“My ID was released when the personal details where wrong, the names where written wrongly and the age was wrong too,” narrates a resident from Nyagatare district.
Minor as the problem sounds, which you would imagine should take a few days, is serious. For some though, they have given up, accepting to live with wrong data on their ID, or without it altogether.
The Nyagatare resident added: “I was supposed to use it and it was difficult because I was in advanced level secondary school and I was studying by then and the way to get it I had to go and correct the errors then they told me that what was printed is the right information and I could tell them it’s not the right one, then it became very difficult and I had no choice to accept the details that were on the ID.”
Every adult Rwandan is required, and eligible to have a national ID, or known in Rwandan as Indangamuntu. Those below that age are considered minors, and registered on their patents’ ID.
The small, hard plastic piece of item, is needed to access nearly every service in Rwanda. To get it, the process is simple, at least on paper.
Once you have the necessary documentation in order, you present it to the nearest Sector office and receive their application code. You then use their application code to have your photograph taken and biometric data collected at the sector office equipped with Biometric Data Collection Kits. You then pay the required 500 RWF application fee (about 50 US cents) at any Irembo agent nearby or via phone.
According to the official process, you should then receive your national ID card. However, a major study has found the process cumbersome and opaque. A team of researchers commissioned by the World Bank set out to establish how Rwandans feel about one of their most prized possessions.
The study, published last week is; “People’s Perspectives on the National ID, Birth Registration, and Birth Certificates in Rwanda“.
Each person in Rwanda is issued a 16-digit unique national identification number (NIN); biometrics (thumbprints) are collected during registration for the national ID card to ensure uniqueness. The card has a photo, signature and basic biographic data on the front; an unencrypted 2D barcode with biographic data and a single thumbprint minutia encoded are on the back.
The card contains UV holograms and microprinting as security features. The first national ID card costs 500 RWF (about 50 US cents), and every replacement issued thereafter costs 1,500 RWF (about USD 1.5).
The National Identification Agency (NIDA), a body that collects all that data, stores it and issues ID, estimates that over 98 percent of the eligible population have been issued a national ID card.
The national ID card and NIN are widely used by adults aged 16+. Both are required for accessing most services in Rwanda, including healthcare, higher education, taxation, pensions, social assistance, financial services, and SIM registration. The Rwanda national ID card is also accepted as a valid travel document by Kenya and Uganda, and vice versa, as part of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects. NIDA also issues ID cards to registered refugees (as valid as Rwandan IDs) and legal residents.
Crucial it is, the process of getting Indangamuntu or replacing it, does not always happen as straightforward as it sounds, with unforeseen delays and often requiring multiple trips.
While the NIDA website lays out a one-month processing time between a citizen giving their biometric data and receiving their national ID card, some of the 313 participants in the study reported much longer processing times, often requiring multiple visits to sub-offices.
“The problem is that you can wait for 2 years to get an ID,” said a resident of Gicumbi district. “So, the waiting period is difficult since you need an ID for different purposes. If you are lucky, you may get it few months later after taking a photograph.”
Study participants cited four commonly encountered barriers in registering for a national ID for the first time: (i) delays in ID application processing times; (ii) concentration of NIDA centers in urban areas; (iii) weak mechanisms for ensuring accuracy of information; and (iv) insufficient information communication and sensitization.
Many of the participants highlighted cases in which the information on their national ID was incorrect. The current process has few mechanisms for applicants to review and verify information before it is printed, and once the card has been made, the recipient often has little choice but to start the process and pay the application fee over again.
A resident from Musanze said: “I thought of changing the mistake on my ID card about birthdate, but I got discouraged by an official at the office telling me that it takes long time and birthdate doesn’t matter, what matters are only names.”
From Rusizi district, the resident there said: “It [changing my ID] took about three months and even money was involved. Going to a ministry that I don’t know, changing things at the Cell. It was hectic.”
Similar sentiments echoed by another respondent from Kigali, saying; “I wasn’t very happy about it [replacing my ID] because it takes long. Most of the times you go to look for it when you really need it and it is difficult to get it.”
In Nyaruguru, the respondent there said: “I was then told to go and bring my baptism card, and I had to take a bus from Nyanza to come and look for it. it was difficult. It was costing me much money. So, I had to leave it. Now I left it.”
Faced with a long process, some have chosen to live without the ID, though they are very few.
Participants discussed financial barriers or the inability to present oneself to be registered for a national ID. Some cited challenges with finding the right documentation necessary to register (which can be a major challenge for orphans in particular), the difficulty in accessing sector offices, or social stigma around having waited too long after having been eligible at age 16. In addition, several participants mentioned that homeless people without a fixed address were unable to register for one.
A Rubavu district resident said: “There are those groups who might be having the capacity to go get registered to have national IDs. For example, homeless people who are even orphans whose parents didn’t register them at the Cell level. Those people don’t have documents identifying them those are the groups you find that don’t have documents which verify them.”
According to some participants, people with severe disabilities who may not be independent and thus may not need a national ID because they would be listed as a dependent on their caretaker’s ID instead.
When discussing people who might not want a national ID, some participants pointed to ignorance or a lack of understanding of the benefits as the primary reason someone would not register for a national ID card, saying, as one participant did; ”Often they have not yet discovered themselves and others didn’t get information that is sufficient so that they can know the value of the identification card and how it is used.”
Another commonly cited reason is that there are some religions or congregations that discourage congregants from registering for national ID cards. As one participant described it: “I think there are also religious beliefs, where there are people with specific beliefs in a given religion which cannot allow them … to have identity cards. So, I think that religious beliefs may be a reason which cannot allow a person to have identity card; they say some of these cards in a way are related to satanism.”
Many participants said that the other reason for not having a national ID card is because that person is engaged in criminal or illegal activities and would want to avoid detection. Several participants alluded to those who had participated in the genocide or other criminal activities as not wanting to possess national IDs.
A Musanze resident said; “The reason for a person to live without an Identity card is when he/she has another agenda. A person who doesn’t want to be recognized or identified is either a thief or a terrorist. For every Rwandan, who is patriotic and honest will take an identity card when it is time to get one.”
Many of the respondents cited insufficient information and poor communication about the application process in general and about updates for individual applicants as an issue. The issues with communication about the national ID application process are twofold: first, the channels used, and second, the type and amount of information conveyed about the application process. In terms of channels, most of the information about the registration process is communicated via radio, but participants also suggested print campaigns using posters and distributed flyers for residents to be able to synthesize all the necessary information.
“My suggestion is that we receive SMSs or WhatsApp messages from MTN, NIDA to confirm that one’s identification is correct before printing the ID,” said a resident in Kigali.
Despite the shortcomings, the World Bank study says Rwanda’s ID is widely considered to be one of the strongest foundational national identification (ID) systems in Africa due to the robust back end and information management systems that underpin it.
Following the success of the Indangamuntu, government has shifted focus to recording all newborns in a massive national scheme launched in 2017. Government is now going digital with this new registration.
A child must have been registered within 30 days of birth. Though late registration fees are not currently legally in force, some participants recounted having to pay fees in the past, likely for a jugement supplétif from a court which is sometimes required as a supporting document for late birth registration. Birth registration requires a birth notification issued by the health facility where the child was born.
In case the child was not born in a health facility, registration requires a birth notification issued by a competent authority in the child’s place of birth indicating the names of the child’s parents and date of birth and in the presence of two witnesses 18 years or older. Registering a birth is free, but acquiring a birth certificate incurs a fee ranging from 500 to 2,000 RWF, depending on the type of certificate requested.
As noted earlier, a new digital birth registration service is planned, which will allow children born in Rwanda to be registered after birth at the hospital or at the Cell level. The new process is designed to make it more convenient for parents and will address many of the shortcomings in the current process, such as the time, documentary, transport fees, and witness requirements. The same types of BCs, and associated fees, will remain under the new digital birth registration system.
Roughly 80% of the 313 study participants did not have a Birth Certificate, an inverse of the number who had the national ID, according to the World Bank study.
This was consistent across male and female participants. Birth Certificate ownership was lowest among participants who were orphans, members of special groups, or in the most vulnerable.