Chased Away and Left to Die

How a National Security Approach to Uganda’s National ID Has Led to Wholesale Exclusion of Women and Older Persons

The Ugandan government launched a new national digital ID system in 2014, promising to issue all Ugandans with a national ID number and national ID card, while also building a large central database of identity information, including personal biographic information and digitized biometric information such as fingerprints and facial photographs. This 2020 report documents the continuing wholesale exclusion of large swaths of the Ugandan population from this national digital ID system, known as Ndaga Muntu. Based on 7 months of research together with our Ugandan partners the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) and Unwanted Witness, the report takes an in-depth look at the implications of this exclusion for pregnant women and older persons attempting to access their rights to health and social protection.

The report begins with a thoroughly researched overview of the origins and design of the national digital ID system, which was originally described by a prominent government Minister as a “national security weapon.” Although it was strongly linked to national security priorities of the government, the national ID system was also intended to serve a wide variety of uses, including identification and authentication for access to social services and healthcare. However, the implementation of this ambitious system has been filled with challenges—with the result that up to one-third of the adult population remains excluded. Despite robust political support and several waves of mass registration, progress in increasing coverage in the system continues to be frustrated by implementation challenges including budget shortfalls, as well as physical, financial, technological, and administrative barriers to access. All of these challenges have been exacerbated by an environment marked by inequality and discrimination. 

This has led to severe human rights consequences, especially for vulnerable groups such as older persons and women, who have been denied access to lifesaving social services. The report describes how Ndaga Muntu has now become a mandatory requirement to access both government and private services. This includes access to health care and social pensions, as well as the ability to vote, get a bank account, and obtain a mobile phone. In short, exclusion from the national digital ID has become a life and death matter for many people in Uganda. The report draws on focus group conversations and individual interviews with affected persons, as well as discussions with numerous government administrators and scholars, to share deeply contextualized personal accounts of how this mandatory requirement has had an impact on individual lives. 

Based on these extremely concerning accounts of exclusion, discrimination, and violations of economic and social rights, the report concludes with a series of actionable recommendations to mitigate the most pressing human rights concerns. This includes the need to ensure that the mandatory national ID requirement does not continue to lead to exclusion from fundamental rights and services, for instance by allowing for the use of alternative forms of ID. It also emphasizes the need to re-examine whether a national ID system designed to be a national security tool is fit for the purposes of inclusion and human rights.