Thursday, February 19, 2009

National ID? No Thanks.

So, next year is election year. And this year the government will be issuing National ID cards to every Tanzanian who has reached their majority. Innocuous enough, I am sure.

Except Mkapa's second term, I believe the Government decided to change the vehicle registrations to their current format which meant that everybody had to queue up and pay the government for the pleasure of doing so. The sole company authorized to make the plates was owned by good old Uncle Ben.

Then there was the changing of passports circa 2005, another wonderful experience. Half of Tanzania's budget comes from donor aid, but we have modern biometric passports. More recently, rumors suggested that government was going to hit motorists again by modernizing our laughable driving licenses. We were thinking small. Why target a couple of thousand poor bastards when you can hit up roughly 50% of the population?

When the National ID project was announced, the Minister saddled with the scheme assured Tanzanians that we wouldn't have to pay for them. Fast forward to today's headline: "Tanzanians to pay for ID cards." We're a poor country, he says. The government can't afford to foot the bill, he says. As it is, we are going to have to do it in phases, he says. Next year is an election year, I says.

I don't want to be tagged. I don't trust my government with that kind of power. Like any sane Tanzanian, I try to minimize the state's direct interference in my life as much as possible. I can't imagine a more intimate embrace with the government than trying to get an ID card, except for prison maybe or the army. Though I understand some of the reasons they are doing this (security, blah, blah, blah, security) I am not sure that the outcome will justify the investment of 200 million dollars plus.

That's a chunk of change. Why not beef up community policing to address security concerns? Why not recruit and train teachers and increase their salaries so we're not overrun with angry unemployable youth? Why not stock women's clinics with latex gloves and surgical equipment for safer childbirth? Why not reduce the defense budget and sell off superfluous government luxury cars? Oh, yeah...because next year is an election year.

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