Traveling in Africa can be such a pain, an inconvenience that I wish I could avoid. After flying for over five hours from Nairobi to Accra aboard Kenya Airways, we landed at Kotoka International Airport where I had to change flights for the last leg of my trip to Abidjan, a 45 minute leap.
On arrival there, the South African Airways official said I couldn’t proceed.
Having left my place in Kigali at midnight and waited in the departure lounge for four hours to make the one hour cruise from Kanombe to Jomo Kenyatta Airport where we arrived at daybreak; then another six hour wait for the next flight at 12:15pm, EA time…
I was too tired to be annoyed.
Why couldn’t I proceed from Accra to Abidjan? Well, because I didn’t have a visa stamped in my passport to enter Drogba and Alassane Ouattara’s sacred land.
Why didn’t I have a visa? That’s the long story that I will make short but at least it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t get a visa at home because Ivory Coast, for some reason doesn’t have an embassy in Rwanda.
So travelers to the West African former French colony have to apply for it online, a tedious and unfriendly process which I endured nonetheless.
After filling in the online forms, the Ivorian immigration department is supposed to send the applicant a confirmation letter that they would get the visa on arrival at Abidjan airport.
My letter of confirmation for some reason delayed but I had all the other requirements needed for a visa and to be on a safe side, I also had a notice from my hosts in Abidjan regarding the visa matter. Everything was in order.
At Kanombe, an official had tried to raise the matter but after reviewing my trip details, it was decided I was free to proceed, in Nairobi, I had no trouble but in Accra, the guy insisted they couldn’t risk flying me into Ivory Coast without the visa.
We had two hours to the next flight which I spent trying to reason with the airline officials that my visa issues were to be handled on arrival; I slapped this document and that in their faces in vain.
Yet one can’t really blame the airlines because flying a visa-less traveler can attract some heavy fines but also, getting stranded with a passenger is no cup of cappuccino for them; so they were caught between a rock and a hard place.
It was now departure time and the speakers were yelling out my name, the only passenger missing; in the calmest voice I could master, I told the SA official that ‘for your own good, make sure your plane doesn’t leave me here.’
I was ‘bluffing’ really but overtime I have learnt that the best way to intimidate someone is not by shouting out threats but to speak calmly in a self-assured manner, it worked.
On arrival, everything was as planned; all travelers headed to AfDB annual meetings were received in one room for Visa approvals. I was required to pay US$40 dollars for the Visa, which I did and proceeded to the waiting area where a chauffeur was waiting for me and others.
My question is why should Africans need visas to visit Africa? Why should countries like Ivory Coast that are hosting Pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank maintain such lousy visa rules on other Africans?
In my interview with Dr. Donald Kaberuka, I asked him those questions and he too shook his head telling me that its one of his frustrations. Why don’t African countries see the point in what Rwanda did? Since 2013, African coming to Rwanda get their visas on arrival, stress-free.
But what does it take for Africans to move freely on the continent without Visas?
Quite simple in my view, just a single African Union meeting of Heads of State, a single treaty signed by all 54 Presidents and it doesn’t require any donor money to do so, just the political will, otherwise what’s the point of being in an ‘African Union’?
Alternatively, the regional blocs of Africa such as SADC, Ecowas and EAC could reach a tripartite agreement that citizens of their member countries don’t require a visa to travel to different regions and we could be done with this fracas.
Ironically, during the AfDB annual meetings this week, five Presidents from West African countries were on a panel to discuss whether a single market for Africa can be achieved in their lifetime.
The absurdity of it all is that such a high profile panel didn’t yield any major resolutions; the question remained unanswered.