I spent three and a half hours (from 7.30am to 11am) at the Immigration offices in Nairobi recently waiting to pick my new passport.

I had already gone through the understandably lengthy process of applying, so I was there just to collect the document.

The collection process starts with a check in the system to establish if your passport is ready. If it is, you are directed to the waiting room where you wait as they go to the back offices to retrieve it.

Once the passport is retrieved, your name is called out and you join the collection queue. You wait there for your name to be called, you present your national ID card and the passport is handed over.

Simple, isn’t it? So why did it take me three and a half hours? Are the staff at Immigration department lazy? Let us find out.

I measured how long it was taking to give out one passport. There was only one officer working at the dispatch desk. It took him seven minutes to call out and dispatch six passports.

That works down to just one minute and ten seconds per document.

Considering that he is required to verify that the name on the national ID is identical to that on the passport and then record the name and ID number of the person collecting the passport, the officer was quite efficient.

In fact, upon closer observation I noticed that he was very focused on his work and didn’t entertain interruption from his colleagues (some of them trying to jump the queue!) or even engaging in unnecessary small talk with his clients.


This officer is not lazy; in fact, he is very hard-working. He deserves a medal for single-handedly dispatching 50 passports every hour! And his colleagues in the back office are not sleeping either: my passport was ready in exactly 21 days as promised on the day I lodged the application.

Still, there is the three and a half-hour waiting problem. It turns out that there are far too many people applying for new passports but the immigration department has not employed enough staff to do the work.

The few that are there are working extremely hard but the output is still not high enough to stop the queues from getting longer.

This case is a good illustration of the common mistake made by managers when dealing with queues: they focus their attention on “turnaround times”, that is, how long it takes to serve one person.

Unfortunately, turnaround time is just one part of the problem. The waiting time in a queue is also dependent on the rate at which clients are arriving — and the manager has very little control over that.

Since applicants pay processing fees for passports, there is no reason why the Immigration department can’t employ more staff. If the Sh4,500 currently charged is not enough, then it should be increased!

www.figures.co.ke; Twitter: @MungaiKihanya