Wait. Look at her one more time. She is a sober elderly woman. Visibly tired. Haggard and worn out. The early morning sun has surely taken a toll on her already frail skin, almost pilling off. Standing on the queue, patient but clearly hurting, she staggers to a plastic chair with a rather infectious wince.
The smile, albeit seemingly plastic, speaks volumes, of a desire unshakeable, a resilience entwined with irresistible urge for that one thing. A kitambulisho! A national identity card.
So far, only the president and prime minister out of more than 20 million eligible people have the enviable card. Yet the scheme has left the state coffers at least $100m (about Shs252b) less so far. The idea might be almost 10 years since its conception but it is still suffering its labour pains.
Jaja Teopista is 68 years old and tough enough for the hustle and frustration of registering for a national ID. This writer spent a half a day and braved the rain and sun in the name of registration. And he almost gave up.
The hustle begins
At around 8am, I walked 10km from Makerere University’s Mary Stewart Hall to look for where the exercise was taking place. Only a banner, directing you to the registration desk was there. The next possible registration centre was Kikoni near Nana Hostels – so I was told. By 8.33am, bodaboda men around Nana told me, “basenguse genda e’Kivulu.” (They shifted. Go to Makerere Kivulu).
The desk at Kivulu was invisible and the next possible station was Wandegeya. At the popular Chicken Tonight stage, the boda boda riders didn’t know of any such exercise.
“Those fellows are unserious. It is as if they don’t want us to register. I wasted my fuel, rode to Kazo where I am a registered voter and I was told to come back to Wandegeya where I stay yet I can’t see them here,” one of them said. His three colleagues sipped steaming tea accompanied with mouthwatering rolex (an egg rolled into a chappati) unbothered by the national IDs hullabaloo.
On crossing the busy road, a few more inquiries among the traders outside Barclays Bank Wandegeya branch sufficed.
The women, in rag tag aprons and with saucepans ready to mint the day’s fortune minded their business, the kiosk attendants simply shook their heads in expression of both ignorance and an “I don’t care” attitude, the boda boda riders, my favourites, almost Kampala’s unsung “I know it alls” threw in guesses and jokes that made for comical relief on a search now stretched to almost two fruitless hours.
“Go to Jinja Road police or Parliament. They (registration officials) have not yet thought about us. Don’t you know in Uganda the poor come last in everything?” one of them quipped, advising further, “but you can try Central Police Station (CPS).”
The spirit of a young man up on “mission must register today” dwindled in the early morning dew. At the next boda boda stage, a few metres from the Ministry of Public Service where the much sought positive answer lies, I found some people.
“Mwana kiviri ayagala ekitambulisho (the man with an afro wants to register for an ID),” one of them tells his friends who directs, “Just slope a few metres from here, to Soweto. You will see them at the Chairman’s place.” The relief that comes with closing in on a hunt!
Why then have all these people in Wandegeya been oblivious of an exercise only a spitting distance away? One wonders.
It’s a few minutes past 10am.
The chairman, an elderly man, is armed with a list in which he records applicants’ age, gender, area of residence and telephone contacts before issuing them an NSIS Form 1. This is an Enrolment Form, a fairly exhaustive four-page form with 14 parts to be filled in.
With this level of detail, font of print and standard of English, one has to have sat before a blackboard up to at least senior four. But all is not lost for the illiterate and semi illiterate.
“If some of them cannot fill in the forms, there is a team to help them,” one of the officers whispers to the chairman who replies, “It is what I am telling them, thank you!”
Indeed, three ladies, chewing popcorn go to the forms distribution point, ready to help those willing to fill the forms from the station and guide those going with them home.