by Ruth Aine - 01 September 2016
One morning last week I participated in a WhatsApp group conversation that was very eye-opening. This group has members from about 14 African nations. We got word that the Nigerian president had tabled a bill before Parliament on tourist visas. The bill, if passed into law, will allow people to receive visas on arrival and the rest will take 48 hours to process. This is obviously very good news for the African populace. While a Nigerian visa is not hard to get, the requirements are somewhat excessive. So, we all went ahead to share what our experiences in obtaining Nigerian visas have been like.
When I travelled to Nigeria, the only odd thing was that, because I studied journalism, I was instantly classified as journalist, whether I was practicing or not. And Nigeria for a long time has had stringent rules for ‘journalists’ looking to enter their country. The organization that invited me was asked to go to the Ministry of Information in Abuja and take my details there to ascertain the reason as to why I would be travelling to Nigeria. That was early 2014. I would then get a permit or accreditation to ‘practise’ journalism when I got there. I labored to explain that I was not going to be a journalist but rather to talk to young people. I had been invited by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement [YIAGA] and the Youth Alliance on Electoral Reform [YACORE] to speak, facilitate and be part of the National Youth Conference of the Road Map for Nigeria 2015 Elections. I complied – I had no option.
Now, someone else in the group shared as to how in March 2016, according to the Nigerian Commission in Zambia, she needed a letter from her relatives giving her permission to travel. She was going to visit her fiancée in Lagos. They explained that this is because they had an incident of a Zambian lady that went to visit a gentleman in Lagos, she then fell sick and her host failed to take care of her. The host instead dumped her at the Zambian Commission in Abuja. The Zambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs then had to get involved in bringing her back home. The lady’s parents did not know that she has left the country to visit someone in Nigeria. As we debated on this, it became clear that this letter condition was only for the single ladies. (Why? That will be a topic for another day.)
In 2013, when I first applied for a South African visa, I was told “don’t you worry, it’s the easiest thing ever”. And sure it was - I got my visa within three days and it was a six month multiple entry tourist visa. The next time I needed to travel to South Africa was in March 2015. I got a single entry visa valid for six days. Why? Because the flight itinerary that I submitted, was for five days. This is the kind of treatment that I would receive with a Schengen visa even after having lived there for a couple of months in 2011. I applied thrice for a South African visa in 2015 and received the exact same treatment. By the end of 2015, they had started using VFS as an intermediary company. With the company one has to pay over $80 for the processing of the visa and $36 for the visa itself. So the cost of the visa came to $116. Imagine having to go through this thrice a year to a place that will take five hours to get to.
There are so many visa horror stories told about how Africans get treated by their fellow Africans when applying for visas or just entry into other African countries. I have had my fair share. The tales are rather absurd, but we have come to live with some of these unfortunate tales, and we are used to that. They don’t seem to hurt us anymore, or if they do, we don’t take note, we simply move on. And yet, we want to transform Africa through mutually beneficial trade agreements and arrangements amongst ourselves.
Before any kind of integration, there needs to be trust among nations that would allow us to move from one place to another with minimal restriction. That is the only way through which we are going to be able to achieve African socio-economic integration. This is the kind of cohesion that is lacking at the moment.
Integration within the Continent is something that we will achieve once we are able to live together in harmony: economically, culturally and politically. At the moment we are pulling apart in 54 different directions – each on their own. This is no good. To do better, we need to unite in future.