The visa restrictions that continue to make intra-African travel a nightmare

Roaming the streets of Mauritania.

I know applying for visas as an African is tedious and one of the worst experiences you will ever go through. I have first-hand experience of this. I have had to apply for 14 visas for my #BreakingBorders journey, I only applied for 6 visas and these are visas I had to get from my country of residence. I have spent over R7000 (US$520) in 6 weeks applying for visas. Bear in mind I only had to pay for 3 visas. Nigeria, Morocco and The Gambia. The amounts for all these visas did not even get to R2000 (US$180). The rest of the money was wasted on transport, photo prints, photocopying the various documents to make sure that they have stripped me naked and know everything about me, my travel history and non-existent criminal record. And yes, most of the visas I had to apply for were free of charge. In these costs, I don’t account for my wasted time.

I remember my last day traveling from Johannesburg to Pretoria going to fetch the last of my visas, and Morocco had not given me any indication of when my visa would be available. As I got off the Gautrain, I could feel the stress from the past 6 weeks from applying for visas dawn on me. I started shaking uncontrollably and struggling to breathe. This feeling I know too well, this was an anxiety attack waiting to happen. At that moment I had to decide what I wanted to happen, I was either going to Morocco and ask when it would be ready as it had been over 10 working days waiting on the visa or ask for my passport back. With the overwhelming feeling I decided I was done begging for a visa, on the day I applied for my visa, everyone was told about 3 working days. Told to return on the Monday just to be safe so they could get their visa, while I was told they can’t be sure when my visa would be ready. Bear in mind everyone in this application room is a South African passport holder. I am told that it could take a day or 10 days. Why would my application be any different from everyone else?

On the day I collected my passport I had made up my mind, I wanted my passport back from Morocco. With or without a visa I did not care. I have gone through the invasive process of applying for this visa. And I am being treated like I am not good enough to visit the country. I no longer cared to visit Morocco, in fact their country was not in the initial planning stages of my travels. With Algeria playing games and not giving a definite answer on whether my visa was retracted or still valid, I decided to add their country.

It’s very easy for countries to make it very difficult for you to get a visa. They can ask for documents that they need that are not listed on their website even. For instance, they can demand proof of travel insurance. Travel insurance is a luxury that most people do not have. Then they will demand a yellow fever certificate. It is not listed on your website as one of the documents you need, I have one but never thought to bring it with me for my visa application. I apologize for that over sight. Also, when you enter these countries, no one cares to ask for that yellow fever certificate where my travel Dr scribbled all that nonsense about the jabs he gave me and I know they can’t read his writing.

This experience with Morocco without me having realised, played a huge role in how I felt about the coutry when I eventually arrived. I had taken the bad energy and negative attitude that I had gotten from the embassy and it came with me to the country. You see, the thing about embassies is that, how you are treated in an embassy is your first experience of said country. You know that is what you will be getting in that country. After 4 days in Morocco, I just wanted to leave the country. I just couldn’t stand being there. Never mind the fact that everyone who bothers to be nice to you is actually trying to scam you in one way or another.
*** Please note I am saying how you are treated at an embassy, not at a 3rd party office who is contracted to process your visa application. 

I don't even talk about my experience with the Cameroonian embassy. I was yelled at and kicked out of the embassy like a dog once the gentleman trusted to assist me threw my documents at my face in front of everyone that was there. 

But I digress, yes applying for visas as an Africa passport holder is a nightmare. It is probably the most invasive process you will go through. But the more I share my experiences and see other Africans share their experiences the more I realize that as Africans, we tend to be our own worst nightmares too.
No one ever explains what are the standards one has to meet in order to receive a visa. And what determines those standards. Your embassy will also not share this information with you. But the media will run to be the first to preach when an African country decides to reciprocate visa restrictions on citizens of a country because said country imposed stringent visa processes.
Instead of us as African citizens asking why it is so difficult, we start attacking and pointing fingers at each other and blaming each other for these visa issues.

Take for instance, as South African I have visa-free entry into Kenya for 90 days but Kenyans need a visa for South Africa. I have been very open about the fact that I love Kenya and I take any opportunity to visit the country. Some Kenyans will be the first to point out the fact that I am South African and I enter their country for free yet they can’t enter my country upon arrival. Like yes, it’s me you need to attack and hate me cos I made those rules. 

Below is a conversation that happened on Facebook a few days ago. This status was posted by a Kenyan friend, and although I got really annoyed with some of the narrowminded comments, I had to be an adult and accept other opinions:

The status update.

I would really like to know who has been saying the above. That really angered me but I also doubt the guy who commented can back up his comment with proof. As for the comment on Mozambique, are we going to foolishly hate each other and just not visit each other's countries even for business or pleasure? Am I the only one not seeing enough reasoning here?
I have tried to find stats to back up above claim, no luck. I will keep looking.
As for the silly amount of documents, we all hate that. 

Now here is a very angry comment. very insulting too. "Them"???
All the comments above are from Kenyan citizens. And in all the comments, the honors have been left on South Africans to provide reasons why we get 90 days free.
This isn't an issue just between SA and Kenyans, its conversations between other countries as well. 

When do we as Africans work together and bring our voices to share how we hate visas and the whole process is frankly just one giant inconvenience, instead of pointing fingers at each other as if we are the ones responsible for these colonial monstrosities that are African borders that our leaders work daily to protect?
When do we feel will be the right time to stop treating each other terribly because of a decision made by our governments? How exactly do we plan to make this continent move forward and be better for all Africans if we still treating each other like common enemies?

It is no secret that in order for Africa to promote intra-African trade and African tourism, our visa systems have to be changed. Open skies are the order of the day as flights are ridiculously expensive on our continent. Tourism accounts for one in 14 jobs on the African continent. That is over 21 million jobs in Africa supported by tourism with growth estimated to add over 11 million more jobs in the next decade. These stats are from the recent UN report from the conference on trade and development (Unctad), entitled Economic Development in Africa Report 2017: Tourism for Transformative and Inclusive Growth.

Although I traveled overland from Mauritania to Senegal, I was able to fly out of Senegal to Cabo Verde and was surprised to see a notice that stated that visa into Senegal is free. If it is free, then why did the Senegalese embassy make me apply for a visa from my home country? The visa is a simple stamp, then my details hand written – so why did it have to take a week to get that visa? Also, the border officials did not understand the visa that was granted in SA.

Senegalese visa.

we are aware that there are countries who can’t afford biometric technology required to assist in the process of visa applications. Senegal being one of those countries, I mean when I came into the country, the official wrote my passport details on some random piece of paper and let me go. My passport was never scanned. How do we know that piece of paper won’t get lost which would mean my entry into Senegal was not documented. Can you imagine that nightmare. although my passport was stamped. 

Nigerian visa.
Nigeria gave me a visa within 30 minutes because they really loved the idea of #BreakingBorders and knowing that Nigerian visa would be the most difficult to get, I had left it to be the last visa I apply for.

Mauritanian visa.
Mauritania gave me a visa upon entry. The visa costs US$45, in the 5 minutes of that visa process, I went through questioning and got my biometric tests done at the airport upon my arrival. This for me is proof that African countries can give you a visa within a few minutes of applying for it. Whether it takes 10 working days for the visa or 5minutes to process, the result is the same – Had my biometric test not been sufficient to convince Mauritania officials to let me into their country, they would have deported me. The same way that if I had arrived at the airport in Nouakchott with a valid visa and for whatever reason the officials feel they shouldn’t allow me into their country they could easily refuse me entry and deport me.

The AU has introduced an African passport that would encourage intra-African travel and trade, but reality is this wouldn’t work. The passport has already been issued to African heads of state. I know this would not work because most African countries are already struggling to invest in biometric technology. African leaders are still playing tit for tat by making visas more difficult for each other because another country made it harder for their residents.

Of recent, I have seen few publications about Ghana easing their visa restrictions for Africans. As a South African passport holder, I can get my visa for Ghana at home for US$68 but upon arrival, I need to pay US$150. What am I missing here? How is this easing visa restrictions when you just make it more expensive? 

And the tricky part is since I am traveling overland - border officials at the land border and airport seem to have a different memo on what the visa requirements are. This also includes officials at the embassy. Senegal being a perfect example of this.

In my opinion, what Africa and Africans need right now is not some AU passport that will come with so much red tape would be a nightmare to try and use. What we need now is for visas and visa fees to be scrapped. Allow me to travel on my South African passport, let me get my biometrics done at the border upon arrival. Go ahead and enforce the rule that I can't travel with a one-way ticket as an African so that you know you have a way to guarantee I have a way to go home (Airlines are already discriminating against Africans that we can't travel on one-way tickets so why not make it a rule? I personally chose this rule because it is the easiest rule to work your way around and manipulate).

*** Here is the highlight of being in Morocco, at the hostel while we sat on the rooftop and relaxed after a long day of hiking and chasing amazing sunsets, there were 12 of us sitting and chatting about our travels. Everyone in that group came from different continents, different countries, all solo wanderers. I was the only African in the group - and I was the only one that needed a visa for Morocco.

#BreakingBorders is sponsored by Simeka Capital Holdings.