Saturday March 9 2013

Seeking identity: Ugandans resort to self-made IDs

Some of the identity cards that are on sale across the country.

Some of the identity cards that are on sale across the country. PHOTO by Abubaker Lubowa. 

By NICHOLAS KALUNGI

Kampala

Thousands of Ugandans have resorted to using local council (LC) stamped identification cards (IDs) as national IDs.

This comes at the back of the government’s failure to implement the national ID project that would enable citizens have a uniform identification document. For a decade now, the national ID project has been mired in corruption allegations and internal fights over who should be in charge of the multi-billion shilling project.

The multiple delays in the national ID project have left people with no alternatives save for exploiting alternatives and creating their own IDs-labeling them as “Citizens” identifications. One of the booming businesses on the streets of Kampala, taxi parks and at local council offices across the country is making, selling and issuing IDs.

A week-long investigation around Kampala showed that these IDs are of two types. One type bears the word ‘Resident’ on the cover while another brand bears the word ‘Citizen’ on the cover. They are mainly made at Nasser and Nkrumah roads in Kampala.

Several centres along these Streets are famous for originating all sorts of fake documents that include, among others, academic certificates ranging from bachelor’s degrees, diplomas and of recent PhDs. The wholesale price range for ‘’Citizen” and “Resident” IDs are between Shs300 and Shs1, 000. According to Kassim Kisitu, one of the dealers at Nasser Road, different people buy hundreds of cards from the wholesale point and sell them in their areas at profitable rates. “Our role here is to manufacture these IDs. People come and buy them in small and big numbers. They resale them in their communities,” says Kisitu.

How it works
After buying the card from Nasser Road or any other outlet, you get a passport photo and take it to a local council official who at between Shs3,000 and Shs20,000 approves and stamps it to confirm that you are a citizen of Uganda or a resident of a given area.

One John Muyomba, a resident of Kasubi, tells this newspaper that he acquired a citizens ID from his local chairman a year ago and it has been doing wonders for him following the expiry of his university ID. “I paid Shs5,000 and took two passport size photos. I presented a friend at the LC office as a referee and got the ID. It is this ID that I used to register my Sim card and to get an account at one of the banks,” says Muyomba. While, these IDs seem to be serving different purposes, for example, local identification and Sim card registration, among others, the ease at which they are acquired, stamped and issued is worrying.

Prone to abuse
For one to get this acquired ID stamp, all they need is a person to recommend them to an LC leader that he/she is a resident of an area. “We always ask the person seeking our approval to come with a resident of the area to prove that they are Ugandans or resident of that area,” says Bright Kashaka, an LC chairperson in Kisenyi, a Kampala suburb.

When this reporter visited a local council office in an area he neither works from nor resides, he was told by the people he found at the office to pay Shs10, 000 and present a passport photo after which he would have one ID issued. From this discovery, it became clear that you only need to have money and passport size photos to a citizen or resident ID.

Illegality
However, Dr Stephen Kagoda, the permanent secretary of the Internal Affairs Ministry, acknowledges the presence of these IDs but says they are not recognised at the national level. “National IDs are only issued by the government. Those issued by local councils serve local purposes but are not recognised by the government. Their purpose is to give people identity within their communities so that in case of any issue, you can know that so and so is from this area,” Dr Kagoda says. He says: “They are like school IDs. We cannot stop any one from issuing them. They should be resident IDs not those that confirm citizenship.”

The makers of these cards may be offering millions of Ugandans in the informal sector or unemployed the opportunity to hold some form of identification and are a cause of great concern to security, but they are not in fact, breaking the law.

While it is illegal to use a fake ID card fraudulently, it is not illegal to make and sell them. Manufacturers and those selling the cards, majority based along Nkrumah Road tell the Saturday Monitor that illegal use of the cards, can happen, but that they are not going to stop manufacturing or selling them.

The government insists that the introduction of the proposed national ID cards would provide a secure system and eliminate the fake IDs or non-national using them as nationals.

Identification crisis
Save for passports issued at the Internal Affairs ministry, there is no other official document that any Ugandan who does not hold a passport can present to prove s/he is a citizen. Work place and school IDs are available but are limited to just a section of the population. As a result, those that are neither schooling nor working in the formal sector that issues IDs, find it impossible to access places or services where they need identification documents.

Lately, telecommunications companies and Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) have been blaming the absence of national IDs as the main challenge affecting the on-going Sim card registration process. Even though the process has been extended untill August, millions are still unregistered and the main reason cited is absence of recognised identification mainly in rural areas that are mandatory before anyone registers a Sim card. The effort to procure national IDs has been on for since 2001.

Background
In March 2010, the government controversially procured Muhlbauer Technology, a German firm, at 64.2m Euros (about Shs230.9b) to supply necessary technology and other related services for the National Security Information System, which was being handled by Internal Affairs.

The firm claims that they had in a year (2012) produced at least 400 IDs of the 3.5 million for phase one of the project, one of them being for the President and Prime Minister and other top government officials.
However, the IDs given to some MPs, including that of the premier, had some mistakes.

To date, there is very little public progress about the project, with the latest information on the matter being allegations of corruption involved in the project and two government ministries -internal affairs and ICT battling over the revival and management of the multi-billion project. However, Dr Kagoda insists that his ministry is now printing the IDs but the project’s completion will depend on when and how much money the government will avail them.

Until the production and selling of fake IDs is made illegal however, the different between a non-citizen, foreign and criminal holding the fake IDs is only a stamp hit.

nkalungi@ug.nationmedia.com

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