Malawi the last country standing on national identity cards

By Penelope Paliani Kamanga

The move to give Malawians identity cards has entered its second month with only 200,000 people registered out of the ambitious move to register 9 million by the end of this year.

Malawi, which is the only country in Southern Africa and Comesa without national identity cards (IDs), had been under pressure to fast-track the process of issuing the IDs to address the challenges the country has long faced due to the absence of the documents.

Malawians currently use driving licenses, passports, and in some cases voter registration certificates as proof of their citizenship in places and institutions where identification is needed.

Those who don’t have such documents are asked to bring any person with a passport or driving license to be a witness.

Spokesperson for the National Registration Bureau (NRB) Norman Fungatira said in an interview that they hoped by the end of this year, they would have registered nine million Malawians in the third stage of the registration process.

He said the NRB was carrying out a registration exercise so that Malawi should be in line with its Southern African counterparts as it was the only country in the region without national identity cards.

According to the spokesperson for NRB, Norman Fulatira, they are in the second phase of the registration process which involves registering civil servants.

The registration phase which has started with districts in the central region of Malawi which are Nkhotakota, Mchinji and Dowa has faced a lot of hitches which included among other things solar power equipment failure and incompetence of some registration clerks when using the equipment.

This has led to the centre registering less people than expected.

But the Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Cecilia Chazama has since promised that they will address the problems so as to reach the targeted goal.

The government launched the National Registration Bureau in 2007 to oversee the process of issuing national identity documents yet it has been 10 years for the bureau to begin the process of registering people for the IDs.

Health authorities say the absence of national IDs is putting a strain on medical resources because foreigners come to take advantage of free medical services in public hospitals, particularly in border districts.

Campaigners against child trafficking argue that lack of identification has been contributing to an increase in trafficking cases.

“In fact, most of the time when someone is taking kids from one place to another, it is difficult to know to prove if the kids are being trafficked or not and to know where they are from, and this has led to the traffickers lying that the kids are a relation,” Hastings Jumbe, president of Journalists Against Child Trafficking, said recently.

“So most of the time you wouldn’t force someone to identify themselves in the absence of an ID,” Ambassador of Ireland, Aine Hearns, speaking on behalf of development partners at a conference held a day prior to the launch.

“National ID would be instrumental for citizens of Malawi in obtaining health care services, such as health insurance, and vaccinations.

It would be key to citizens’ political and legal rights, such as voting, owning property rights or receiving an inheritance.

Enrolling children or applying for national or international scholarships, national ID will open the doors of opportunities for Malawians.

Gender equality, including prevention of early and child marriages will be achieved through digital identity.”

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