Friendliness of ‘locals’ is overrated

On several occasions I have heard foreigners accusing Rwandan ‘locals’ of being unfriendly.

Apparently “the locals seem to be in this small exclusive club and they won’t really let you in; they speak their local language without much regard for any other person who doesn’t understand it.”

On the whole, some foreigners have said, Rwandans are closed off and they are not as welcoming as “other Africans I have met.”

It used to bother me to hear these things. I would get nervous on Rwanda’s behalf especially considering that tourism is a major export here.

Then one day I had to apply for a Visa to attend a conference in one of the European countries.

My visit was scheduled for seven days but I was asked for so many documents I felt like if they could, they would have asked for a scan of my liver.

I have never considered living on another continent but I was asked for proof that I was planning to come back. Because, of course, the assumption is that everyone in Africa dreams of living in America and by “America” I mean developed countries. So the visa application process is unfriendly for potential visitors and immigrants. 

Now on the flip side, most African countries do not treat people coming from other continents with the same level of scrutiny. Foreigners can get a visa at the airport in a matter of minutes.

They could come on a tourist visa and then proceed to stay in the country, gainfully employed for years earning high and above locals who have a higher level of expertise. 

They are given preferential treatment over locals, something that would never happen in their country. A tourist thinks that it’s okay to give a hotel a bad rating because “the staff does not speak English very well so communication was difficult.” Their white privilege tells them that everywhere they go, locals ought to be conversant with their (foreigner’s) language.

This is the real definition of friendliness which I gathered from having a lengthy conversation with this European woman who passionately reviles Rwanda and Rwandans “because that country is just full of snobs.”

When I dug deeper, I realised that she was angry because she wasn’t able to get a job in Rwanda. Never mind the fact that she had come on a tourist visa and therefore didn’t have a work permit.

Well, eventually she moved to a neighbouring country where laws are a lot more relaxed and people are “more inclusive” and she loves it there.

See, the fact is that the African continent has so much to offer and it is in fact coveted. The foreigners want to come here, not because we need help or because they have a lot of help to give but because there is so much to take.

But because we don’t know our value, we allow people come and go, and do as they please.

And while they are here, they have come to expect locals to smile at them and desperately fall all over themselves trying to make them feel welcome. This is what “the locals are very friendly” usually means, and it is highly overrated.