Monday, April 27, 2009


On my initial post here its a pleasure to submit the following article written by a Tanzanian IT/database expert based in the U.S., who fears there is no sufficient debate on the capabilities of the proposed National ID program. He warns that "We should not go halfway and just create a piece of paper that ends up being sold like a phone voucher on the street and call it a National ID." Read the rest below.....



I’ve been trying to navigate the issue of a national ID card in Tanzania. I have noticed that in recent months this issue has heavily dominated the media. There are many aspects to this debate. The on-going discussions on who will be awarded the contract, who is vouching for whom, and which leaders will personally gain from the tender award are beyond my sphere of influence. Therefore, I will only base my arguments on the tech/IT realms of it and will leave room for open and constructive discussion on other areas, notably corruption, irresponsibility and mismanagement.

At the end of the day, someone will eventually be awarded that ‘lucrative deal’. Therefore, at this point, what I really care for is how that someone is going to implement the system and sustain it. Unfortunately, so far public interest has not been on debating the benefits of the system, but rather on who will be awarded the project. Clearly, corruption is in our DNA as a society. It links us all in thoughts and instincts, and the consensus among the citizenry is that majority of those in power are corrupt. Ironically, this resentment is somewhat powered by envy - there are enough people out there who praise and talk with admiration on corrupt practices done by some public officials. As Nyerere once said, this is a plague that may haunt us for many years to come.

Moving beyond this, I am a strong supporter of the National ID card system. I think the Government should bring this program to fruition. The benefits in this global age of technology will be astronomical if implemented well and maintained accordingly. If we get serious, Tanzania can have one of a kind National ID card system in sub-Sahara that is systematic and comprehensive. The prospect of a functioning e-government can finally materialize based on this system. From government statistics (administration, taxation, revenue etc), to private usage in banks (loans, credits), hospitals (patient info, billing), by employers (verification, payroll) to the police and Court system (identification, criminal records), and many more, they will find this National ID system crucial in conducting their daily tasks. Don’t forget that non-governmental functions will be charged a fee for data verification. Therefore, this will potentially bring in additional revenue to the government.

I know a thing or two about IT and data management, so I have some worries since we are yet to fully understand the details of the system sought by the Government. As I write this, I’m almost certain that many people think this issue is just a matter of issuing ID cards and that’s it. NO. There is implementation, sustaining, training, security, data access, data backups, and massive storage to name just a few. I believe any ID card system should have the following four key components: an initial individual identity verification system; a database; an ID card and a secondary ID card verification system.

Before a card can be issued, there must be some means of ensuring that the person receiving the card is who he or she claims to be. Any ID system is only as good as its ability to accurately identify people in the first place. Now the question is, how are we going to effectively do this? It is estimated that by 2015 there will be 57 million people in Tanzania, with current growth rate of 1.4% in every 5 years. This will pose a greater challenge in obtaining accurate data at child birth, and taking accurate census of those who are still alive or dying. Most hospitals and clinics don’t keep efficient birth and death data on file. The health centers are generally not computerized and most of the children born in rural areas are being delivered at home with no State documentation whatsoever. Forget about rural, it’s a problem obtaining a copy of a birth certificate even in central Dar es Salaam at the newly restructured “Vizazi na Vifo” State agency. Only a small fraction of the population today carries a passport. BUT we can still do this national ID project if we have a long-term perspective. Yes, we might have false or insufficient data to start the identification process with, but if we put sufficient identification infrastructure in place today at hospitals, clinics, and at immigration centers across the country, going forward the data will slowly become more accurate. We have to start somewhere - government workers will have to be trained and civic education will have to be given on the benefits of good record keeping. If I remember correctly, we succeeded in having a CCM branch in every village; there is no reason why we can’t be ambitious again on a crucial project like this.

The next step after individual citizen identification effort will be to issue the ID cards. Aspects of material, durability and security (photo quality, forgery & tamper-proof) of the card itself will have to be looked into. Point of issuance, whether by Government or private contractors will have to be ironed out as well.

Thirdly, a database with massive storage capacity is the backbone of the system. The government should oversee who implements the best Storage Area Network (SAN). This is a whole different ball game here. A private company could be contracted to manage this SAN, or perhaps the same company that will build the system can be extended to manage it. Whatever the case may be, how we design and manage the SAN will help in the long run to avoid incurring massive operation costs. We need a unique architecture that can manage data inside effectively. We also need a scalable hardware to eliminate the need for time costing upgrades, and powerful software for optimizing it. Also, this company will need to be fully vetted and trusted to manage this sensitive national information. The contractor should be able to set, grant and manage data access for commercial use without compromising national security and privacy rights.

Deriving any value from building enhanced high-tech security measures into a national ID system will require a massive secondary ID card verification architecture. Putting a microchip on an ID card, or having some way of linking it to the SAN database will complete the project. Agencies such as the Police, the CID, the Courts System, TRA, and Immigration, as well as private entities such as Airlines and the banking/ATM/credit card sector, or any person for that matter who should have cause to inspect the ID card should have a machine capable of reading its advanced features. So, for instance, we are talking about high speed computers in every Police station in Tanzania, or computers in their vehicles, that are linked to the national database. We also need to implement a system with forward compatibility. For example, when we finally implement the infrastructure to the police, it should be capable of “plug and play”, meaning it should require little or no hardware upgrade to avoid unnecessary and wasteful future projects. We should train our “finest” police officers on how to operate these computers. We should not go halfway and just create a piece of paper that ends up being sold like a phone voucher on the street and call it a National ID. We really need to stay the tech-course with utilization, automating, replication and speeding up data recovery, or else we decide to put this project on the back burner until we are ready. We can have the system built today and completed tomorrow but the major huddle will be sustaining it.

I hope that the ministries of Home Affairs and Science and Technology respectively are collaborating with the University of Dar es Salaam’s IT department. This is sensitive national data that the Government will have to protect, so whatever IT technology is to be deployed it needs to be secured and robust. Of course, the building inspectors need to make sure the hardware is placed in a fireproof, theft-proof and flood-proof building.

A.G. Mwingira
April 26, 2009



Our ministers such as Masha et alare not content with having paralysed our airports with the most draconian baggage restrictions in the world. Having made flying in or out of this country a nightmare for all except politicians using the VIP lounge, they now propose to drive us off the our cars kwa sababu hufiki mbali utaulizwa kitambulisho as if one is in Colonial German Tanganyika.

In JK's control freak Tanzania, it will soon be feasible to travel only on our own two feet, with what we can carry on our backs.

The message is simple.

Wote tunajua kuwa our security, physical and financial, is in the hands of people who cannot be trusted to paddle a canoe across a swimming pool.

Yet these same people demand that we grant them ever-increasing powers over our daily lives, which erode our privacy and heap inconveniences upon our movements, without in the smallest degree contributing to our safety.

A grown-up society measures the demands of security against those of maintaining normal social and economic life.
All of us want to support the security authorities in the struggle against state threats lakini to do so, it is necessary that we should feel confident in the judgment of those who rule us.

Yet the Government has done more to promote breach on National Security by allowing a few bunch to steal from our national coffers bila kuulizwa swali hili wala lile!

Confidence in the police is pretty low, after the shocking series of bungles which resulted in the alleged theft of 40 billion by Reginald Mengi of IPP from NBC na kashfa zinginezo za UFISADI, for which no one has resigned.

On identity cards, I must confess to having been among the waverers.

For a time, there seemed a case for their introduction, partly to curb illegal immigration(at least that was one of the arguments put forward by Masha & Co)

But today, that argument is out of the window.

We can see that the crisis of mass immigration (especially from Kenya and India) is created not by illegal entrants, but by our inability to stop vast numbers of people coming here quite legally, with warm welcomes from our immigration officials under Hon Masha.

This represents a failure of will by Government, which no identity card scheme can repair. Finally, of course, there is the issue of trust. Today, this seems the most important of all.

Muungwana's Government seeks to make us believe that it should be allowed to spend huge sums of our money, by requiring each of us to register and carry evidence of our personal details from cradle to grave.

Yet the events such as those of EPA,RICHMOND,RADAR,ATC, show that such trust would be misplaced.It is a sorry business that matters have come to such a pass.

But the Government's handling of national security, its announcement of new checks on walalahoi and curbs on civil liberties when the existing ones are implemented with such extravagance and incompetence, suggests abysmal lack of judgment...and shows how out of touch those in Magogoni are!

We are obliged to confide details of our personal lives, together with responsibility for protecting us from harm, into the hands of Government.

There is no more delicate and important bond than this, between the citizen and the state. When it is broken, our anger is richly merited. Na zaidi ya hayo,JK has said much, since he assumed office, about his claims upon our trust. Today, these seem threadbare.

It should be the duty of Parliament to reject the Government's proposals for further restraints on our liberties, and to prevent more checks upon our freedom of travel.

They are excessive and unwarranted, made by ministers whose judgment appears discredited...

Anonymous said...

Well said in technological perspective but still your ideas will cost us even more money. For example, SA is most expensive thing in any computer system or connected to the database can cost you even more.
I think the government should take your ideas and find the in-expensive and efficient tech in the industry right now. The amount of money that we are planning to spend on National ID could be used to design/implement everything that you have ementioned in your observation.
If I get one minute to talk to the president maybe I will ask him to stop this project and re-think.

Anonymous said...

Mwingira that's a good analyis.

Peter Mwagula Kayele Kapanga

Iddy said...

Well said Mr. Mwingira. I guess you touched everything in technological aspects. The advantage of nation ID outnumbered the disadvantage. However, I strong believe and advocate the second eye toward the whole ID project.

What I found very interesting in this ID thing is the number of advocates who cheered about the whole thing. However, they failed to explain primary identification requirements (I bet more than 50% of Tanzania doesn’t have birth certificates, they even can’t prove the eligibility of their names). You can not talk about multimillions dollar project with the national security interest on top without putting down the skeleton of the whole project. I guess the smart move will be putting down the way forward toward this deal. How are we going to benefit as the citizen? What will be the primary identification requirements prior to register for ID? What ways will be used to protect people from owning more than one ID with different names? Who and who will share information? How about those who are in the village, will they received this service on time and how? How will the government bridge from the old culture to new culture of carrying a peace of plastic all over? Will the ID determine immigration status of each individual? How will it protect our borders and our people? All this are legitimate questions which need a strong debate on our way forward to national ID.

What I found very frustrated is our new culture of “we need it and we need it now”. Some few leaders are trying to push this ID issue as if it is hunger problem which need a solution now. ID is center of national security issue; you can not advocate it without a smart strategy. Today in every state in USA consider or has changed the law about receiving identification card. The reason behind is the ID can fall on wrong hands and the results can be chaos. That is what Tanzania leaders need to know, ID is not the peace of card with name and picture, it means a lot. So, we can wait until we figure out how, when and why we need ID

Anthony said...

Game theory has summed up the frustration the public feels about incompetency. However, frustration is not a solution to technological advancement but, perhaps frustration and public dismay may trigger the government officials to to start listening.

I totally agree with Mwanyoka on his take. It appears though this and so many other issues tend to be highly politicized. The urgency as he describes really demonstrates how some folks would look at this issue as a means of personal gains just because there are funds involved. I mostly like the questions he posted towards the end. As hard as it might sound to implement those measures, something needs to be done and I am naively going to hope that someday our leaders will listen and do what is right.

I must confess, what triggered me to write this article was the meeting I had recently with an IBM executive who was in the country lobbying for the ID project. I was surprised that out of many, six companies were chosen for the final draw and IBM was not one of them. IBM is one of the leaders in mainframe computing, their technologies (hardware and software) are used by big corporations and governments in data security all over the world. I know if there were six companies in the world specializing in mainframe computers IBM is one of them. THE BIG PROBLEM: the people making decisions do not have a clue about technology and probably, the leaders themselves have not asked questions of the kind noted by Mwanyoka thats why they fail to sell the idea to the public.

I don’t speak for IBM nor employed by them but, I think some folks might be looking for personal gains by awarding this contract to a bidder who is willing to do just that. Often times companies like IBM which abide to US anticorruption laws don’t stand a chance to compete in the third world where corruption is a way of doing business. They could have been in the past but in this Obama era they find themselves at odds because he has publicly spoken against corruption.



I also blame our media who have given little attention to this issue although THE CITIZEN has been aware of the impending ID card fiasco for some time it has declined to get its teeth stuck into the story until now, which is about the same time as RAI...Alas, this particular newspaper has become far too establishment for my liking. It now strikes me as a sort of rubber toothed rottweiller which barks and growls and parodies its master, but rarely inflicts much of a wound. I've no doubt the government loves it because it reduces the risk of any real damage being done by an alternative publication. Often it can be best to cultivate a friendly weed, because it smothers the nasties.

Just like the new passports, these companies that Masha and his crew love so much will pass on the added costs to their customers(walalahoi) , with a margin for profit added, naturally. A bit like being charged for the bullets for your own execution...You mentioned IBM lakini ukweli ni kuwa IBM na wengineo have a prize in this and their biggest prize kwenye hili ni the database. If you control the database then you control the government purse, and you can increase your charges every year, e.g.maintenance charge to pay for software development, improvements to the database support contract, to support the system and public
consulting charges for database upgrade (when new software is introduced) Hence, the primary risk is continuously increasing cost borne by the tax-payer ambaye ni baba yangu, mama yako, mjomba wetu and so the wake on General Elections next year surely hawa akina Masha could have atleast done a JAMII FORUM text on this issue kabla hawaiweka on public domain!

By the way kila nikipitia ilani yetu ya Uchaguzi naona hakuna tulicho ki achieve zaidi ya kufanya rebuttal on UFISADI kwenye majukwaa and as time goes by hawa wananchi washaanza kutuchoka na huo ndio ukweli....BTW jamani hivi mmesoma leaked barua ya SALVA to ROSTAM? it just made my day!

salama said...

Brilliant article.
It's pretty disturbing and scary to hear that some 'jamaas' want this project to start, fast if not right now, kwa sababu ya 'uchu'

COME ON PEOPLE!, HOW LOW CAN WE GO!!???, this is a, "NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE" and for some to still think that, they might be able to make some change/profit out of it??!!!, they got to be kidding.(DISTURB-ING!)
God forbid but, we might be into some woes if we don't take unprecedented measures while planning for this issue.

Well said Iddy M., we shouldn't rush with this, we need first to figure out, not only how, when and why, but also, the best and correct way for this issue. Some have mentioned money, I don't think finance should be the issue when it comes to NATIONAL SECURITY. It's as impotant for the country as water is to survive. I, think the most important thing is, "SECURITY, FOR NATIONAL SECURITY". I understand that financing will be kinda hard but, we need to avoid putting a price when it comes to the safety of the Nation. And those who think they can profit out of this?, need to have an iota of sense. Seriously.


1. An independent commission (not the one packed with government appointees) To oversee the project and make sure there is transparency.(need to be well paid)

2.Efficient, well trained and professional law enforcement with no ethnicity or political affiliation to oversee and protect this sensitive issue and the country.(need to be well paid)

3.Sacrifice(ation), guess we'll have to come to this point if someone want to 'real' save the county. For the National Security, we (ourselves) need to be truthful to avoid a colossal blunder and put our country in jeopard.

4.And, hopefully we'll be in our best behaviour and not need to privatize this issue.(Which now seems to be the best way to go to tackle our many problems)

mwanakijiji said...

It seems that we have accepted the Smart ID project as a foregone conclusion. That, our rulers have already decided what the people need and as such they have already set up the offices and appointed the holders of those offices.

No discussion; what the rulers want, the rulers will get!

I don't think so.

The debate is not fundamentally on the "national ID" because that is a mere euphemism for "Smart ID Cards", a highly sophisticated and technologically advanced piece of identification card used by some of the highly industrialized nations, major corporations worldwide and government and private agencies around the globe.

But,if the question is "do we need a national ID" the answer has been given for almost 40 years! As a matter of fact the question itself borders ignorance of the first kind and as a matter of fact simply irrelevant.

Do we need a national ID card that is based on smart technology? The answer that Masha and CCM government have given is an affirmative "yes"! They are preparing for such a project and believe me no one will stop them!

But some other questions need to be posed:

a. In the hiarachy of things that Tanzanians need right now, is the Smart ID card somewhere at the top? How do we know that?

b. Should the government deal with some pressing problems such as corruption at the highest level of government, misuse and abuse of billions of taxpayers money, a clear disregard of some laws such as Public Procurement as the CAG's report has once again shown? Should we spend 200 billion Tsh (and more) to carry this ill conceived project?

c. Meanwhile, the same government is planning to build some flyover roads around Dar-es-Salaam while they have not even been able to figure out what to do with the storm water and sewage (only about 5 percent of the City are connected to the sewage system!)

to me the whole discussion is (I holding myself to use a bad word) purely a clear evidence of what we do best.. kutochagua kipaumbele na kujaribu kuishi kwa nasibu na kutegemea kudra!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you to some extent, however i disagree with some of your arguments. There is a need of some identification for Tanzania citizen. However, to adopt the cheap one or the old tech ID will not do us any good. We need to have national ID, but before getting to that project we need to architect the strategic plan which point out the whole cornerstones of the projects.

I believe our procurement system has to many loopholes. However, that shouldn't be the reason for us to detour from our main goals. What we need is to strengthen our procurement system, close the loopholes and final crackdown those who engange in corruption activities.

I believe Tanzania especial Dar es salaam is on urgency of strengthen our local roads, because it hinder a lot of development. Also, poor infrastructure contribute to cause price instability and many other problems. We need durable roads in our main city. I agree that our drainage system is the mess, but that shouldn't be the reason for us to stop the project. We need to find the smart way when it come to drainage system, because the current one doesn't work.

I think we shouldn't avoid discussion based on either corruption alligation or inefficiency, but we should focus on effectiveness of the whole project and its advantages. Ni hayo tuuu

Mchumi wa Texas

Hon. Regia Mtema said...

Mchumi wa Texas.. nakubaliana kwa kiasi na hoja zako lakini I am a realist.. In the ideal world we can do a lot of things at once kutegemeana na uwezo wa uchumi wetu.

Lakini, kimsingi ili tuweze kufungulia nguvu ya uwezo wa uchumi wetu we have to do certain things first.

To me National ID based on smart technology is not up there! We need to create better infrastructure; Ni lazima tupunguze kwa kiasi kikubwa upotevu wa mabilioni ya fedha za walipa kodi; we have to ensure that the rule of law is respected by all.. n.k

Ukiniuliza mimi I would kabla hatujaenda kote huko kwa mradi wa kitaifa.. why not start with all government employees.. leo hii ukisoma ripoti ya CAG bado mishahara hewa ya mamilioni inalipwa kwa watumishi wasiokuwepo licha ya kuwa mishahara ya watumishi imeshaingizwa kwenye kompyuta!

Mwalimu aliandika mojawapo ya insha nzito sana ambayo inatimiza miaka 40 mwaka huu.. inaitwa "Kupanga ni kuchagua".. Ni lazima tupange hatuwezi kwenda tu bila kujua nini tufanye kwanza, nini tufanye baadaye kidogo na nini tufanye huko mbeleni.

Leo hii tunataka tuishi kama Marekani na Uingereza wakati hata asilimia moja ya ujenzi wa mataifa hayo hatujafikia (nakisia tu).

Kabla hatujaanza kula matunda ya taifa na kulitumikia taifa.. ni lazima tulijenge kwanza. Tumeacha kulijenga taifa na sasa tunataka kutenda kana kwamba tumeshalijenga!


Anthony said...

I have noticed people talk about tax payer's money:
Who pays tax in Tanzania? very little fraction comes from income tax and the rest comes from the excessive VAT levied of corporations. In fact, according to the summary of the minister of finance's speech to the parliament for the 2006/2009 budget, he clearly stated where the government gets the money. Here is an extract;“The government’s prospective appears to be that for a country like Tanzania with many people outside the tax net, and where an increasing amount of consumer spending is on mobile phones, the taxes on mobile phone airtime (rather like taxes on fuel) are a pretty effective means of taxing the population at large. Interestingly, the communications sector was the economic sector that posted the highest growth rate in 2007 (20%), something manifested by mobile phone subscribers reaching 8.3 million by 31 December 2007.”

Now income tax is not mentioned among the top earners. As a matter of fact the rest were;
Fuel revenue net 19.4%
Beer/Mobile phone/Cigarettes/soft Drinks revenue net 11.8%
Well … the number one top earner is donor dependency at 34%, as high as this may sound we have actually cut it down from 42% a year ago.

Now, the tax payer's argument is irrelevant here. Most of the money comes from foreign donors whom, unfortunately wants the money to be directed into projects which coincide with their interests. If I am not mistake, the project is on US special interest in fighting against terrorism so they are probably going to fund it. That said, the argument was on how we are going to implement it? US will foot the bill but they are not going to maintain it, we are.

Apart from corruption, I think the system itself paves a way for corrupt practices. If we had a good tax system whereas people paid tax, we would have people's voice taken seriously. A

Anonymous said...

This article makes too much ado about nothing ! Neighboring countries i.e Rwanda which is poorer than Tanzania have national ID card and recently started issuing Drivers licence ! Why do you think Tanzania is not capable of doing that !! which document do you think is more vital to the national security - Passport or National ID ???