Tuesday April 29 2014

Hustle for identity: joy and pain of registering for an ID



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.

“So what if my girlfriend is a Rwandan,” I tease the officer. Unsure of what to say, he retorts, “we shall get her another form to take care of that. Bring her passport or an ID from her country.”

So even foreigners can register? As I prod on he says, “but no, we have not yet started registering foreigners, they will be registered in the next round.” He still leaves us wondering whether foreigners can have a Ugandan ID?

As we fill in the forms, a pick pocket comes, rubbing himself over my trousers’ pocket area as though there was commotion. I check the pockets and move away silently.

Being fairly educated, my form has no major issues, save a few errors. The verification officer, Mary Kembabazi is impressed and signs off on the provision for (Chairman, Verification Committee). Originally, I learn, this was to be signed by the chairperson of one’s place of birth or residence but it was later relaxed to avoid the hustle.
What then do I need to move to the next step of having my photo taken, finger prints and bio-data captured?

A birth certificate is all Kembabazi wants to see. “So where on earth was this talk of a string of requirements from passport, driving permit, Local council letter, academic documents?” one wonders, especially when a mere mechanical glance at a photocopy of a birth certificate is all you need to confirm that you are Ugandan.

As she flags me off to the waiting desk for the last stages of this process, she is accosted by a man, with scary muscle build from toe to eye. “You chased me away yesterday saying that I have no birth certificate.

I was born in the huts of Kabale. If you don’t want us to get your IDs, tell us. We don’t even need them,” he quarrels. His form is torn and bloated. All he has for identification is his boda boda association identity card. He is later cleared.

“You can’t believe how illiterate people here are. Where they are meant to fill in their age, they fill in the residence. They have to be guided through everything,” intimates the station’s police officer, only identified as Echolu.

Our discussion digresses to the attitude of the residents of Soweto (Katanga), “We started with Kimwanyi, now we’re at Soweto for three days then we cross to Katale and Busia zones and rotate back here till May or June.”

His is to keep an eagle’s eye on the safety of the equipment. The Canon camera, finger print machine and Dell laptop attract the attention of many here. They have to keep shifting the kits as the sun advances.
“Oops! It has broken down again. Tell that man to stop taking photos, his face scares the camera,” one of the officers shouts as the camera suddenly stops working.

The officers have to fidget, changing batteries and hitting the laptop. One of them bows his head as though in silent prayer and returns to the laptop, staring at it, cursing in a murmur only reported by the tweaking and twirling of the lower lip upon the upper lip.

The jokes, filtered and uncouth, make the whole exercise here a fun fare of sorts. Here you come face to face with Kampala’s slum life. But that they are ready to stagger with drunkenness to registration, and brave the long lines all day, angrily bark at officials taking too long to finish work on an applicant.

What inspires people to register
“I am tired of Afande Mohammed Kirumira (OC Nansana) terrorising us, they always arrest us for lack of IDs, let us get them now and see what they will say,” a resident says. A friend adds, “If I don’t ever take a photo with a camera of the government, when will I ever touch anything of the government?”

The fear of a hard life without a national ID has played its part in driving many of Wandegeya and Katanga’s population to register.
A woman only identified as Nalongo says, “I came here on Monday at 4pm and was turned away when the machines failed to work. I came back at 7am today and it is now 11am, the waiting is terrible but what do you do when you want a loan and have no ID?” Her point holds water. The pace here makes snails envious!

The camera crew needs almost 10 minutes to arrange an applicant for a photo shot, the data entrants romance the keyboard, pressing key after key as though awaiting divine instruction on what to press next, this too needs at least 15 minutes, then taking the finger prints is another 10 minutes.

Factor in disruptions, technical glitches, tea and lunch breaks and you can only pray that at this rate, the exercise, already battered by limited publicity, does not drag on and on for another decade.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson, Pamela Atukunda told this reporter recently, “We have 7,410 parishes country wide and each is meant to have four kits, we are yet to supply those without.” How long are Ugandans ready to wait? At least I registered for mine and await my card come October, what about you?

Major benefits of the National ID card

Enable government plan properly and provide easy access to good social facilities and services
Benefiting from national health system and school capitation grants based on verifiable identities and data at the local level
Facilitate more transparent and trustworthy business transactions
Help keep crime low in the community with quick and reliable identification of criminals
Guarantee the unique association “one document/ one identity” in the delivery of services like driver licensing, passports, voting process and business transactions
Help secure properties, title deeds and assets
Facilitate regional and international integration based on verifiable and reliable data
Support for regional integration (protocols for movement across the region)
Conform to international obligations like e-pass port
Accessing financial services like opening an account
Processing land titles
Identifying public services to which citizens are entitled
What documents do I need?
Either of the above: Birth certificate, marriage certificate, academic certificates, passport, LC Letter, child health card. Where you lack these, the parish citizenship verification committee at the parish level will verify if you are indeed a citizen of Uganda.

The process is free, the registration form and extra spouse form can be accessed at the parish enrolment centers at no charge
Enrolment officers must help you without asking for money
Documents such as marriage certificates and/or baptism cards are not compulsory during registration.

For the first time, the card is free but a fee will be levied for replacement
Source: National ID project, Ministry of Internal Affairs