Getting US travel visa just got even more difficult in Africa


(eTN) – “Do you know what life in the USA is like” may be the next question added to the already complex catalogue of “grilling” applicants for a visa to the United States have to answer, as yet more hurdles are placed in their way to travel to America.

Long gone are the days when college graduates, after completing their course in a US university, could invite their entire family over to witness their graduation, not only for the cost of it but more and more for the question of eligibility. How can a grandparent, who lives in the rural areas of any of the East African countries, show evidence of a bank account, when he or she has none, and yet their wealth is expressed in the number of cattle they have, or in the size of their farm, which produce they sell for cash and habitually keep at home, hidden away somewhere?

President Obama, whose own relatives back home in Kenya live largely in a rural setting, may receive – upon due proof, of course, that they are indeed related – would a DNA sample suffice one wonders – might be able to have his African family members visit, although “influence peddling” has to be ruled out here, too, considering the rabid obsession of sections of the US media with such, but ordinary folks will find it more and more difficult to actually make even a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the United States a reality now.

In contrast, and in spite of filling out a useless form at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, when the real purpose is to collect the US$50 entry fee, at least in Uganda it is only the immigration form one has to fill in before being allowed to pay an equal entry fee of US$50. Coming to East Africa is made easy for Americans, Europeans, and other nationalities like Canada, Japan, China, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand, as they face no significant restrictions in regard of entry, nor do they need to show bank statements, undergo a proficiency test of how to cope with life in Africa, or know much about it, nor show that they have family ties back home, which will make them fly back and not abandon all caution and decide on the spur of the moment to live among us here.

All people are equal, yes, but some are clearly more equal than others … and while we here in East Africa continue to say “Karibuni Sana” [we warmly welcome you] to our visitors, that welcome is clearly not entirely reciprocated just like that, as “Fortress West” continues to add yet more layers of bricks to make the wall higher still.

How I yearn for the good old days when the independence generation was wooed by the west to come and study there, join the ranks of “friends,” and go home as “ambassadors of good will,” while the cold war was unfolding in earnest. That generation of Africans was still free to travel with much greater ease, and when they look at the requirements of today’s visa applications, online mostly if not exclusively now, they just shake their heads, as recently seen when discussing the issue with some of my fellow “mzees” and wonder where this world has gotten to. Travel for the rich and famous only – it almost seems so.