Lack of Birth Certificates and National Identification Cards Embarrassing Malawians in Diaspora

Malawian citizens have never had National Identification Cards (IDs) and Birth Certificates (BCs) since time in memorial. Up to date, Malawi may be the only country in SADC if not the whole Africa which does not issue national IDs and Birth Certificates to its citizens. This is posing a lot of problems within the country and in Diaspora. We have for a long time now been promised the introduction of IDs and BCs but nothing tactile is happening to give us hope despite negative things happening in our country due to their absence.Through its director Peter Chitedze, The National Registration Bureau (NRB) which is looking into these issues has been prognosticating the nation since the year2007. In 2012, we were given hope that the registration towards issuing national IDs and BCs to all Malawian citizens of the required agewould roll out by December this year. This promise was ingeminated by the Minister of Home affairs and Internal Security, Honourable Uladi Mussa in February this year. These promises sound so good in our ears giving us anxiety as to how it feels to have National IDs and Birth Certificates.

It worries Malawians that besides these promises, we are not reckoning more effort towards achieving such a recommendable project. In 2003, we were urged to register as voters, with rumours circulating that voter registration details will also be used for production of Identification Cards. The same story iterated towards 2009 election. How long are we going to be cheated? Voter registration details were never used for national IDs though it sounded to be a good idea and cost effective. It is true as mentioned by the Electoral Commission that voter registration cards have been used as IDs in some institutions, but do we really need to depend on that? The use of voter registration card is not widely accepted either.Institutions such as banks, money bureaus, western union money transfer and othersdo not accept it conveyinga challenge to access money services and others which national Identification Cards would eradicate. For the sake of encouraging many people to register as voters, we were in some medical centres (e.g. Area 25 healthy centre) denied treatment, which wasn’t fair because one would be sick before s/he registers when s/he did not mean to defy voter registration. If promises made in 2003/2009 were effected, we wouldn’t need voter registration to serve as IDs and voter registration in the following years would be easy and effective for the Electoral Commission because there would be a guarantee that whoever registers to vote is a true Malawian. In the absence of national IDs and Birth Certificates, how sure are we that only veracious Malawians are registered to vote? Our identification has for a long time been Chichewa language which is even easy for foreigners to learn and in the process regarded as Malawians who may in later years register as voters. The aliens’ story aside, even true Malawians are sometimes humiliated by the police by being suspected to be pseudos. My friend from Nkhatabay (name deliberately withheld), was doing business with a certain Korean. Though I can not really recall what went wrong with them, the police squeezedhim ofdoing business illegally in a foreign land. With his broken Chichewa for being a Tonga, police didn’t believe that he was a Malawian. They forced him to go to Nkhatabay to get the letter from his Traditional Authority substantiatinghis citizenship. This was embarrassing to our fellow Malawian which could be avoided if Malawians had national IDs. In other countries, they even issue what they call alien’s card for identification of foreigners, just in case others are there illegally.

In addition, the number of immigrants, illegal business dealers and insecurity is increasing due to absence of national IDs and Birth Certificates. They come in our country and access our free medication because there is nocitizenship identification. Foreigners are operating businesses without permits as if they are Malawians and cross bordercriminals are hurting our security. I believe that the presence of national IDs will help our police and immigration departments serve us effectively. We can’t talk about driving licenses and passports as national IDs because driving licenses are meant for those who drive and for Malawians, passports are only needed when they are certain of travelling abroad.

Going to Diaspora, nationals in the countries we go don’t believe there is a country where Birth Certificates and national IDs are not issued. When my family joined me in Nairobi where I am studying, after three months their 90 days given at the border elapsed and we had to apply for dependent passes. I submitted documents to the university authorities to take to Kenyan immigration for dependent passes’ consideration but they were rejected. They came back and told me that the immigration requires the Birth Certificates for my son,Penjani. I told them that our country is just planning to start offering Birth Certificates and IDs which I also don’t have.They told me, “we have no means to help you then”. I went to Malawian consulate where they told me, the issue is beyond them, and told me to waitfor reopening of our embassy. The days were going, and I was afraid to be staying with my son in a foreign land without required documents. I was marooned. I decided to download some news docents on internet which talk about Malawi planning to start issuing Birth Certificates and national IDs to serve as my witness. I went to the immigration with them myself not university authorities. When I went there, the lady at the counter rejected them, saying they only need my son’s Birth Certificate to confirm my paternity. “I am sorry sir, we have no replacement for that, all we need is your son’s Birth Certificate for confirmation or else, try to talk to the in charge upstairs,flour number 6, room 14”, she said. I was embarrassed; however, I followed her advice.The in charge read the downloaded papers and asked for my passport and that of my son.He looked on the surnames and faces. Thank God, he accepted them and directed his subjects at the counter to acknowledge the application.“msaidiemtuuyu bwana. Jina la mtoto wakeniPenjani Masikamu najina lake ni Robert Masikamu (help this man anyway. His son’s name is Penjani Masikamu and his name is,Robert Masikamu”,he said. This is how I got helped, because my surname and that of my son are the same. What if our surnames were different as others choose to or as Rwandese do? Only God knows what would happen.

I am writing as a patriotic concerned Malawian so that the government can seriously consider the introduction of Birth Certificates and national IDs without frequent postponement to save us from such embarrassments and tighten our country’s security.I am sure that my concerns are true representation of other Malawians’. I heard that others do get Birth Certificates upon request and through some long legal processes, but how many are aware of that?Thank God that the 2013/2014 nation budget is reflecting National Registration Bureau which I hope the money is meant for such particular purpose to honour the long awaited promise. Let us wait and see!

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