So much has been said about the much hyped African passport that was launched at the recently concluded African Union summit held in Kigali, Rwanda. Most of those who have commented have basically written it off as another fancy idea that doesn’t solve the real issues facing African travellers.
The introduction of the African passport potentially means that I can now own three passports on top of using a national ID as a travel document. In short, I can have four different documents to hand over to the immigration officers as I travel. That alone says a lot about our approach to travel. The troubles Africans face when travelling have very little to do with the travel documents they carry but more to do with what they go through as they travel.
Of course we have the usual cries of obscenely priced air tickets (Entebbe to Nairobi is a good case study), long and stressful connecting flights or the pain of acquiring visas to some countries like South Africa. Most African airlines are poorly run or struggling and this makes the whole air travel experience much more stressful than elsewhere. The fact that not many people can afford to travel by air does not help matters too.
I just want us to look at a bigger picture. Take a look at rail transport. This should be a life saver for those looking for cheap travel across the continent but most of the lines built several years ago are now used to occasionally carry cargo and not passengers. Water transport is another huge mess that only makes news when a ferry capsizes and scores are killed.
Many African borders were drawn along shared rivers or lakes. The question would therefore be what more have we done to make water transport an appealing option for Africans wishing to travel across the continent. African water transport should not just be dominated by horror stories of those on rickety boats trying to reach Europe and dying in the high seas while at it.
It is commendable that most African countries are expanding their airports and making them more pleasant places to go through. The same approach is needed for border posts where you will find more Africans each day. Border posts ought to be more than just dusty spots with cargo trucks by the roadside and unpleasant immigration officials.
We should improve on the outlook of these places to enhance the travel experience of the Africans that use them each day. On this front I must commend TradeMark East Africa for the work they have done on some of the border posts in East Africa. I hope this work won’t stop with just the buildings only. Our border posts should also have information displayed to help travellers know more about where they are going and services available.
Many times at the border posts travellers have to guess where they can change money from and it may feel like a test trying to find a restroom at the border crossings. I also don’t know why banks have not thought about setting up ATM machines in these places just like they do at airports. And can we stop this business of being so courteous to white people and rude to fellow Africans? All travellers matter.
All this aside, African countries need to sell themselves to other African countries. Do you ever see an advert by the tourism or investment board of an African country on a TV station in Africa? These adverts shouldn’t just be sent to CNN or Al Jazeera Africans also need the same information to facilitate their travels and search for business opportunities.
We must strive to connect Africa by improving travel experiences for Africans and making sure that African travellers are well informed about the process of travelling and the destinations they are headed to. One shouldn’t have to first get to the border to find out that a temporary travel document is only processed from the city centre for example.
Away from the whining, I was pleased by the news that Uganda has now reduced its tourist visa fee from $100 to $50. So much lobbying has been done by tourism stakeholders like the East African Tourism Platform in order to bring about the reduction of that visa fee and also sort the confusion that was going on concerning the issuance of the Single Tourist Visa by Uganda. More such efforts will make the continent a better place to move around.