethnic group is Banyarwanda not Tutsi, Hutu or Twa”.

President Museveni is said to have made the remark about Bafumbira and Banyarwanda during the launch of the national ID project. But why should Bafumbira be ethnically Bwanyarwanda? Can’t Banyarwanda be ethnically Bafumbira? I was actually surprised that someone would take President Museveni’s remarks as facts offering technical authority on such matters.

Otherwise, the Bafumbira are itemised in the Third Schedule of the Constitution as one of the indigenous communities in Uganda. And I have argued elsewhere that the Bafumbira don’t have (and don’t need) to be qualified by their cultural closeness to the Banyarwanda (either of Rwanda or Uganda).
My people live astride the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those on the DR Congo side of the border call themselves Bandandi while we on the Ugandan side are called Bakonzo.

Omwami Sulait Kalemire, the current traditional leader of the Bandandi with his court at Butembo, grew up and studied in Uganda. He did his undergraduate studies in Pakistan on a Ugandan scholarship as a bona fide Ugandan citizen. But when Kalemire was declared the heir to the traditional leader of the Bandandi, he forfeited some aspects of his Ugandanness: he lost (actually renounced) his Ugandan citizenship in order to be presented to the DR Congo President as a bona fide leader of his people. And he could not marry his Ugandan girlfriend (he had to marry a Congolese girl).

Young and naïve, he insisted on marrying his Ugandan girlfriend. The elders would not hear of it. They read him the riot act: ‘You have to choose between the ‘Ugandan girl’ and the inheritance of his ancestors. He chose the throne’.
But Kalemire of Butembo qualifies to hold a Ugandan national ID as I do. His father was after all a bona fide Ugandan. And Juma Kalemire, his grandfather, is still revered as one of the grandees of Islam in Kasese.

The Kalemire feudal group (the Basu-Bandu, Buganda’s equivalent of the Ngabi Clan) in Uganda is so big that they have what they call the Ugandan section lead by Musa Koliko.

In 2006, the DR Congo held general elections. Just a few years after the end of the war, the people were reluctant to register for the elections. A frustrated government sought recourse in rallying the population using unconventional means.

They declared that the voters’ registration card would work as a national ID. Since government has sort of shut up in 1996, there was a generation of Congolese youth who didn’t have national IDs. They made a rush to the registration centres.

But that’s not the story. The story is that most of the youth from Kiburara Village (my home town 23km to the Uganda-DRCongo border) just crossed to the DRC and registered as bona fide Congolese.
And until the government in Kinshasa issues new IDs, I am more inclined to keep my Congoles voters registration card (and God forbid, that doesn’t or shouldn’t take away my Ugandaness).

And my point: can we just have the national IDs without a lot of ‘amazing’ blah blah. Just promote the registration exercise; not the benefits of carrying a Ugandan national ID

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East Africa Flagpost.