What you need to know:
- It also makes one question whether the policy makers examine the implications of their decisions on the consumers of their services. Do they fathom what it means for Ugandans across the globe to have varying ordinary passports issued barely a year apart?
About a year ago, Ugandans embraced an ultimatum that led to phasing out of the old passports. As of April 4, 2022, the old machine-readable passports were replaced with the East African Community electronic passports (e-passports).
Among the reasons advanced to explain the introduction of the e-passports were the need to comply with the “17th Summit directive of the East African heads of state, more security features; use of e-gates for self-clearance, easy and automated issuance of boarding passes; quicker passenger processing worldwide; and full compliance with security standards” (Sunday Monitor, December 16, 2018).
Barely a year down the road, Uganda’s Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control under the Ministry of Internal Affairs is at it again! This time round, a newer version of the East African e-passport with what has been described as “enhanced security features” has been unveiled! Unlike the initial introduction of the e-passport where pleas to adopt a phased manner were vehemently disregarded, the Directorate has this time allowed Ugandans who wish to acquire this version of passports to do so as and when their current passports expire or when they wish to acquire an initial passport.
Regardless of the reasons behind the introduction of these versions of e-passports, the timeframe between the changes and their implications for Ugandans both at home and in the diaspora beg the question of what is with the Ugandan passports?
As previously argued in my article published on August 26, 2020, the fervent rejection of proposals to adopt a phased approach while transiting from the old passports to the e-passport was unfair and exploitative. It meant that regardless of whether one had just recently acquired the old passport, they had to incur another expense to acquire the new e-passport! Additionally, considering that acquisition of the e-passports was tagged to having a national identity card, it was discriminatory for many Ugandans who were and are still struggling to acquire or replace their national identity cards! Furthermore, the limited information, communication and technology infrastructure and inadequate skills to navigate the online system and apply for the e-passports made the ultimatum unrealistic despite its enforcement! Lastly, given the then prevailing Covid-19 pandemic situation that saw travel restrictions for people from certain parts of the country, the ultimatum led to discrimination of Ugandans from such areas and exhibited limited value for the health and lives of those who were required to set up in-person appointments at the Ministry of Internal Affairs!
While most Ugandans complied, the ultimatum and its enforcement were unfeasible and rushed! Thinking about the latest e-passport development makes one wonder what exactly is going on and how long it will be before another version of this passport with probably “more enhanced security features” gets unveiled!
It also makes one question whether the policy makers examine the implications of their decisions on the consumers of their services. Do they fathom what it means for Ugandans across the globe to have varying ordinary passports issued barely a year apart? How about the burden of engaging immigration/home security departments in the respective countries where diaspora Ugandans live and work to update their immigration records whenever they acquire these new passports?
While the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control insists that it engages stakeholders in its decision-making processes, its directives relating to the phasing out of the old passports and transiting to the e-passports seem unpopular and lack the input of the intended beneficiaries! It is partly the reason I previously argued for the need to “engage citizens for better policy implementation” (Daily Monitor, December 13, 2018).
Dr David R. Walugembe is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia, Canada.