Photo: / Andrey_Popov

Exploring Citizens’ Dissatisfaction About the National ID System in Uganda

Nattabi Vivienne writes how the requirement of a digital national ID in Uganda prevents the poor and marginalized groups from acquiring their social rights

The national ID in Uganda has become an important tool for identification, but it has also caused exclusion among individuals trying to access social services. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 67% of the adult population had received national IDs in 2019, while between 23%-33% had not - a fact which has excluded people from enjoying their social rights.

Uganda introduced the national ID system in 2014, locally known as the ‘Ndaga Muntu’. It was initially designed to serve national security objectives, but later became a government showpiece that is of major importance to how individuals access social rights.

The national ID has benefits for people who have registered and received cards. These include providing individuals access to financial, health, and social services. National ID reduces the cost for financial institutions to identify who their clients are and to comply with legal requirements to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing. It also allows for easier travel across borders, and supports online identification, which is considered the foundation for modern digital economies.

However, in a recently launched joint report by Unwanted Witness, the Initiative for Social and Economic rights, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and New York School of Law - it was observed that these benefits are not enjoyed by every citizen.

Particularly disenfranchised are the poor and marginalized groups who have not been able to acquire national IDs, and those whose national IDs have errors

The research mainly focused on most vulnerable Ugandans’ lived experiences of acquiring a national ID ‘Ndaga Muntu’ for access to healthcare and Senior Citizens’ Grants. According to the report findings, the main challenge individuals are facing with the national ID is failure to access social rights, which include Senior Citizens' Grants and healthcare services.

Looking at Senior Citizens’ Grants (SCG) for the elderly, a national ID is a prerequisite to receive benefits of Ugx 25000/=($ 7.07) every month, provided by the Government. In our individual interviews with older persons, they showed frustration towards ‘Ndaga Muntu’ because it has prevented some of them from getting these benefits.

The first and most recurring issue was errors in birth dates made on older persons' national IDs during registration. This has affected them because their years have been reduced, making them younger than their actual age and thus preventing them from getting the Senior Citizens’ Grants for the over 80s.

Even more irritating for older persons is that correcting errors or replacing lost or damaged national IDs is a problem. It is a long and tedious process which includes paying a fee of shs 50,000($14.19) - an amount too high for most of them.

Secondly, for a beneficiary to get that money, they are required to come in person. They are not allowed to send alternative recipients. This forces them to walk long distances to reach the service providers who administer these benefits, and line up for long hours under the hot sun, which causes fatigue and health problems.

Thirdly, the national ID was made digital so that it would simplify registration and verification, for example through the use of biometric readers. But this digitization has not been able to benefit older persons, because the biometric readers cannot scan some of their thumb prints.

Lastly, some older persons do not have national IDs because although they were registered, their IDs have not been printed. Others have not registered for the national IDs, while some have failed to retrieve their IDs from NIRA offices.

In public health facilities, new registers with a National Identification Number (NIN) column were introduced in 2019.

This is an indication that, in the near future, one would strictly need to have a national ID to access health services

The National Identity Card (NIC) and National Identification Number (NIN) should not be the key to receiving social rights. If a right requires identification, then alternative forms of identification like passports, LCI letters, birth certificates, baptism cards, and voter ID should be considered so that help can be rendered to all citizens.

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