Can you imagine this embarrassing scenario: A Cameroonian who lives in Germany and has been fighting for Zimbabwean causes there for the past 15 years has been refused a visa to visit Zimbabwe – By Baffour Ankomah
He applied online and an immigration officer in Harare who did not know how much this Cameroonian has worked for Zimbabwe abroad – defending Zimbabwe’s land reform programme and calling for Western economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe to be lifted – turned him down! If President Mugabe could only hear about this! How very embarrassed would he be?
Which brings again into focus the oft-repeated call by pan-Africanists to our governments to abolish visa requirements for African citizens. And not that visa-free travel does not exist in Africa, it does!
The various regional economic communities (RECs) in Africa have visa-free travel for citizens of member countries. What they don’t want to do is to extend the facility continent-wide. Thus, it needs just a small dose, a mustard seed dose, of political will to extend visa-free travel from the RECs to the continent. And voila…
So where is our conscience as Africans when today non-Africans have freer access to Africa (ie, visa-free travel and visa on arrival) than Africans themselves travelling in Africa? Can we ever treat ourselves better as Africans?
My mind goes back to Addis Ababa, 24 May 1963, when Ghana’s first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, stood at the podium at the founding conference of the OAU and did everything, except cry, to convince his fellow heads of state of the necessity of breaking down the European-imposed borders in Africa so that we can have a common citizenship as part of the African unity project he direly wanted Africa to have at the time.
“We have been charged with this sacred task by our own people, and we cannot betray their trust by failing them. We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay by tackling realistically this question of African unity,” Nkrumah said, but to no avail.
This month (July), Ghana will be honouring Nkrumah’s memory by becoming the second African country, after Rwanda, to introduce visa-on-arrival for all African citizens.
As a Ghanaian, I am proud that President John Mahama, the first President of Ghana to be born after independence, has been bold enough to move Nkrumah’s dreams a tad forward by implementing a visa-on-arrival policy that recognises all Africans as one people. It is a positive step, Mr President. The Old Man will be smiling at you from his grave.
In mid-July, African leaders will meet at the AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
How I wish they would see the futility of making Africans suffer in their own continent when they want to travel. Take for example Ethiopia, which, by virtue of hosting the AU headquarters, has become “the capital” of Africa; Ethiopia has a visa-on-arrival policy for 40 countries worldwide but only one of the 40 is African – South Africa. What message is Ethiopia putting out to Africans?
“There is something so terrible in watching
a black man trying at all points to be the dark ghost of a European” – Ayi Kwei Armah in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968).
This thing must stop, dear Presidents of Africa. And now! NA