Africa Without Borders

It has been a dramatic weekend for me.

By my calculation and the careful planning of the Chimurenga team l should right now be in Durban at the Ugu festival of Maskanda. Thus when l arrived in Lagos Thursday morning l did not bother unpacking, l simply sent my passport to the SA embassy in Lagos for a visa.

Anyone who knows the first thing about getting a South African visa must wonder what sort of road side drugs l was on to expect my visa to come out in 24 hours. Well, l had put in the application three weeks before and it was going through the usual torturous process when l had to make a quick trip to London. So l requested a withdrawal of my passport while the application was processed. It was duly granted and l was told to return it for the visa as soon as l returned from London.

To my shock, I learned my application had not been processed and would not be for another week. At this point, I called somebody who called somebody else who called a third person. Twelve hours and several transcontinental calls, emails and text messages later, the official in charge at the embassy left his office for the day. No visa.

As l unpacked my bag and sat down to eat some goat meat pepper soup, l thought of the millions of average supporters from most of Africa who require visas to enter SA. If l have troubles, what about them? Should there not have been a special world cup entry pass for Africans? Travel within Africa is notoriously difficult but shouldn’t ordinary Africans be ushered into South Africa much as the faithful are into Mecca during the Haj.

At his foundation’s recent conference in Dar es Salaam, Mo Ibrahim spoke eloquently about the folly of tiny, non viable African economies protecting their borders while trying to compete against China and India. He envisioned a situation in which Africa’s population of one billion could become a common market. A common African currency and multi-dependent economies is anathema to many but imagine a scenario where l can promote my friend Remi Lagos’s beautiful caftan on an affordable, continent-wide, cable platform and my friend Sanni can transport the caftans to outlets in Botswana via his fast trains.

This was the great Kwame Nkrumah’s dream. I grew up on stories of a great Africa as propounded by Nkrumah related by my proud Ogbomosho father who was born in Abeokuta, raised in Ghana and worked in Lagos. His father was a merchant in Ghana, Mali and Togo. My father adored Nkrumah, [Obafemi] Awolowo and Roy Chicago in that particular order and like many of his generation was fascinated by Osagyefo’s notions of a united Africa.

Yesterday Africa united behind Ghana, in truth a majority of the world united behind Ghana mainly because a Ghanaian victory against America was a much better story and because no true lover of football will support a country that calls the beautiful game soccer. As the very irritating commentators continually and insistently referred to the Ghanaian players as “the Africans” l bristled, not because they are not Africans or that Africans are not fully behind them but because this is Ghana’s victory. Africa rejoices with her but it is Ghana’s victory. The distinction is important because an acceptance of a patronizing, lone African star doing Africa proud is a moronic oversimplification such that it can be tidily filed away in a box of retrogression that fails to recognize Ghana’s unique outstanding journey as a country.

However if the world must see us as a monolith with the occasional bright star, why not own it? Suffice to say l don’t care for “Brand Africa” but am thinking rather of a continent united in trade, immigration, infrastructure and mutually beneficial economic policies. This is the very idea at the core of Jean Monet’s original post World War II brain wave.

For now, let Ghana have her moment as we applaud in support.

Ghana has had more than her fair share of turbulence and near ruination. I have over the past 14 years watched her steady economic and political growth. I have seen the infrastructural, physical and social transformation of the country. I have watched the children of former Ghanaian refugees thrive and blossom. The best part is that Ghana began her turn around by herself, without aid, and in fact in the face of global disapproval of Jerry Rawlings’ leadership.

Watching the black stars yesterday represented many different things to many of us. l watched a young, strong squad of players that is evocative of Ghana’s present wise soul and young spirit. Perhaps because Nigeria is next door to Ghana, we feel or, l feel, a sense of guilt at how badly we’ve behaved towards them in the past. At the same time there is a sense of hope that if they can achieve success, so can we.

My neighbourly support for Ghana though stops at Argentina. l love Maradona; he is so flawed yet so great. Life has kissed, clawed, bitten and hugged him leaving all the battle scars on his diminutive body. l want vindication for him and l certainly want to see him run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires if the team wins the world cup.

I hear my visa has been approved.

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6 Responses to Africa Without Borders

  1. The Lagos branch of SA High Commission is anything but organised.Visa application is made to look like a hunt for treasure in the jungle,maybe even worst.It is a complete nightmare.I have a first hand experience of how the Commission operates.It is a frustrating and demoralising process.The situation is more pathetic and degrading even for scholars and some elites.There are no exceptions or preferences for senior citizens,not even for pregnant women.I have seen government officials refused visas,doctors waiting an entire day hanging around and some professionals reduced to nobody.Adults disagreeing and even to a point of exchanging words just to be on the queue,like school kids.I have asked myself why the media hasn’t done an expose about the unfair treatment applicants are subjected to.This is Africa,our own “people”.Apartheid’s over and they’d rather enjoy their freedom alone!

    Bilikis M.Fagbemi
  2. SA’s embassy is a nightmare, even US visa no hard to get like that. It is really really sad… like Rotimi said, it is harder for Nigerians to get a SA visa than for Europeans and Americans……

  3. It is so sad when you hear sad tales of visa applications across embassies in nigeria.African countries with their leaders should redefine the charters of the organisation of african unity which is now known as the A.u..Visa free borders will be good for african economies and a central data base to control criminilaty.An african passport should be created just as you have the european community passport.

    Allan Donann
  4. I feel sad when I still hear stories of woes regarding embassies in Nigeria. My brother in law who works in an oil company in angola came back to nigeria and could not renew his re-entry permit to go back to angola. He then flew to canada where he has a reisdent’s permit and got the visa back to angola in one day!!! The problems in nigeria are multi-faceted , intertwined and would need very exposed,intelligent , well spoken and well connected people on the international stage to help in solving our ever increasing and intricate problems. As for me , I would not take the chance of owning just a nigerian passport because even the so called leaders at the moment do not own just a nigerian passport. My freedom of movement would not be hampered by the stupidity of people who call themselves democratic leaders but just fend for themselves and immediate families.

  5. I see Ghana s Independence was March 6 1957 and the Famed Awolowo born March 6 1909. Awo is Gone now so those who love him can cling to Ghana

    Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth
  6. Dear Funmi,

    You are very lucky. Thank God you have a friend of a friend of a friend to call.

    I hate embassies. I watched today helplessly at the South African embassy as people struggled to get inside for an appointment, or to book an appointment or to pick their passports, it was crazy. We numbered less than a hundred ( i was told this is a tiny fraction of the Lagos crowd). Stephen, a gateman cum embassy ticketer is in charge of issuing out numbers to people. When it was time, Stephen did not so much rely on the number, some men who had thier agents in front, got called out of their jeeps and walked pronto into the embassy. I was approached by touts who promised me heaven on earth to get me an interview date tomorrow because they know people on the inside. I soon got fed up of the situation and left clutching my plastic folder containing my team-members’ passports.

    It is South Africa’s turn for Africans to celebrate with them but getting an entry into South Africa for an European is more easy than getting in by a Nigerian.

    Rotimi Olawale