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We’ve all done it. We’ve all queued up outside a nightclub in the cold for half an hour, only to realise at the front of the queue that we’ve left our ID at home. Okay, perhaps not all of us, but I definitely have. In fact, I probably spent half of my university life trying to persuade bouncers to let me into a club with no ID. They almost never let me in, which was probably for the best anyway. But I did and still do have an ID, and, if my memory doesn’t fail me, I can use it to access almost any club, pub, bar and disco I like. What’s more, the fact that I have official identification ensures I can access many far more useful things, like education and healthcare. It allows me to buy a mobile phone, open a bank account and claim social benefits. It means I have a voice in choosing my country’s leader.

The right to identification, and guaranteed access to all its benefits, is denied to the estimated two billion people in the developing world who lack an official ID. Thankfully though, the issue does seem to be gaining some international traction, as wonderfully demonstrated by the Philippines’ decision to give 2015-2024 the oh-so-catchy title of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Decade.

An issue here in Tanzania is that many people have never been issued with a birth certificate or identification, so they are often unsure when their birthday is. As such, when they are eventually given an ID, they have to use January 1st as their birthday.

While the use of identification cards can also help governments to better implement their social protection systems and reduce corruption, their use isn’t always as benign as this post has no doubt led you to believe so far. If done wrong, they can be exclusionary and divisive, to the detriment of the most vulnerable in society. If you are a fan of snazzy diagrams that over-simplify a complex issue (something this blog is, of course, never guilty of) then take a look at this cracking infographic from our friends at the Centre for Global Development:


That’s right. “ID is essential for development… but it’s not easy”. To be fair to the CGD (and to avoid a retaliatory post on Owen Barder’s blog), they have done far more comprehensive reviews of this issue, which, if this blog has inspired you to find out more, you can find here and here.

We usually end our blog posts with a shameless plug of what Seed Change has been up to that relates (often tenuously) to the topic of the post. You’ll be pleased to know that this week is no different, as we’ve recently provided all of our team with staff IDs and they are already being put to good use to open bank accounts (look out for the riveting blog post on bank account opening process in the near future).


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