To travel abroad as an African, you must accept extra rules

Friday September 8 2017

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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I just came from an absolutely amazing holiday in Greece. The terrible thing about coming back from a beautiful country with ridiculously gorgeous sunsets, fantastically ancient historical sites and a national culture of feta cheese and olives is that though you are glad to be home, because home is best, the nostalgia of being footloose and fancy-free plagues nearly your every waking moment.

I wish this was the worst thing about being back, but it's not.

I'll probably get over my holiday blues at some point, hopefully in the near future. The worst thing for me, is the entirely too strenuous visa processes that embassies tend to insist on.

Ok, I get it. Many people of African descent run away from their countries to Europe and North America to look for a better life.

A good number of these people are opportunistic, simply using the 'FOX TV' fed view of Africa to get economic or political asylum easily and thus live in the land of what they perceive to be milk and honey.

But as Warsan Shire said, No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. Why would you want to leave everything you've ever known for the unknown unless you were in the worst type of danger?

It is this very assumption fed to us by the still-felt ravages of colonisation, that abroad is better, that majuu is where everyone wants to be, that prompts embassies and high commissions to require you to bring a veritable booklet of proof of social ties when you're applying to go to their countries.

SHEAVES OF DOCUMENTS

Proof that you're not like 'those other Africans' who want to go and take advantage of their citizens' hard-earned taxpayer money for your own advantage.

Trevor Noah once did a set about the strangeness of immigration policies in foreign countries. Brexit was driven in part by the idea that immigrants are straining an already struggling economy.

US President Donald Trump is continuing to talk about the wall he wants to build so that his people's jobs are not taken.

Yet all these old colonial powers ('old' is even untrue) did this to Africa just a few centuries ago. They came and said their countries were better, and stronger, and thus should rule everywhere.

Then when that form of colonialism was toppled and they went back where they came from, they were surprised that we had bought the lie that they were better, that their life was of a higher quality and standard, and we wanted in.

So here we are – fed a lie that even the liars believe, forced to carry sheaves of documents lugged into long, friendless embassy corridors, because now you must beg to go to these countries. And sure, their country, their rules. But it certainly chafes at my conscience.

LOSS OF DIGNITY

What irks me even further is that when anyone is coming to Kenya, even from South Africa whose diplomatic and consular relations are strained at best, they kind of just...well...walk in. Still – one must apply and be a good African, right?

And now Greece has added another requirement to their visa application – that upon return, you must present yourself at their embassy's offices to prove that you have returned.

I couldn't believe it when I first heard it. It doesn't make sense to me in so many ways.

First off, if I was running away, nothing the embassy said would bring me back, right? So making the people who did come back, come back, is a little redundant.

Second, it feels more like a punishment and a loss of dignity than a preventive measure (because, as I just said, if I've gone, there's nothing you're preventing anyway). The 'good Africans' who came back are already back. Why must they now be made to undergo the waste of time of appearing at a consular premises?

Which brings me to my third and penultimate point – there is no point of making people come back to the embassy. When you get a Schengen Visa, your fingerprints are already on hand in their systems. Checking who did and did not return in order to determine miscreant fugitives is a simple matter.

CASUAL HARASSMENT

When I got to the embassy in spite of my overwhelming indignation, they asked for my passport so that they could photocopy my entry stamp. If I am at the embassy, I am clearly not a hologram, am I?

Maybe the sum of my indignation also stems from the fact that I know they are not doing this to everyone. Not every passport holder has to come back and report, like on the first day of school, saddled with the deep indignity of proclaiming "See! Pick me! I'm not a criminal!"

And I'm pretty sure they don't care as much if they do or not. I don't think it is just because I sport dreadlocks (I hope not, anyway).

The fact that casual harassment is not a factor for all passport holders is the worst part of this. It is that we are a nation that can be pushed around because we sell our country to other countries and don't push for the rights of our own, and allow these draconian rules to be imposed on us.

Twitter: @AbigailArunga