Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lost Kenyan IDs

I've just gotten back to Wenzhou after my quick trip home for my twin brother's nuptials (...which on its own requires a retrospective blog entry). Was great to finally be in the same room as all four of my siblings for the first time in 13 years, so indeed, it was a blessing.

But part of being cooped up with those guys means that we got to go down old paths and just be as loud as ever (and poke fun at each other). Everyone labeled me the "complainer-in-residence" - aka Pessimist supreme - because apparently all I did since getting home was complain about Kenya; sure, I have done my fair share of complaining (...not like I was the only one complaining), but the rest of the family just seems to think that I can't ever say anything positive about any situation in Kenya.

Maybe sometimes I just expect too much of my country; but then again, it should be noted that about a week before I had jetted into Kenya, the refurbishing of Parliament had taken place; I did not learn of the 'expensive chair debacle' personally (because I have been avoiding political news since "Pre-Election Fever" rolled in); rather, it was a fellow African friend who informed me of how shaming it was for Africa-as-a-whole to have that gross waste of public funds tacked to its image, on top of everything else we already go through.

So, perhaps, we just might not be expecting enough from our leadership and institutions. (just a thought).

My sister once told me
"Someone shouldn't complain about a situation if they haven't taken the effort to do something about it."  
She was not implying that complaining is sinful; rather, that solving problems should be the first option. Focus on progress, and try to save complaining for 'emergency' situation. So, in the interest of what I can do for my country, let me change tact here, basically address a problem I perceive, and offer the solution.

While walking through business premises in Nairobi, I have long noticed the habit of affixing lost ID cards to their service counter windows. I can understand the reasoning behind this: surely, if someone left their ID cards, they can possibly retrace their steps, end up at said business premise, and be reunited with their cards.

This, however, gives the impression that the process of "retracing our steps" is flawless; in my personal experience, it is quite chaotic even if the lost items were merely misplaced in my room; compound the scale of the search area, and I think the chances of finding said lost item are negligible (bordering on 'miraculous').

People might not understand how important ID cards are in Kenya. Kenya is not like the US, where your driver's license might dabble as useful ID. The only other document approaching that level of credibility is a passport (and even less Kenyans have that document). In times past, being caught without an ID by the police was legal grounds for detention; add to that the fact that we have an election scheduled within the next 6 months, and that ever-nagging threat of Al-Shabaab in our midst, I think NOW is not exactly a good time to be missing an ID card (and Lord know how long it will take to get a replacement).

I searched the internet for any centralized solutions that the National Registration Bureau might have implemented to fix the situation, and the results are as follows:

  1. National Registration Bureau website is currently offline
  2. Secondary sites (Found it & Lost ID) have been set up to pick up the slack
    One could argue that if these sites are obscure, then they are just virtual equivalents of IDs affixed to the service window in some random office.
  3. *The sh. 300 surcharge for ID replacement was recently done away with.
So here's my solution.
  1. The National Registration Bureau (NRB) needs to open its own equivalent of a 'Lost and Found' site (this is the only one fully guaranteed of being centralized)
  2. Businesses should hold on to lost IDs for a maximum of 3-5 days (just in case someone does successfully retrace their steps)
    After that period, they MUST send them to the NRB (unlike the old system, where the card would be sent to the Chief's office, which on many occasions does not correspond to someone's actually area of residence).
  3. The NRB needs to work out an arrangement with the post office, such that people can drop/mail a found ID card to the post office free-of-charge. This of course means that the NRB needs to get a 'dedicated' post office box for this exact purpose.
  4. The collected cards can then be sent over to Nyayo House, Nairobi where they can be digitally catalogued and stored safely. This also calls for a dedicated working space.
    The beauty of this is that since catalogued info would include the key fields Name and ID Number (two items we are expected to know off-head) for a lost ID, these same key fields would correspond with those listed on an application for an ID replacement, thus effectively bridging the tracking and replacement functions of the website (...why replace something if you already have it within retrieval range?)  
  5. Lastly, they just need to regularly update the lost-and-found database, and allow the typical mwananchi access to either by mobile phone or internet
So, there you have. My bit for the day. Wish I had the power to implement it...but until such a time, this will have to do.

God Bless