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Sign seen at African airport: Africans not welcome here

By Jenerali Ulimwengu

Every time you travel from one African country to another you generate a story; sometimes you become the story yourself. Being a scribe, I have no issues with a good story, but some of the stories I become engrossed in, or I observe in close proximity, have nothing pleasant about them, only acrimony.

Take the one about groups of Africans mobilised to go to a particular African country for a meeting organised by one United Nations agency or another to discuss subjects related to Africa’s development. 

If the host country does not have an embassy in your country, you either send your application for a visa to the nearest country with that country’s consulate, or you ask the organisers to arrange for you to get your visa upon arrival.

The latter is usually what many conference organisers will attempt. You are requested to send them your particulars, and they get in touch with the authorities of the host country with all your particulars.

Of course, those who are doing this on your behalf are working on the understanding that the host country offered to host this event and that it shall do all in its power to make sure that your arrival is as smooth as possible, as there is no point in inviting people to your home just to make them mad at you. 

But African countries being African countries, they don’t always see it that way, and sometimes you have this feeling that they have indeed invited you to their country so they can demonstrate to you just how mean they can be.

It has even been suggested that if your arriving batch includes a national of some country that mistreated a national of the current host nation recently, you will all be subjected to the same shabby treatment that the national of that earlier offending country will be subjected to, as “revenge.” 

Strange case of collective punishment, you may say, but things happen on our continent for which we should seek to register a patent. Sometimes you will wonder whether those who invited you have done their job diligently, or whether everything was done the way it should be done but you’re just not wanted here.

Air travel can be a dreary experience on some sectors, especially when you are taken through so many connections and layovers. The exhaustion you thus suffer becomes doubly maddening when, at the tail-end of your odyssey, you encounter some growling official who seems bent on keeping you out of the country where you’ve come to do your job, nothing more.

And our countries’ rulers are gloriously ignorant of what is going on in their own countries. A West African head of state was holding forth in a meeting some years ago about the imperative of resolutely forging ahead with an “African Continental Government” now. Nothing could save Africa but a continental government. 

I had been at his country’s airport a day earlier, with my confirmed return ticket, and all I had asked for was to be allowed to go to town and come back on the morrow to continue with my travel to attend the same meeting where he was holding forth on African unity. I was told no.

When I pointed this out to him, he looked genuinely stupid, but it wasn’t my fault. These guys don’t mind what they say as long as it sounds nice and may earn them another meal ticket. It is apparently an African faculty, the ability to say so many words without for a moment believing in one of them. 

The thing is, we are not wanted by Europe, which is explicable, but we are not wanted by Africa either, which is inexplicable. Inexplicable, that is, until you realise that deep down, we are afflicted by a strong strain of self-contempt.

And, however shabbily our countries have been treating other Africans, we complain about the shabby treatment meted out to us, but not the shabby treatment we mete out to others. We excuse our infractions but castigate the infractions of other. It’s the classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, and no pun intended here.


Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam.


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