So…after two days, I finally got to the Angolan Embassy and found out that there was a chance – an outside chance – that I could get a new visa, since I already had one issued in London. But I’d have to return on the Monday. Well, you didn’t think it would be easy, now did you?
I hate it when people (idiots, mostly) say that the visa requirements in Africa are reciprocal for the difficulties an African faces in getting a visa for Europe. Don’t be so bloody stupid. Europeans don’t need to get an advance visa for anywhere in the Western Hemisphere – and is Bolivia currently flooded with economic migrants from the UK? I don’t think so.
Pretty much everyone that I meet in Africa is desperate to get the hell out of this infernal place (understandably). What would happen if we removed the visa process for entering the UK? We’d have 50 million Nigerians arriving at Heathrow the following day. The same cannot be said for Brits coming to Nigeria, can it?
As I explained in my blog entry ‘The Brain Drain’, Africa needs skilled workers more than we do, and the unskilled? Christ, do me a quaver – bleeding hearts aside – what on Earth are we meant to do with an illiterate taxi tout from Liberia? The visa situation in Africa is just stupid, and like a lot of things around here, self-defeating. Once again, it’s the people that suffer.
In my time here, every dime that I’ve spent (except for bribes) has gone to local people. People selling meat at the side of the road, people operating bush taxis, local cafés, hotels and bars. Without me and nutters like me who navigate the barriers (geographic and bureaucratic) to enter these damn places, there would be even less money entering the economy than there already is. If the visa situation was relaxed (or say, you just needed one visa to enter every country in West Africa) then the number of tourists would rise by thousands of percent.
When a visa to go to some war-ravaged country you’ve barely heard of, costs more than a week’s holiday in Spain, whatchagonnado? Eh?
But even Sao Tome, an island that can only sustain itself though the thin trickle of tourists that visit each year (20 a week!), you need a bloody visa to get in. It’s madness. Cape Verde, another island group completely dependent on tourism, pulls the same idiotic trick. You want a Cape Verde visa? You have to send your damn passport off to The Netherlands.
Why would you bother?
We don’t – the number of tourists visiting The Canaries (no visa required!!) dwarfs that of Cape Verde by a ratio of over 1000 to 1.
The horrible thing is that countries like Equatorial Guinea and Angola positively discourage tourists. Why? Because the Vogons make all the money they need (and then some) out of the billions of barrels of oil they sell. They don’t give a monkeys’ about the people down on the ground, they are just some nuisance that gets in the way of the really important stuff an African politician needs to be getting on with – like making a fortune raping their nation’s natural resources.
There is something else – these governments are terrified of what a tourist represents – freedom. Even though most African states currently purport to be ‘democracies’, in reality they are anything but. There have been just SEVEN elections in the whole continent of 53 countries in which the opposition has won and the incumbent has peacefully stood down. The standard operating procedure here is simply ‘kill the opposition’.
The people are cowed, intimidated, bullied and under-educated by the political elites. I am not. My country has enjoyed the supremacy of the law since 1215, a two-party parliamentary system since 1688 and universal suffrage since 1919. Do you think perhaps that I and others like me have some special secret wisdom to impart as to why much of Africa is nothing but a sick joke? Do you think that being here, travelling through these places I give a glimpse, however lost in translation, that life does not have to be this way. That Africa does not have to be this way.
Many Africans that I’ve spoken to, have – sadly – taken the belittling and despair-inducing opinion that there is something ‘wrong’ with Africans. That’s what 50 years of living in crap will do to you. That’s what you’ll think if you see the rest of the world with its cars, its rollerblades, its swimming pools and its iPods and you look around and there is a strip of dirt where the road should be, litter piled high, children using the streets as a toilet, your home is a single tiny room with a rusty metal roof, four of your six children have died before the age of five, half of your friends are HIV positive, there’s no clean water, your life expectancy is 43 and there’s no chance of escape. If you stand up, like a nail you will be knocked down.
I’ll tell you what I tell them. Bullsh–. There is no difference between Africans, Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Americans, whomever – they’re all as hard-working, lazy, open-minded, prejudiced, stupid, smart, good-looking, ugly, happy, miserable, mean, generous, funny and serious as any other large group of people. Your skin colour is as related to your personality as your eye-colour. I’ve been very careful in this blog to not tar everyone with the same brush, because you can’t. For every bastard Vogon who has gone out of his way to make my trip here miserable, there have been a hundred people I’ve met on buses, in cafes, on the streets who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and appreciated.
But the oppressive regimes of Africa want people here to think there is something wrong with themselves – it stops them thinking, “ NO,THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE GOVERNMENT”.
There is something very wrong with the Government.
Back in the heady days of 2003, I pitched this idea – The Odyssey – to The Guardian newspaper. They were kinda interested, but they didn’t want me to go to Burma, lest it encourage tourism there. I understand that the leader of the opposition to the brutal military regime in Myanmar has asked for tourists not to visit, but again, I believe this to be self-defeating. You don’t know you’re in a cave until you leave the cave. Tourists (backpackers in particular) not only bring in money which is spent on local services, they also bring with them a Window to the West – yes I come from a world where I can say what the hell I like and I don’t have to worry about being executed for saying it.
Every day here, I have to overcome the urge to shake the person sitting next to me and scream that IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!!
It really doesn’t.
Now where was I? Oh year, Kinshasa. Later on in the day, I was invited to a barbeque at the British Embassy. Woo, I thought – free food, put on courtesy of John Q. taxpayer in the UK. But ah, I guess the days of an Embassy posting being all wine and red roses are over – I had to pay.
Parul was out with her friends, so I was hoping to meet with Holgar or Terrence, whom I spoke to on the phone when I was in the clink. But they didn’t seem to be there, so I perched myself on the end of a table and started stuffing my face with as much food as I hadn’t eaten last week.
Then I got a call from Laure, the beautiful French girl that we had made contact with through couchsurfing. Are you wearing a hat? Yeah. Ah, I can see you. She had come to the Embassy to meet me (and possibly grab some BBQ) along with her husband, Alex. Laure is one of only two female pilots in DR Congo (how cool is THAT?) and Alex works for Medicins Sans Frontiers and owns exactly the same compass-watch as me. I liked them immediately. They dragged me (oh so reluctantly!) out for a night of irresponsible drinking in the dives and grottos of Kin-La-Belle. I met a stack of people all working for NGOs or charities and probably had one too many glasses of obscenely overpriced lager (don’t look at me like that, they were placed in my hands).
Ah, the Beer Vortex, give it a spin and see where you end up. Michael was working until late and would be working again tomorrow so he didn’t join us, unfortunately, but he left a key out, and after a quick ride around town in an MSF 4×4 (MSF employees are not allowed to go anywhere on their own; understandable, you know what medics are like), I finally found his flat. Not bad considering that I could barely find my legs.