Africa needs to embrace an open-door polict to Africans

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Travellers at the Gatuna border post between Rwanda and Uganda. (File)

Editor,

RE:Travel across Africa must be made easier for Africans” (The New Times, March 17).

We Africans can be our own worst enemies, and I mean our very own not just fellow Africans. Look around many African countries and you will see how fellow African visitors have to go through an extraordinary obstacle course to visit each other’s countries.

At the same time as “Door Closed” practices are universal for fellow Africans on the African continent, an open-door entry policy, almost complete with an obsequious red carpet treatment, is extended to Westerners (or more appropriately visitors from more prosperous non-African countries).

South Africa is not the only African country to adopt such anti-African travel policies, but its case deserves special attention.

During the apartheid era, almost the entire continent (with the exception of the likes of Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi, Houphouet Bougny’s Côte d’Ivoire and Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire) mobilised to help win liberation for our brethren in that martyred country.

The success of that effort is one of the things for which Africa as a collective can be rightly proud.

But once liberated what did the South Africans do?

They almost immediately started looking down their equally African noses on fellow Africans and immediately decided that they really were not African (except when they are attempting to leverage their physical location on the continent for their own parochial interest) and their best friends should be from among those who, not so long ago, considered the ANC terrorists and who were the white apartheid regime’s strongest supporters.

In the, (in)famous words of President Jacob Zuma: “We can’t think like Africans, in Africa, generally.”

Not surprisingly, therefore, the extreme difficulty of entry into South Africa by nationals of other African countries is inversely proportional to that of westerners (and nationals of rich non-western countries) travelling to South Africa.

The South African case deserves special mention for the above reasons, but the country’s anti-African traveller stance is hardly unique on our continent. Everywhere you look the situation is almost similar.

Africans seem unable to free their minds, attitudes and behaviours from their Eurocentric conditioning in which everything good must come from outside Africa, in which the rest of Africa only brings you problems and backwardness against which you must guard zealously.

And yet all this goes against the teachings, through our culture, especially through proverbs that are found in almost all African languages, seek to ingrain in all of us.

Just a few in Kinyarwanda that extol the need to give highest value and attention to those that are closest and then work outwards: Ujya gutera uburezi arabwibanza; ijya kurisha ihera kurugo; ak’imuhana kaza imvura ihise; umuturanyi wahafi akurutira umuvandimwe wakure, etc.

We in Africa desperately look for silver across the seas and fail to see the diamonds in our midst and in our neighbourhood. In the process we expend and waste a lot of energy while getting nowhere.

It is time we understood that Africa, both as our source of cultural enrichment and markets for and sources of our products and services, is where our prosperity lies. Far lands should be add-ons, not our primary partners. We forget that at our cost, if not peril.

Our diplomats and our businesspeople should jointly refocus their efforts on turning this necessary objective into reality.

Mwene Kalinda