Uganda’s 38 million citizens are some of the most fortunate people in the World with access to a free National Identification document.
Most recently the National ID became a very important currency when we realized that in order for SIM Cards to stay connected, one had to validate their registration details by sending National Identification Numbers (NINs) to the telecoms by SMS, for validation by the National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA).

This exercise brought a great deal of “inconvenience” to many (lazy) Ugandans, who as usual awaited closing deadlines and deadline extensions, to do their civil duty (registration for the National ID is mandatory under the Registration of Persons Act 2015).
It’s very easy to deem government programs as another labour, until you learn of the odious journey that for example refugees, immigrants and minorities in some countries must go through to gain legal identity.

Perhaps the day that access to formal services in Uganda such as financial services (bank accounts, land acquisition or registry), health access, and education require one to present a National ID we will have gratitude for the affordable privilege we possess.
Already the Ministry of Public Service made it mandatory for all civil servants to only access government salary through National ID registration and has seen tremendous benefits including ridding government payroll of “ghosts”. NIRA has now embarked on national registration of school-going children from 5 to 16 years.

I was pleased to learn that an observer of the exercise noted that the registration should be a national birth right for all children, whether in school or not – and I agree with this! I am sure many would be surprised to know that legal identity is a very costly affair in other democracies as compared to Uganda. The United States of America for example does not have a National ID, and access to formal ID is not just costly, but a herculean challenge.

Infused with highly discriminative voter laws, means in some parts of the U.S you may not be allowed to vote with commonly available IDs like concealed-weapons licenses, driver’s license, passports, military IDs, school ID, National Social Security ID or even State ID.
And in many cases, even with either of the above, without a Birth Certificate, proof of residence and other primary registration documents you can be denied your right to vote and even ability to process basic formal ID! In Uganda, Registration of persons has been streamlined into a single document!

On further scrutiny, getting your birth certificate in America costs (on average across states) $23 (shs80,500) for each copy, with additional processing and shipping fees for internet orders and phone orders. For those seeking already issued certificates, it costs a $30 (shs105,000) search fee! God forbid if your mother changed your name details for some reason, your court fee to confirm who you are will reach $250 (shs875,000)! Compare these figures with the FREE Ugandan National ID, FREE change of information on ID and replacement fee of shs50,000!

Your birth certificate in Uganda costs shs5000 and change of child’s details is shs20,000 and shs150,000 for adults! It’s no surprise in some states in America over 90,000 people lack proper ID!
Across America, about 11 percent do not have government-issued IDs such as a driver’s license or a passport, according to the Democracy Program at the Brennan Centre for Justice at New York University School of Law.

According to NIRA, over 18 million Ugandans above the age of 16 have been issued with National IDs and the current pupil registration national exercise is targeting over 12 million learners.
They say men lie, women lie, numbers don’t! Uganda could very well be ahead of other developed countries in achieving sustainable National Identification!

About the Author: Ernest Wasake

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