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Millions excluded as Uganda uses national digital ID system for emergency COVID welfare

Millions excluded as Uganda uses national digital ID system for emergency COVID welfare

Ugandans face exclusion from emergency relief during a COVID-19 lockdown as cash payments are being made via the national biometrics-based digital ID system, a system itself so exclusionary that a third of the adult population, including vulnerable groups, are prevented from registering.

A trio of rights activists and academics has written a critique of Uganda’s COVID-19 policy in African Arguments, a pan-African news analysis site, which follows their recent report ‘Chased Away and Left to Die’ into the devasting impact of the wholesale exclusion of women and elderly by the ‘Ndaga Muntu’ biometric ID system. The report found that the system’s exclusions were so severe that people are dying as a result of being denied healthcare and not being able to register for welfare.

The government began a 42-day lockdown in early June as COVID-19 cases rose sharply in a second wave which proved more deadly than the first in 2020. A month later on 8 July, authorities began distributing emergency cash transfers to those in need via mobile money.

Decisions as to who receives payments are based on data from the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA). The authors estimate that a third of the adult population has not been able to register for the Ndaga Muntu biometric ID, and that this group includes marginalized communities such as those with disabilities or living in remote areas. It is also a requirement to have a national ID in order to register for a SIM card.

“The result is that many of those most in need during the current crisis will be shut out of any programme that relies on data held by NIRA, an underfunded government authority that has been plagued by failures and allegations of corruption and bribery,” claim the authors.

“Knowing the severe dysfunction it faces, relying on the national ID system for COVID-19 emergency relief is tantamount to criminal negligence.”

The authors’ organizations, including Unwanted Witness and the Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, successfully sued the Ugandan government earlier this year after it attempted to restrict access to vaccines to those who could present a national digital identity card.

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