Like many Kenyans living abroad, Justin K Wangila in Tanzania was excited by the announcement in Nairobi in 2017 that the government would start issuing “new generation” passports.
“This was a dream come true because, for a long time, most of us Kenyans living in other countries, especially those in East Africa, had yearned for an East African Community passport … we were in a hurry to apply,” Mr Wangila said in an interview with the Sunday Nation.
Mr Wangila was told the application process started online after one opened an account on the internet portal e-Citizen.
“That is where problems start. I wasn’t applying for a passport for the first time. I was renewing one. But this process makes you start from scratch because, like in my case, they had none of my records,” he said.
He needed several documents, such as his national identity (ID) card number, his personal identification number (PIN) and his parents’ ID numbers.
“I got stuck because I did not have my late father's ID. In its absence, the process required the number on the death certificate.
"My father died a long time ago and I wasn’t even sure a death certificate had been issued. I was forced to take some days off from work to travel home to try and find my father’s death certificate,” he added.
Having gone through the process, this is what Mr Wangila wants his diaspora compatriots to bear in mind as they seek new passports:
“All spaces must be filled on the form. Payment is via M-Pesa only. You must be sponsored by a lawyer, pastor/imam or a banker. The sponsor has to provide a copy of their ID.
"And, finally, you have to personally deliver the documents to Immigration Department at Nyayo House, Nairobi, where you’ll find extraordinarily long queues.”
These challenges are not unique to the Kenyan diaspora, those in the country go through them too.
To address this, the Department of Immigration announced early in the week that it would open new digital passport issuance points across the country and abroad to ease congestion at Nyayo House.
Immigration Director-General Alex Muteshi said the centres would be opened in Kisumu, Mombasa, Kisii, Nakuru, Embu and Eldoret, as well as in the US and the United Arab Emirates.
“We are opening new locations in Kisii, Nakuru, Eldoret and Embu and expect the current pressure at Nyayo House to ease,” Mr Muteshi said.
“Those in the diaspora do not need to travel back here as they will be able to acquire passports from our offices in Paris, Berlin, Washington, London, Dubai and Johannesburg in the next two months.”
“The announcement of this department does not in any way solve the diaspora problem. Passport renewals have been taking four to eight months to be processed, not only in America, but also in most embassies across the world,” said Mr D.K Gitau, founder of Kenyan Parents in US, an organisation that was once contracted by the embassy in Washington DC to help in the issuance of IDs and passports.
Mr Gitau said the embassy in DC told him biometric kits would only be available at two consular centres — Los Angeles and DC.
“If that is the case, it will cost each one a minimum of $750 (Sh75,000) for travel and accommodation, assuming you live in Seattle, Washington or Boston, Massachusetts, and you have to travel to either DC or LA to process a passport,” he said.
Mr Gitau said the embassy has been trying to partner with his organisation to cut that cost.
“Kenyan parents in US organised a successful ID and passport event in Georgia on July 21 and 22, 2018, where more than 250 people were processed. But then some people claimed that the organisation was defrauding them, so the process stopped,” Mr Gitau said.
Ms Bliss Park, a resident of Dallas, Texas, said if the processing centres will remain in DC and LA, it means the consulates will be even more congested.
“The information on the embassy website is so sketchy. They promise 6-8 weeks. That's the running joke,” she said.
Ms Felisina Ndwiga, a former officer at the Kenyan embassy in DC, agrees that trying to process a passport in the US is challenging.