Computers being used in registering citizens for the national identity cards are still rejecting photos of people whose lips and ears were cut off by fighters of rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda.
The Electoral Commission officials say the computers failed to detect their ears and lips, and simply cited open mouths or missing ears for refusal to capture their photos.
Joan Aduru, the Kitgum District Electoral Commission Registrar, says highly skilled computer engineers had to re-programme the computers to solve the problem.
Aduru says the engineers occasionally switched the computer software from the standard ‘icow’ settings to other modes in order to capture photos and bio data of people with wrinkled faces, body burns, facial scars and maimed body parts.
Aduru says the victims had to wait for the engineers from Kampala after multiple vain trials, to ensure no one is left out and to eliminate stigma among them. She says all their photos have now been captured and will be provided with the national identity cards in September.
Although the technicians’ creativity saved the day, shadows of doubts remain as to whether the printers that will be used at the final stage of the process will not jam again for these special needs citizens to access their national identity cards.
Twenty-eight-year-old Mathew Ochen is one of the victims. He says his photo was eventually accepted on the fifth attempt. He is so excited at long last.
Ochen said the experiences reinforce the fact that they still require urgent surgical repairs; almost 10 years after the end of the LRA war during which they were maimed.
Geoffrey Oguti, the speaker of Kitgum local government, disagrees with Aduru on the number of such people in Acholi sub region. He says they are so many and leaving them out of the exercise will reverse the good gains so far realised in eliminating stigma among them.
LRA rebels disfigured many people by cutting the lips and ears off on accusations that they civilians were government informants. The rebels claimed that the civilian reports to the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), made them suffer several casualties in the battle. In their wisdom, disfiguring the innocent civilians would prevent them from talking to the feared UPDF.
Oguti says those without fingers faced difficulties in getting their finger prints scanned. He says improvising special cameras to capture photos and bio data of these victims will open a new window of opportunity for better access to social services.
The challenges of these victims are not unique to the ongoing national identity card project only. They are daily testimonies attesting to the fact that the dust of the LRA war in northern Uganda has not yet settled, without mentioning the suffering they go through to put food on table.