In this episode we hear from Biometric Update reporter Ayang Macdonald in Yaoundé who has been speaking to people affected by a lack of ID in multiple ways.
We take an in-depth look at life without ID in an extreme setting: Cameroon. Extreme because its biometric national identity card (CNI) is required for everything in life, from bank accounts, to internal travel to being able to acquire any other credentials such as driving licenses. Extreme because it is undergoing a humanitarian crisis in its English-speaking region.
Millions of people are living without this all-powerful ID. A recent contract has vastly accelerated passport production, but many are waiting years for their ID cards.
We hear from reporter Ayang Macdonald in Yaoundé who has been speaking to people affected by a lack of ID in multiple ways. He explains the struggle to get the ID and life without it, or trying to get by for years with the paper receipt given on application.
Where there is demand, services appear. Officials suggest payments to speed along an application. Well connected individuals set themselves up as agents.
Paul Biya has been president since 1982 meaning the majority of the population has known nothing else, but millions are without the ID to vote for change.
Carrying the ID is a legal requirement, giving authorities an easy option for detaining an individual, especially if he or she is protesting against not having national ID. Cameroonians are growing tired of the situation and are trying to pressure the government into discussing plans to solve the deadlock.
01:20 Cameroon context, humanitarian crisis, division between English- and French-speaking areas
03:48 Explanation of the national ID card (CNI), issues getting it such as lack of birth certificate especially in English-speaking areas
07:50 Problems affecting issuance, approaches to increase birth registration, improve ID card production
09:00 Applicants blamed for not collecting cards
10:40 Law requiring the carrying of national ID
11:30 Living with paper receipt as de facto ID
13:00 Case of man paying bribes of more than US$800 for card that costs around $5
15:20 People posing as agents
16:20 Use cases for national ID: domestic travel, banking, SIM registration, sitting public exams, vulnerable to extortion
18:00 Only around 6 million of at least 10 million eligible have the card
19:05 ELECAM, huge problem of people not able to register to vote while others blamed for not collecting cards
21:20 Approx 300,000 cards awaiting collection in police stations nationwide vs millions waiting for processing. New contracts accelerated passport issuance, people want the same for ID
23:20 Next general elections are 2025, Paul Biya president for 40 years, registered electorate has not grown to reflect population growth
26:20 Travelling across regions without ID can lead to extortion at the border, arrest
27:00 Growing pressure on authorities to address the situation, human rights activists, #JeVeuxMaCNI online campaign
28:00 Pushing for parliamentary debate
29:30 Anglophone activist Mancho Bibixy arrested in Bamenda 2017, one charge against him was not carrying ID
31:15 Foundikou Daouda arrested for disorder when demanding his ID at police station after waiting two years for it
33:30 Parliament seen as rubber stamping
34:40 Human rights angle
35:30 Ahead of 2011 presidential elections, ID was issued for free which sets a precedence for a different approach
Find out more about the ID16.9 Podcast and the importance of legal identity at https://id169.com
Produced and hosted by Frank Hersey at Biometric Update https://www.biometricupdate.com
Frank Hersey [00:00:04] Welcome to the ID16.9 podcast, where we delve into the issues relating to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, the goal aiming for legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030.
We don’t know how many people are living without a legal identity, but estimates have put the figure at over a billion. I’m your producer and host, Frank Hersey. The podcast is brought to you by Biometric Update, which I’m sure you’ve saved as a favorite in your browsers.
And in this episode, I’m joined by my colleague in Cameroon, Ayang Macdonald. Welcome back to the show.
Ayang Macdonald [00:00:47] Thank you very much, Frank. It’s always a pleasure to be back on the ID16.9 podcast.
Frank Hersey [00:00:52] And Ayang is joining me to talk about the ID situation there, which covers many of the issues we talk about on the podcast, all in one country. We talk about exclusion quite a bit, but in Cameroon the exclusion can be extreme and it seems people have had enough. So Ayang to get us started, how about we take a look at the context? Because it’s fair to say Cameroon has a unique situation going on which is relevant to ID.
Ayang Macdonald [00:01:19] That’s right, Frank. Cameroon generally really needs no introduction, as it were, to the world for a number of reasons, and one of them is that not only is it the country with the oldest elected leader in the world at the moment, it is also a country experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis from an armed conflict in the English speaking parts of our nation. So for context, like you’re asking, separatist fighters who call themselves Amba Boys have since the year 2017, been fighting against government forces in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country. And their goal they say is to see is to create an entirely new republic from the present Cameroon nation. This situation was born out of accumulated frustration of English-speaking Cameroonians against the Francophone dominated regime in Yaoundé. So from the foregoing, it’s clear now this was a political context in Cameroon at the moment is quite tense and sensitive, which makes legal identity for citizens an important aspect of their daily living, given the security exigencies of the times.
Frank Hersey [00:02:26] Hmm. And just tell us where you’re currently speaking from.
Ayang Macdonald [00:02:31] I’m currently speaking from Yaoundé, the capital, the political capital.
Frank Hersey [00:02:35] Which is one of, or really it’s a French speaking area…
Ayang Macdonald [00:02:38] But exactly. It’s a is a French dominated city. It’s the second largest city of the country. And that’s where the political seat of the nation is.
Frank Hersey [00:02:49] It’s something of an English-speaking community, of course, in Yaoundé itself, isn’t there?
Ayang Macdonald [00:02:53] Sure. I’m speaking to you. I’m an English-speaking Cameroonian, but I live in Yaoundé. So there is this where differences and all of that. There is still that togetherness amongst the Cameroonian people, the English-speaking Cameroonians who live in the French speaking parts of the country, and there are French speaking Cameroonians who live in the English-speaking parts of the country. So there is that mix of what you call in French ‘vivre ensemble,’ which means living together.
Frank Hersey [00:03:21] I suppose that is a helpful background because there’s more pressure in a way, as I understand, across society there is more tension. And so within that, as a backdrop there comes ID and whether or not people have ID. So I wondered if you could just talk us through what types of ID a person has or should have living in Cameroon and what do they do, these different IDs.
Ayang Macdonald [00:03:48] Okay. Thank you, Frank. The main official ID document required of every Cameroonian is what they call a national identity card, which is, for now, biometric. So the Cameroon National ID card was instituted through a law back in 1990. So it’s been more than three decades ago. So, however, I think, as you say, that, first of all, the foundational ID which every citizen needs to have, and that is the birth certificate, without which you cannot even establish a national ID in the first place. So there are currently hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians without birth certificates, many of them children, especially in the northern, eastern and southern parts of the country. So I would say that the two major basic ID documents that a Cameroonian should have for life to be able to access a variety of public services are, first of all, a birth certificate, which you obtain after birth registration, and then a national identity card which is obtained upon the presentation of a birth certificate. However, there are other ID credentials which people are not really obliged to have that which they do require from time to time in their day to day transactions. These include, for example, the biometric youth card, which is a card that is meant for youth of a particular age group under a government program to be able to access certain government services on a preferential basis. And then we also have the biometric voter ID, which you can obtain if you register to vote when election time comes. And then there’s, of course, a driver’s license, which you can secure when you are done with a driving course. These are some of the ID credentials which Cameroonians have, with two obligations, the birth certificate, which is the foundational one, and then the national identity card.
Frank Hersey [00:05:42] And I think we’re going to get on to just how important, especially the national identity card is and a little bit, I suppose, is something I’ve got a bit of an observation there from living and reporting in West Africa and not too far away about youth and it may seem a little bit strange to some listeners that there are things called, you know, cards for the youth. I would say that sort of culturally, politically, youth as a category is perhaps more respected in West Africa. As you know, it’s going to be the next generation. They have a say. They should be getting involved in the running of the country in politics. And so definitely where I was in Cote d’Ivoire, there was a big emphasis on youth as the future of the country. And obviously these countries have got a very young population. So I suppose everybody wants to court young people. Just going back to the birth registrations and you said that certain parts of the country were particularly badly affected with low registration rates.
Ayang Macdonald [00:06:43] Yes.
Frank Hersey [00:06:44] The English speaking areas?
Ayang Macdonald [00:06:46] Yes, the English-speaking regions are part of these areas, especially now that there is a socio political crisis. You know, thousands of families that have been displaced from the original settlements and many of them have lost their personal documentation in that process, some of them being birth certificates or ID cards. Because of the displacements, there are families that have lost wealth, they have lost sources of income. And so some of them don’t even have money to pay to obtain some of these ID credentials. So, it’s, yes, the English-speaking parts of the country are part of these communities in Cameroon, which are finding it difficult to get a birth certificate because a lack of birth registration or the national ID card, which has more or less a national connotation.
Frank Hersey [00:07:40] So if we look at the national ID card, the biometric card, what are the problems then with the issuing of that card at the moment?
Ayang Macdonald [00:07:51] Well, there are a litany of problems plaguing this issuance of the national ID card in Cameroon. The problems have been there for many years, and it looks like they may not disappear any time soon. Like I mentioned earlier, one of the problems is the lack of birth certificates, which is as a result of low birth registration in certain remote parts of the country, especially amongst illiterate, poor or minority communities. So the state of Cameroon is actually aware of this problem. And it is true. It’s different services. It is taking some measures in partnership with international organizations and even civil society groups in Cameroon to be able to encourage families to register their children at birth and to obtain the birth certificate. So another level, however, where the problem lies is a level of production. So what is happening is utterly curious. There are people who have gone for many years without their ID card being produced. Often there is no convincing explanation from the authorities concerning this problem. Sometimes they argue that many of the cases of delay are caused by mismatches in information submitted by applicants. But, although that’s true, that’s not entirely true because there are many other Cameroonians who believe that a problem is more administrative, and there is need for authorities to set up a more expedient, adequate production mechanism which will be able to issue the cards much faster. So just for a reminder, statutorily, you have to wait for three months to have your ID card after applying for it in Cameroon. But there are people who have gone for so many years without their original IDs, and this has largely given room for a new phenomenon like bribery and extortion and the ID card issuance process as people are now forced to use unorthodox means to get their ID cards as quickly as they want.
Frank Hersey [00:09:55] I remember when we spoke last time you said that your own card was broken.
Ayang Macdonald [00:10:03] It was broken.I could not go for a new one because I am afraid of the delays that I will encounter, any difficulties I encounter in even replacing a broken card.
Frank Hersey [00:10:12] I can imagine you in a couple of years’ time with it in a sort of like a plastic case just to try and keep it going as long as possible.
Ayang Macdonald [00:10:21] That is how unfortunate the situation is, Frank.
Frank Hersey [00:10:24] So you’ve had your own issues in the past, not just in terms of getting the card, but what sorts of problems do people have without a national ID card in their daily life?
Ayang Macdonald [00:10:37] That’s a good question. You know, in the current context of things in a country like I explained earlier, so it’s really a difficult experience to live as a Cameroonian without an ID card. You know, apart from being unable to access certain services or carry out certain personal transactions. You can also be arrested and even jailed according to the laws in force. In fact, a 1990 law establishing the National ID card in Cameroon stipulates that one anyone found in a public place without his ID card with him can be arrested. The examples are also many that thousands of Cameroonians who have missed opportunities for employment, travel or school admission because they have no valid national ID card at a given point in time. So in a recent report I did for Biometric Update on the situation, I got some mindboggling testimonies. In fact, I spoke to a colleague who said he has been unable to get his ID card for the past two years after his previous card expired. So there are certain financial transactions he cannot carry out. There are certain things he can’t do because what he has is the ID card application receipt, which is not, of course, the original card. So it has its own limitations.
Frank Hersey [00:11:49] Is it quite normal, then, for people in Cameroon to be using these paper receipts issued as de facto ID?
Ayang Macdonald [00:11:58] Well at the time of applying for the ID card, that is the application receipt is issued as a de facto ID, which you can use for over the next three months until your original ID card is printed out. So there are so many people who have had that receipt for three months, the normal three months that the ID card, should be produced which has not been produced, and so they are forced to keep using the card. So what they do is they take the receipt to an ID card production center and a police official puts a stamp on it to say the expiry date of this application receipt, has been extended to a new date. So that probably within that period, a new ID card would be available. So there are people who undergo this process for as many times as possible without the original card ever, ever coming out. So that is a constraint. Like I was citing an example of this colleague I spoke to. I spoke to another person who said for the past three years, he has spent about 850 U.S. dollars in order to fast track the renewal of his ID card, because at some point he needed to get a passport for foreign travel. So there are also cases of Cameroons who suffer without an ID card because they don’t even have money to give bribes or give officials and show that they can get an ID card early enough.
Frank Hersey [00:13:26] How much should an ID card cost? Just going through the normal means via the police station.
Ayang Macdonald [00:13:33] Through the normal means, the official rate for an ID card is Franc CFA 2800, which is the currency used by Cameroon. So that in U.S. dollars, that’s approximately five U.S. dollars or less.
Frank Hersey [00:13:50] So how did this person end up spending $800?
Ayang Macdonald [00:13:54] He told me that when he applied through the normal procedure, the card didn’t come out within three months that he expected it and he needed it urgently. So what he did was there is an official in the production chain who met him and proposed that he gives him some money, so he will be able to fast track the production process as a personnel of the of the police department producing the ID card. So what he said was 250,000 CFA Francs, which in US dollars is almost 450 USD. So he paid that money, but after one month there were no results. It looks like he was duped or something. And the official kept giving him reasons that were not convincing as to why the card had not been produced after receiving the bribes. So he had to go to another official and pay to the same money. So this time around he was lucky, but it was second time lucky that he was, by then he had spent at least 850 USD, which is a very, very huge sum of money for an average Cameroonian. Many Cameroonians live below a dollar a day, so you can imagine how many Cameroonians can’t even afford even $50 to fast track an ID card, which is such an important ID document for their daily transactions.
Frank Hersey [00:15:13] And so people end up using agents as well, don’t they? Are they companies or are they just people who have connections?
Ayang Macdonald [00:15:21] No, they are not agents. Agents as they were, or agencies, but they are people who have connections, people who .. some of these agents are middlemen, people who work within the ID production department. So they come and meet people who are desperate to get an ID cards fast enough, and then they propose them huge sums of tips or bribes to be able to help them. So and that’s how it happens. And clearly, the authorities are well aware of situations like this, they are aware of it. But there is nothing that is being done officially speaking to be able to clear the backlog of these millions of ID cards that have not been produced for the past couple of years.
Frank Hersey [00:16:01] And it’s not just, I mean, you’re talking about this person who ended up spending over $800 on bribes to get his card, to then be able to apply for his passport to travel internationally. And isn’t it the case, though, that you need ID for traveling internally, in Cameroon?
Ayang Macdonald [00:16:17] You do. You do. You do need the ID card to travel internally. And there are so many things that you require in national ID card in Cameroon to do. To register for public exams, you need it to register to be able to vote. You can’t travel easily within the country from one city or region to another without an ID card because you are going to meet security checkpoints on the way and you have to identify yourself. And people who don’t have ID cards are extorted or sometimes they are kept in detention until they are able to comply with what the security officials tell them to do. So you can’t carry out banking transactions. You can’t open a bank account in Cameroon. You don’t have a national ID card. You can’t buy a SIM card in Cameroon if you don’t have a national ID card. You can’t sit public exams. You can’t get a passport. You can’t get a driver’s license. So in reality, there are a litany of things that you can’t do as a as a citizen in Cameroon without having the national ID card. So you can imagine how frustrating it is when citizens are unable to get this card under normal procedures, and are forced sometimes to pay extra charges to get them.
Frank Hersey [00:17:30] Yeah, of course. Is there any indication as to how many people who should have an ID card, you know, so I supposed that’s adults, don’t have an ID card?
Ayang Macdonald [00:17:40] I think the number is alarming. Although these figures are not being given officially, but I spoke to some sources within the General Delegation for National Security, which is the authority issuing national ID cards in Cameroon. There are at least 10 million or about 10 million Cameroonians eligible to have the national ID card, because in Cameroon, by law, you are eligible to have the national identity card when you turn 18. So, yeah, at least 10 million of this is number of people in Cameroon or even more. But they are not up to six [million] of them who actually have the card. So the problem is quite huge. And that is why it has been pressure from so many quarters for the authorities that be to be able to handle this situation before it degenerates further.
Frank Hersey [00:18:31] So fewer than 6 million people have the card?
Ayang Macdonald [00:18:34] Yes, there are fewer than 6 million people in Cameroon with a valid national ID card. Out of a possible 10 to 12 million people who should have, who are qualified above the age of 18 and more.
Frank Hersey [00:18:47] One of the uses for the national ID is to vote. I understand that, you know, voter turnout has been fairly low before, not necessarily just because people don’t have ID, maybe they just didn’t want to vote. I know it’s not always that clear, but what’s the election commission doing about this?
Ayang Macdonald [00:19:06] The election commission in Cameroon, which is officially known as Elections Cameroon (Elecam), is actually concerned about this situation. And I can tell you, I asked him the question. What he said they were doing was they are in talks with authorities of the ID issuing department…
Frank Hersey [00:19:26] Is this the chairman?
Ayang Macdonald [00:19:27] Yes the chairman of the Elections Cameroon, Dr. Enow Abrams Egbe. So he said they are quite aware of the problem. It’s a huge problem and that there are so many Cameroonians who ought to be on the electoral register, who are not because they don’t have national ID cards, either because they don’t have birth certificates first of all, or that they have not been able to apply for the ID cards. Yeah. So he said it’s a huge problem. But they have been in talks with the DGSN [General Delegation for National Security] to be able to see how to clear the backlog and to fix some of the hindrances. Yeah. However, he also thinks that the problem partly lies with the population. So, because he says he was told by the DGSN that there are thousands of ID cards that are lying on tables in production centers across the country which have not been withdrawn by their owners. So he thinks that while so many people are complaining there are others whose cards have actually been produced but yeah, I think the election commission is concerned about it and they say they will continue to press on to ensure that the ID card situation is regularized.
Frank Hersey [00:20:36] And what do you think about that? How credible do you think it is that there are piles and piles of many thousands of ID cards? I know from reports I’ve done as well for Biometric Updates about Nigeria, where there’s similar statements from the authorities on people not coming to pick up their biometric photo cards or people not coming up to pick up their passports, yet, the overall problem is a massive backlog in processing them. So it just seems a bit of a conflict to me that there’s such a demand and a long wait to get these cards. What does it seem like to you then, in Cameroon? Can it seem true that there could be piles of thousands and thousands of uncollected cards?
Ayang Macdonald [00:21:21] Yes, Frank, true that there are there are piles of those uncollected cards left. If you look at the number of the cards that you can’t equate them to the number of applicants who are in waiting to get the original cards. You know, there is there is a big difference. The police commissioner in charge of ID cards said there were about 300,000 or so uncollected cards in different police stations across the country. So 300,000 is nothing compared to about 2 to 3 million people whose cards have not been produced and for which no convincing reason has been given. You know, they have application receipts that have expiry dates that have been extended from now and then. And so clearly you have got the authorities are using the uncollected cards to make a case for themselves. But I don’t think that case is strong enough. The issue is with about expediency. There is need for expediency in the process of producing the cards. And that’s what so many Cameroon are saying. You know, that there is need for authorities to put in place a system. It’s true that the Cameroonian authorities initiated a project to put in place a new ID card production system. So they didn’t launch a tender to get a new biometric passport supplier, which well you know was done by the project has since been blocked. Normally we’re supposed to have a new ID card production center in Cameroon from March of 2021, no 2022, I beg your pardon. But since then, nothing has been said about a project, and it looks like there is some infighting. Who knows? But the project is still on hold. So Cameroonian s are waiting for a new ID card production system, just like the passport system that is in place. At least Cameroon now has a passport system where you can have a passport within 48 hours. It used to be one month before then. So they think that it can also be done with the ID card.
Frank Hersey [00:23:14] The next election’s 2025 for Cameroon?
Ayang Macdonald [00:23:18] Yes. There are general elections in 2025 for Cameroon. There are elections of members of the National Assembly, which is the lower house of Cameroon’s parliament and then the presidential elections.
Frank Hersey [00:23:32] I suppose even the next general elections, 2025 is not that far away, given how long we know that all people to get the national ID that they need. I mean, obviously, as an outsider voting in Cameroon, I mean, Paul Biya has been in, what, 40 years now?
Ayang Macdonald [00:23:51] Exactly. He’s been there since November 1982. So this is celebrating his 40 years as a president of Cameroon on November 6, 2022. So he’s been there. And you talk about, you know, people may say, oh, no, the ID card issue is not affecting the voter turnout, but I think it does in some way, because over the years, the voter registration figures in Cameroon have hardly gone beyond 8 million, whereas Cameroon, Cameroon has at least 15 million or more eligible voters, because in Cameroon, you can only vote when you are 20, you can have an ID when you are 18 but you can only vote when you are 20. The figures have never been above 8 million registered voters. So you can’t say that it’s not because the people are not interested in voting. Many of them want to, but they don’t have the ID card to vote, especially in remote communities, because, you know, Cameroon is still a developing nation. And so there’s so many sections of the country that are really underdeveloped and, you know, posting poor people, poor communities that don’t have access to good roads and all of that. So they can’t easily move in and out of their communities. Also, most of them are at an age of having an ID card, but they cannot because either an ID card production center is not found in their locality or it is found far away and they can’t be able to travel to get there or for so many other reasons. So it’s a mix of so many challenges that are facing the country.
Frank Hersey [00:25:17] And I suppose for the majority of the population now, President Biya is all they’ve ever, ever known. He’s been in power their whole lives and they’re unable to vote against that should they want to.
Ayang Macdonald [00:25:30] So, you know, about 70% or 75% % of Cameroonians are less than the age of 35. So almost the entire country has known just one, just a small fraction of people over 40 have known the other president who was there before him, President Ahmadou Ahidjo.
Frank Hersey [00:25:48] I mean, that is fascinating, isn’t it?
Ayang Macdonald [00:25:52] It looks like we are living in a strange planet, right?
Frank Hersey [00:25:56] And so in that 40 year rule, there’s been various different.. obviously, there’s been a huge amount of legislation being brought in. But I’m just going back to what you’re saying earlier on, how you have to, by law, carry ID in Cameroon. And obviously, we’re hearing, you know, there’s the legal requirement, but then people don’t have ID. So what sort of issues does that lead to?
Ayang Macdonald [00:26:21] Well it can lead to so many issues, like I mentioned earlier, like it could lead to arrest. You know, if you are traveling, for example, and you arrive at a checkpoint where you have to identify yourself, and you cannot because you don’t have the ID card, money can be extorted from you by the security officers or in some extreme cases, when they feel you look suspicious, probably physically from their own judgment, you could be detained, you could even be jailed. You know, so there are just so many inconveniences that go with you not having a national ID card in Cameroon. So that’s why so many Cameroonians are worried, you know, and really, really calling on the powers that be to try to change the situation. And this leads me to the issue of pressure, you know, because the situation is not like Cameroonians are so satisfied with the people who are just speaking out about it. So there’s been huge pressure on the authorities in Yaoundé for this situation to be addressed, you know, questions some of us are asking is how responsive are these authorities to the pressure? Because the situation is clearly not changing. We have politicians and other rights activists who have been speaking about it. So activists of course have even written to the president of the Republic, wrote an open letter to President Paul Biya to take urgent actions on the matter. There’s also been an online campaign which is called “JeVeuxMaCNI” [carte d’identité] that is French in English means “I want my ID card.” So that campaign has been online for the past year or two on Twitter. It’s also been on Facebook. So that’s the situation. However, that because, Frank, because the situation is apparently not changing, there are some Cameroonians who think that the pressure is not good enough. This group of Cameroonians think that it should be more pressure from higher state authorities. You know, some are even suggesting that there should be a parliamentary debate on the issue. Why not? Because it’s become an issue of national concern. It affects the vast majority of Cameroonians. And so the ID card is an obligation to have. So why should it not be, why should it not require a parliamentary debate for MPs or lawmakers to ask government executives what is happening? Why are Cameroonians suffering this much? So there are people who think that there is need for parliamentary action on these aspects. So that is the situation, Frank. But what I know is that the administration is very aware of the situation and probably they are trying to figure out how to address it because in Cameroon there is always an excuse, the phrase which is an excuse which government always gives when he doesn’t execute certain projects of national interest. It always says that the “state machinery grinds slowly but surely.” So probably they are going to are grinding slowly and surely finding a solution to that problem.
Frank Hersey [00:29:16] Well, it sounds as like some of the state machinery is also using the ID requirement law against activists, isn’t it? You know, so trying to…
Ayang Macdonald [00:29:27] Yes.
Frank Hersey [00:29:28] … pin that as a crime on them.
Ayang Macdonald [00:29:29] Exactly. Yes. And that’s why I was about to mention the situation of the popular Anglophone activist Mancho Bibixy, who led peaceful protests in the town of Bamenda in 2017 when the current crisis had not taken the dimension of an armed conflict yet. So he led peaceful protest, protested against the injustices of the regime in Yaoundé, and he was hunted, hunted down by security officials and arrested. And at the time of his arrest, he didn’t have his ID card, national ID card on him. So it’s not clear whether he didn’t have one or he didn’t have it in position at that time. So one of the charges levied against him was the non possession of an ID card in a public place. So you can imagine the extent to which somebody can be punished, a citizen can be punished for not having an ID card. Yeah. So they don’t care whether when they arrest you, they don’t care whether your card has actually been produced, you applied for it and it was produced, or you actually have it but you forgot to take it along with you. For most cases, the issue is they arrest you when you are caught, you have applied for it and it has actually not been produced. And that’s none of your fault. That’s the fault of the administrators, the ID issuing authorities who are delaying in issuing it. But it is the user who must pay the price. So that is why it’s even more aching, and people are thinking that the situation has to be reversed.
Frank Hersey [00:31:00] And it’s dangerous as well. Isn’t it to get pushy even as an individual, because wasn’t there a case of somebody going into a police station and losing patience and demanding his ID that he was waiting for, what happened to him?
Ayang Macdonald [00:31:14] Exactly. Yeah that gentleman called Daouda it happened in a small town in the west region of Cameroon called Foumbot. So he’s a young man who stayed for about two years or so without his ID card and each time he goes to the police station where he applied for it, he’s told the card is not yet out. And, you know, living in that area, it’s really complicated. He says he cannot access things, even for his personal security, because if there is a security swoop on an area, you have to identify yourself, and if security agencies, you know, surround an area for arrest. Everybody who is picked up without an ID card, you are considered a suspect automatically because you have no card to identify who you are. So, he has gone through all sorts of hassles and he thought that that day enough was enough. So he went to the police station, when asked they said his card was not yet available. So he started vibrating and shouting to the top of his voice, you know, asking why, you know, Cameroonians are being treated this way and all of that. The police officers on duty thought he was a disturbance of public order. And so they got a bit physically, manhandled and then was detained. So he was kept in custody for so many weeks and was released, I think, in November. This incident happened in October 2022, and then he was released about a month after in November of the same year. So you can imagine somebody who goes to get his ID card, he loses his patience, which is not too extraordinary, and then is detained for so many weeks. So this is just one of many cases. This is not an isolated case. There are so many cases in different communities which aren’t even reported in the media. This one happened because it was happening in a town where, you know it could easily be spotted by the media. And so this incident, you know, sparked outcry from activists, from Cameroonians in general, because so many Cameroonians identify themselves with Daouda, who had stayed for two years without his ID, without any explanation, and so he wants the situation to be redressed.
Frank Hersey [00:33:15] And what do you think the chances are of that being a parliamentary debate? Do you think there’s going to be enough public pressure to push it into parliament?
Ayang Macdonald [00:33:23] Yes, I think if there is, if the matter is picked up by parliament, I think there can be a headway. Even though that the parliament in Cameroon is often described by opposition politicians as a rubberstamp parliament, a hand clapping parliament because it’s dominated by the majority, the ruling party, the CPDM party, you know, has about three quarters of the parliamentarians who hardly reject any government proposal. So, and Cameroon’s parliament also has a history of not introducing private member bills, like an individual MP could stand up and say, okay, I’m moving a motion for it to bid on the national ID card issue, which has become an issue of national shame and all of that. It seems there’s not a history. It is allowed, according to the parliamentary rules for private members bills to be introduced in parliament. But that has hardly happened because sometimes it is quashed if the government thinks it’s a bill that wants to challenge the particular government aspect. So the majority of MPs quash it, so it doesn’t it doesn’t go through at all for plenary debates. Yeah. So but however there are people who think if Parliament takes it up, I think it shows some seriousness. That was what people would think. The National, the Cameroon Human Rights Commission should pick up the matter because it’s also an issue of human rights. Because if the law obliges you to have an ID card, and then you follow due process to have it and there’s no explanation from the issuing authority, why you are not having the card, so in some way it’s an abuse of your right to have the ID card. So yeah, people would think it’s also an issue of human rights. The Cameroonian Human Rights Commission has to intervene and to call the executive powers to order. Yeah, they think that the pressure should move from just maybe civil society or social media campaigns to actions taken by state institutions and even state authorities to make it more serious, because it’s actually a very serious problem at the moment.
Frank Hersey [00:35:20] And do you think there’s any chance of changes being made ahead of the elections with enough time for people to actually get their cards in order to vote?
Ayang Macdonald [00:35:30] Well, it’s possible if the authorities heed the calls of Cameroonians. I’m sure they can. They can be changed. Let me just give you a quick example. Before ahead of the 2011 presidential election, President Paul Biya took a decision to decree free at the issuance of free ID cards to Cameroonians. You know that you are applying for a card for free, you are not paying the fee that is required of you, to have it. So it was an opportunity for so many Cameroonians who didn’t have the money at that time, the $5 or so at the time, to be able to apply for the card for free and get it. So it looks that it was a special mechanism that expedited the production of the cards before our 2011 presidential election. So it is also possible that those measures can be taken now ahead of the 2025 elections because we have about two years to those elections. So if the authorities really love the country and really want the democracy they are talking about, to prevail, to thrive, they have to want more voter participation then there is need to take certain executive actions to be able to allow people to have ID cards. But personally, I think the first thing they should do, I would insist, is to have a new ID card production system in place and get a new ID card supplier, you know, like they did for the passports. The German firm Augentic is the one producing the passports now. So they are doing it, you know, fast enough. Now, the ID cards are produced by Thales. The problem is not at the level of Thales necessarily, but let them get some other, some other contractor to do the job. But Cameroonians, we’ve got to have so many people that are able to produce ID cards quickly for citizens. So get in place a new ID cards production system. I’m sure every other problem will be solved. Just get in place a new system, expedited like the passport system, and all will be solved.
Frank Hersey [00:37:26] Well, where there’s a political will, there’s a way.
Ayang Macdonald [00:37:29] Exactly. And that requires political will, like you say. So for now, it looks like there is no political will yet because of such an egoistic and underground interests and influences and all of that, according to unconfirmed reports out here from here and there. The same battles that are being fought over the ID card contract which is said to be a mega multimillion contract. So everybody wants to fight about it, which is not strange because contracts have always been a contentious issue in Cameroon, public contracts, awards and being in the sector of road construction, sector of energy, sector of supplies of, you know, public materials, public offices, public procurements. They are always been issues. Really, really little wonder that this ID card situation is really dragging on because of unseen battles at a level of what our presidency or wherever, wherever the battles are, but Cameroonians believe there are battles.
Frank Hersey [00:38:28] Well it’s clearly a very complex situation, even if it is based on the simple requirement to have national ID, but that is one ID piece, I suppose in other countries. If it is about voting, you can have a national ID, but then you would require an additional voter ID…
Ayang Macdonald [00:38:49] Voter ID, sure.
Frank Hersey [00:38:50] And maybe in certain situations, access to those cards is controlled, but people can still get on with their everyday life with their other IDs. I think Cameroon just seems a particularly extreme example of the issues of not having legal ID.
Ayang Macdonald [00:39:06] Exactly. I think I think that is because you have to go through the whole lot of difficulties to be able to live without an ID. Practically you can’t live one. I mean, from practical experience, you can’t live in Yaoundé or anywhere in Cameroon without a national ID on how do you begin? You can’t have a passport. You can’t identify yourself, you can’t get a financial transaction done. You can’t register for any public exam. You can’t, you can’t .. they don’t even know you to being with. So who are you? So that’s why the legal ID begins for having that ID first. And Cameroon is really one of those examples like you see.
Frank Hersey [00:39:45] Well, Ayang, thank you so much for explaining the situation and sharing a little bit about your own experience and life in Cameroon. It’s great to have a colleague who’s also a political reporter in Cameroon and who knows the situation in and out at every level. So thank you once again, Ayang Macdonald in Cameroon.
Ayang Macdonald [00:40:06] Thank you very much, Frank. It was a pleasure to be part of your program.
Frank Hersey [00:40:11] That was Biometric Update contributor and political reporter Ayang Macdonald speaking to me from Yaoundé. To find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, to listen to more episodes or to get the full transcripts, go to the ID16.9 podcast website at ID169.com. And if you think we’re on track for legal identity for all by 2030.