When I first sat down to write this, I was doing a load of laundry before leaving for a weekend in Anguilla (which is visa-free for Zambians with a US or UK visa), I was also thinking about the different kinds of privilege that exist and I know for certain that passport privilege is one that I do NOT possess.
A few days after my 27th birthday, I received my 3-month tourist visa to Colombia where I attended my first carnival ever with a group of friends. The travel groups biggest worry was securing accommodation in Barranquilla before it got fully booked and mine was navigating a poorly-translated Spanish site applying for my visa, wondering if I’d have to travel to the Colombian consulate in Puerto Rico (which is a convenient 20-minute flight away from St Thomas, where I was staying then).
This really should be classified as an extreme sport, or at least a form of sustained torture, because travelling while African is no small feat.
I’ve been an immigrant (I now identify as an “ex-pat”, thank you very much) since about 5 days before I turned 17 when I moved to South Africa for university, so I’m quite familiar with immigration processes and constantly being aware of the scrutiny you face when you’re an African away from your home country.
As long as you’re not leaving the region, it’s fairly easy to get by in Africa and many countries are accessible by road…if you’re okay with bus trips of 16 + hours on less than ideal roads.
For Southern Africans, countries in the SADC region are visa-free for at least 30 days. It only really becomes a problem when one has to travel across regions for example from Southern Africa to West Africa and vice versa.
When I first travelled to the US Virgin Islands in 2018, I needed an American visa because they form part of US territory. Since then, I cite that first visit to the US consulate in Johannesburg as one of the worst experiences ever! I felt like such a criminal because not only did I have to answer the usual questions, I also had to endure “further questioning” in a tiny, sterile, overly-bright room. Fun fact: I endured the same on the way back from a magical weekend in Anguilla.
You may also have already read how I was asked if I have Ebola upon arrival in Colombia.
I’ve learned though, that this was just par for the course as an African traveller. As the holder of an African passport, I am already facing prejudice and so I have bigger hoops to jump through including stricter visa laws and shorter visiting durations. I long for the day when I can just hop on a flight to visit other regions without the requirement for a visitors visa.
As at December 2019, I needed a visa (on arrival at a cost of 50 USD) to visit the East African country of Rwanda and I also needed one to visit Cape Verde over in West Africa. It is understandable that we are subjected to such when travelling to Europe, The Americas and Asia, however, on our continent, we should have, by now progressed to a more united way of living and that includes the easing of tourist restrictions.
I am proud that countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia and Ghana have embraced the visa on arrival system for many African countries. However, it is not just the visas that are a barrier to travel; air ticket prices are pretty steep for intra-Africa travel. It often works out cheaper to visit Thailand, Bali or the Philippines from South Africa, than to visit Nigeria (including visa costs), Mauritius or Seychelles.