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National ID Dilema

National ID Dilema

The other day I was reading an article about complaints against the Sierra Leone National ID Card.  It was stated that the cards do not have addresses on them.  There is a certain reality about the problem of addresses in Sierra Leone and, possibly, most of Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa.  My travels have taken me to about seven African countries, all along the West Coast.  If there is one glowing problem it is the lack of addressing.  Look at business addresses on letterheads or complimentary cards and you will see phrases “like opposite the Pharmacy”, or “across from the bank”.  In most of these countries there are hardly any street legal addresses and so for someone to describe where they live can almost mean taking you there physically.  There has been very little effort at planning and as such most big cities have been overrun by shanty towns and helter-skelter, non-permitted or inspected buildings or streets that do not show up on a cadastral map.  That is just a fact.  Added to the above problems there is increasing homelessness which is not been addressed.  (Photo:  Sewanu Kponou,  –  author)

“Kahch”   The problem of accommodation is so acute that in many cities there is a massive level of “kahching”.  This is when people stay with friends or relatives, for varying lengths of time, while trying to look for accommodation. That is when you see overcrowding at its best, or worst.   These people essentially do not have addresses, especially if they can move at any time.  When standing in the city center of Freetown and one has cause to look at the outlying hills, you see nothing but structures that have been carved into the hillsides, without any access roads.  I am not sure of how these people can have addresses.

Homelessness:  There are certain things in Africa that are not usually put in any proper perspective, to the point of been taboo. Two of these are homelessness and mental illness.  There is a level of relevance to this topic because there are a good percentage of people in some of these cities, especially terribly overcrowded cities like Freetown and Lagos, which are homeless.  They sleep in parked vehicles, market stalls and the like.  How are these people supposed to have addresses? 

“Area” Address:   This is not necessarily Sierra Leone’s first stab at issuing National ID Cards, but it may be the best attempt so far.  I will use the example of Gambia to make some comparison.  In Gambia, to get any ID, National, Drivers License, Work Permit etc., the first step is to get a Tax ID Number (TIN).  That becomes your tracking number just like a social security number is in the US.  On the forms to be filled your address will be a street and town address or just the name of the locale that you live in (area address).  Applicants input whichever applies.  An “area” address in Freetown could be Babadoree.    

GPS Addresses:    With the advancement in technology, we may be able to create GPS based addresses, in the event that we do not have street names for the structures/dwellings.  The highest level of usefulness of this system will be achieved when this database becomes tied in with the police to get criminals off the streets, if there is the political, and bribery free, will to do so.  This system will also help during elections as registrations are tied in with your ID number.  Medical and educational records can be coordinated if they now have the same national ID number, enabling statisticians to get a better look at trends in the nation.  When the government is able to give street names and numbers to all structures, then we can expect to have addresses on every card issued.  Till then we will have to deal with what we have, which I think is a step in the right direction.  Just been able to create a database of all citizens is a big achievement in itself and probably should be applauded.  This system will evolve with time.

Sewanu Kponou,  –  Atlanta, Ga., USA

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