A passport is not a mere travel document

This morning I decided to pull out my passports and to verify the meaning that they carry. My first passport was issued to me in 1988 as a student going to study abroad. A thorough background check was done on me. In fact, my immigration file was placed within the immigration file of my father.

In that passport issued to me in 1988 the following caution was given by the issuing authority – Republic of Uganda Passport Control Office – that is among the “competent authorities in Uganda” that issue passports:

This passport remains the property of the Government of Uganda… It is a valuable document and should not be altered in any way or allowed to pass into the possession of an unauthorised person.

In the passport that I was issued in 1988, in addition, was included strong advice from the competent issuing authority for Uganda citizens living abroad using their passports to:

Register their names and addresses at the nearest Uganda High Commission or office of a Uganda Consulate or where there is no Uganda representative, with the nearest friendly country… Failure to register may in a period of emergency result in difficulty or delay in according assistance and protection.

In the subsequent passports that I have been issued since 1988 – I am now on the fourth one – the same caution and advice are repeated. And for each and every one of the passports, background verification was done to confirm that I was a citizen of Uganda; each time it was confirmed that I was and my passport renewed.

You can imagine my surprise when I heard the assertion that “A passport is a mere travel document.” as a ‘blue-eyed’ sycophant of the current regime is quoted as having said. And a whole Minister in the current Administration of the Government of the Republic of Uganda is quoted has having said in warped logic that those Ugandan active citizens, such as I, who are insisting on the legality and validity of passports and driving permits as identification documents, are missing the “substance” and focusing on the “form” of the directive for Ugandans to verify our SIM registrations using only National Identification Cards (NICs).

If verification of SIM cards is about establishing who is using which SIM, how am I missing the substance when I insist that my passport is a valid identification document? How is it that at the time of registering my SIM my passport was considered valid identification and now at verifying my SIM it is no longer valid?

Two things I would like to see happen:

Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and whoever ordered them to insist on using only the NIC for SIM verification should see the light and order telecom companies to allow the use of passports and of driving permits.

UCC and the Uganda police should hold accountable telecom companies that have since sold SIM cards to persons without valid identification – as in it is the telecom companies that broke the law. We who complied with the law and registered our SIMs should not have to be penalised.

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