Uganda National ID – Alternate Strategy?

I have been thinking – some would say that is a dangerous thing, well yes I have been thinking, just what an afternoon with no distractions can do for you. Well there is a general problem in my motherland Uganda, there is no National ID. Oh yes, there is no way of uniquely identifying each and every person in the country, even tracking the babies born or the deaths. Sad but true, how has this affected the populace, to some its a great thing not to be known but to others, its a great source of discomfort since everything is just too hard to do.

What is not helping are headlines like Government suspends national ID project again and with a budget now growing to the hundreds of millions of dollars, a question pops into my head. Are there no other options to get to the same place, are there no other ways? In the words of Benjamin Franklin “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

So again with the Snowden revelations, and potential for mis-use, there is one fact that is evident, with no National ID, the progress we are making going forward is going to be very very painful. In the software development world, there is the concept of “technical debt”, which has very high interest rates in terms of cost of addition of new feature, slowing down progress as you move along.

The high-level strategies revolve around the following themes:

  1. Frugal Innovation – how to use very little to make alot of progress
  2. Customer Value – focus on ensuring that the 75% who see the value are immediately served, to act as a tipping point for the rest
  3. Relevance – ensuring that the implementation is relevant in today’s “environment”
  4. Accuracy and Trust – the data within the system must be trusted from the word go, it should be easy to spot and very inconsistencies

So here it is:

  1. Target population – above 18 years of age
  2. Implementing body: a government parastatal & accompanying bill which is setup to manage the process of issuing the National ID numbers as the single source of truth whose mandate is to provide the lowest common denominator for citizen registration
  3. Who gets National ID numbers first? The element of trust is very important, but the need is to start with as little as possible to continuously refine over time, so the starting issuance of National ID numbers has to start from those people who are known, by different systems so that their identities can easily be verified which include:
    • Passport
    • National Social Security Fund
    • Tax Identification Number
    • Driving License
    • Voter Registration
  4. Registration of Births and Deaths: this is a critical component of the National ID system as it identifies which IDs are no-longer in use
  5. Regional Offices to ensure that people applying for IDs do not have to travel to Kampala to do it
  6. Technology/Organization:
    • Provide a means of checking the status of application by visiting authorized centers which include regional offices, SMS requests (responses to be sent to the number registered on the application)
    • Access to online verification services for authorized usage
  7. Critical Success Factor: uptake which can only be driven by the network effect of being used by multiple players within the private and public sector as the lowest common denominator for accessing services

What do you think? Where are the gaps that I have not thought through? What other alternatives are there?


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Margaret on November 22, 2013 at 13:30

    The IGP has reintroduced registering residents with the LC1. This is a good source of data which can drastically reduce on costs especially registering deaths and babies occurring out of hospitals. However the present lot have overstayed and are too corrupt to be entrusted with such a task. They can therefore be conscripted after elections. Not forgetting the need to cross-check their input with established reputable bodies like the banks, NSSF etc



  2. Posted by Drile Victor on November 22, 2013 at 13:36

    For the most part you are very right. Personally I would begin with working on a unique system and hence code that can identify an area(down to the smallest unit – home, muzigo, etc). Gladly we have and LC system that goes way down to the grass roots, this should help greatly in such a process. Then start your registration from there. Those captured already on the other data bases could merely update to include this unique code. Then make changing residences without updating ones data criminal.



  3. The National Census is scheduled for August next year and will be incorporated into this process that is running along. Of course the realities are more complicated than the theory is, and corrections should have been made long, long ago; but there is an issue with equipment already being on the ground which can’t be thrown away, and money that has been spent on results that also have to be put to use.



  4. Posted by Edward Ari Bichetero on November 26, 2013 at 13:41

    There is a tendency to look at the problem of identification and propose one grand overarching ID. This is frankly silly. Much better is to have multiple acceptable identification documents for different purposes. Pick passport, voter’s card and possibly driver’s license as your highest tier. They are all government issued and are backed by strong verification procedures and (anyone of them) would be used for the highest rigour of identification. The next tier of identification could be issued by private, but highly regulated and supervised bodies (think banks, universities or such). How you arrange the tiers is dependent on the country and their (changing) needs, but the principle is sound and usable. And avoids the disruption that occurs when someone loses their ID document.



    • Edward, my thinking exactly, the National ID is not the one ID to rule them all, but rather the lowest common denominator of them all.

      The ecosystem of multiple IDs is here to stay, however Uganda needs one which is prevalent, acceptable, and driven by government for general use.



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