A Diaspora Experience:My Kenyan ID Saga
Walking into the hotel, I noticed signs everywhere for an Eagle Reunion, maybe a school or some type of organization. What I did not see were any signs for “Kenyan ID”.
I tried to look in the lobby for any familiar faces carrying a large USPS envelope as a sign, but to no avail.
I was pointed in the general direction and took some stairs an elevator bank, adjacent to a computer and printer on a study desk, oddly placed I thought to myself.
I walked down the stairs and there were some familiar African faces outside the door, two men, both looking at me coming down the stairs in an uninviting way.
Looking for confirmation that I was in the right place, one of them reached for a stack of business cards and handed one to me, I thought they were numbers to be called when I walked in, but it turned out to be shoddy made business cards pandering some banking/shipping service that I didn’t care for especially if they were half handed like that, hand written phone number and all. “this isn’t good”, I thought to myself, and I haven’t even crossed the threshold yet.
The room looked like a Kenyan wedding reception had been set up with a high table and five or so rows of tables on the bride and grooms side.
The high table had five government officials; three sitting sifting through half-filled paperwork, and after watching the exchanges it turned out almost everyone had not filled out the paperwork correctly, or even brought the correct support paperwork, gods forbid you didn’t bring a return envelope which cost you another thirty dollars on top of the application fee, ID fee, photos, gas and headache this was turning out be an expensive and discouraging venture. All before my turn came up.
I walked in and sat down, seconds later I was told there is a sign-in sheet at the high table.
I walked up and queued as we Kenyans are used to. One of the two officials came to me asking me to sign the blank printer paper handed to me.
I did and she proceeded to ask me if I had my paperwork, I affirmed that I had my passport, copy of birth certificate and pictures that ended up being cropped more than it should have to what may end up being just a black blob on the ID card with a smile as the only identifying feature.
She then proceeded ask, “Do you have a copy of your parents ID card or passport? “No” I said, “we need that”, and in a diplomatic tone, she continued “unaweza pigia mama na baba simu, ama email them to send you a copy. You know we are here kesho and you can come and do it then” she finished.
I thought to myself, you are kidding me?”, and followed with “so can we start the process and I can come with the supporting paperwork later”, the resounding answer was “No” and I soon figured out why.
Turns out I also needed a copy of my passport not just a passport, the embassy was lacking in their information. No wonder everyone seemed to fall short, and need more than one trip to correct these issues.
I needed my parents ID and also a miracle apparently. I had vowed that come what may, I was going to get this ID one way or another.
A thought occurred to me “what if my parents were not alive?” I’d be screwed, but they are still alive, now I just have to find them hoping by some miracle they have their Kenyan paperwork handy to send.
After multiple phone calls I did get my mother who by chance had a scanned copy of her Kenyan ID, mama emailed to me. I headed up the stairs to that computer and printed the paperwork.
On a mission I walked back into the room re-signed up again, and when I was nodded to come up I was asked “si ulikuwa unarudi kesho?” to which I replied “ndio, lakini nilipata kila kitu”.
I presented my pre-filled paperwork and a receipt for my money order. Then after 15 minutes or more my paperwork started being transcribed again on an official manilla looking government paper from gods know where.
I then refilled the same form I was asked to fill initially, why it has to be filled twice I still have no clue.
And it did not stop there, I was grilled about where I came from. It’s two thousand fourteen and I had to fill each and every line whether it applied to me, these included: Tribe, clan, family, home district, division, constituency, location, sub-location, village/estate.
I am 32 years old and I know where I lived was not in an estate, and per the officials I had to write “something and fill it out, ‘n/a’ will not be accepted”.
Before myself I saw many argue the point of all these things applying to you even if you lived in an area that did not have all that.
Those same people were rejected and had to find a way around it. Apparently I now will have some redundancies since in my eyes, my district etcetera wasn’t that broken down as the days before independence, when my kinfolk lived in villages.
What happens if you were born and lived in Nairobi before coming to the US, or just by virtue of being born in Kenya you are a citizen but have not spent time in Kenya?
Later the finger printing started with everything being done traditionally, ink was poured on a pad, a roller introduced to said pad, then all my fingers were inked and rolled onto the papers. Two sets of prints with more than five thumbprints for good measure.
Why is this process still on paper and prints manual?
I am very sure if you have the capability to issue new ID cards using a magical tool such as a computer, the government can invest and collect said information electronically, even better yet use a biometric scanner all hooked up to a computer database.
The men at the front door with hand written card surely have more computing power than the Kenyan government if they are to bank or ship anything, then again it was a poorly made business card. Only in Kenya….in America…in Kenyamerica.