A Citizen’s Experience with Immigration

So about two months ago, a citizen, let’s call her Ajakait, went to Immigration in Kampala in order to apply for the renewal of her passport which had not only expired but was also filled up. Only one page was remaining. It had been over ten years since she had been to Immigration and this time round it was a new experience.

She arrives at the entrances and finds a significantly long line of people – citizens she assumes – waiting to get the application forms, she later learns. She bypasses them, enters the gates to inquire where she can pick up an application form and the guidelines for renewal of passports. She thought that this would be a simple procedure, pick the form and guidelines, go home and prepare the application. Nope.

She is re-directed back outside the gate to that long winding line she had earlier bypassed. If you know anything about Ajakait you will know that she is not one to accept what she considers ill-service from civil servants whose salaries are paid from the taxes that she pays to the State. So, when she gets to the gate she demands to know from the people who are dressed in Uganda Police uniforms why there was no one serving those who are lining up under the significantly hot sun, just waiting to pick up a form.

She is told that the Police Officer, oba Immigration Officer, whatever, who has the forms had gone for lunch. And Ajakait is like the officer has gone for lunch with passport application forms? Yes, it was like 02:30 p.m. Anyway, in less than five minutes those civil servants in the know of Ajakait-like-citizens had quickly realised that the forms needed to show up quick in order to avoid the logical situation – Ajakait raising her voice even louder.

So this Officer – Ajakait thinks the one who had gone for lunch – comes back to begin distributing the application forms. Ajakait claims credit for speeding up the return of the officer, and selfishly turns on her little bully tactics, insists on not lining up and insists on being given the form. The Officer at first tries to flex muscle, but it seems the other officers – you know the ones in the know of Ajakait-like-citizens, indicated to their fellow officer that it would be best to serve the potentially thorn-in-the-flesh Ajakait so she can go.

So, within about 30 minutes Ajakait picks up the form which she thought would have taken five minutes or ten minutes tops to pick up. She completes it and fulfills all requirements – including paying for the ordinary process, not that express option which she thinks is a rip off. About ten days later, Ajakait returns to submit the application. The submission process goes pretty well – in fact shorter than Ajakait had expected, considering the application form collection process.

Ajakait is told to return after at least three weeks in order to find out if her passport has been renewed or her application has been queried. If renewed, it would be given to her then and if queried she would be referred to ROOM 6 where those with queried applications are sent. A couple of days ago, Ajakait went back to check to see if her passport has been renewed and hopefully collect it.

I think it is best I share her experience through her timeline for that day. Here it is:

  • 09:00 a.m.: Arrives finds other citizens – applicants – sitting on those hard cold metallic benches and waiting. No Immigration Officers at the three front desks – but the office has people in it.
  • 09:15 a.m.: One officer – First Officer – comes out and starts.
  • 09:32 a.m.: The First Officer is still flying solo and he has dealt with only three persons.He then collects other Slips (the slip which has the reference number one is given to track their application), Ajakait’s is also taken.At about the same time some guy – Ajakait heard him being called Bernard – hands his slip through the window to an Officer in the office and his passport is instantly brought out. He signs that huge ledger book and off he goes. Ajakait and many of the others that she found – who likely arrived at 08:00 a.m. continue to sit on the cold metal benches. An officially ‘big’ looking man arrives.
  • 09:38 a.m.: The ‘big’ looking man is served – gets his passport within only six minutes of arrival. Ajakait and many of the others that she found – who likely arrived at 08:00 a.m. continue to sit on the cold metal benches.
  • 09:39 a.m.: Second Immigration Officer arrives, but first goes into the Office. All three desks remain unmanned, because even the First Officer has gone oba where, explains Ajakait with incredulity.
  • 09:42 a.m.: The First Officer returns and collects some more slips of those who arrived after he had collected the previous ones that included the ones of Ajakait. The Second Officer not yet at the desk, still in the Office and the third desk also remains unmanned.
  • 09:45 a.m.: Passports are brought out. A citizen whom Ajakait found there is called out and he finally gets his passport.
  • 09:46 a.m.: A number of citizens – more than three – whose passports were queried were referred to ROOM 6 – citizens whom Ajakait found there – likely getting served over one and half hours since they arrived and to be told their application which they likely submitted three weeks ago is queried. Mmmmmm, Ajakait goes.
  • 09:47 a.m.: A citizen whose passport was ready for collection and who had come to collect it but had not brought his other original identification gets into dialogue with First Officer.The First Officer refuses to release passport after subjecting all waiting – including Ajakait – to his inferiority complex manifested as a misinformed superiority complex in which he thought he had the right to loudly ask stupid questions to a citizen who pays taxes which pay his salary, describes Ajakait. Anyway, Ajakait explains, sometime later after the non-Ajakait-like-citizen had seemingly cowed to the bullying of the officer – they went there, there and talked and then afterwards the passport was issued on the basis of the same unoriginal identification that the citizen had in the first place. Wasting time just!
  • 09:49 a.m.: Second Officer takes seat and takes a minute to settle in. There are now two of the three desks manned.
  • 09:50 a.m.: Second Officer starts serving citizens. Another officially ‘big’ man, no doubt, is given priority treatment. He came after Ajakait, after those who came before Ajakait and after some who came after Ajakait.
  • 09:52 a.m.: Second Officer serves Ajakait. Name called out; Ajakait responds; called forward to present original identification; Ajakait hands in her old passport; Officer asks her to write her name and sign in the huge ledger book; and then new passport book is issued.

Ajakait leaves Immigration wondering about the bicycle challenge that was the rage at the time; the free Government of Uganda WiFi for Kampala and Entebbe – which admittedly she has not experienced – oba it is there; and the fact that Members of Parliament are given free i-pads. How are these connected with the archaic system at Immigration? Ajakait remains in wonder.

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