Picture this, dear reader: A 16-year-old boy from somewhere in Europe decides he wants to visit Kampala. What does he do? He buys an air-ticket, gets onto the plane and at Entebbe Airport pays $50 for a three-month visa with minimum fuss.
It doesn’t matter whether all he has are the clothes on his back and $100 in his pocket all he needs is $50 and his EU passport.
Now imagine a 16-year-old, nah, let’s even say 28-year-old Ugandan who decides he wants to visit Europe for a weekend break. He would need, in no particular order, a confirmed flight and hotel booking, a covering letter from his employer, a certified bank statement showing how much cash he earns and spends, probably a land title and marriage certificate to prove he has “ties” to his country, medical insurance and a fee – not sure what it is these days – just for the visa, and that is not guaranteed, anyway.
Immigration is a very emotive issue the world over. The way Ugandans frothed at the mouth over a recent aert specifying that only foreigners could apply for a lowly position in a dodgy firm in Kampala is the way some Europeans feel when they see an African doing a job they believe they deserve or should be done by one of their own. C’est la vie!
I have come to accept and understand that states have the right to set immigration laws making it difficult for foreigners to enter or work in their countries. Thus when I recently spent well over $100 for a visa to South Africa and only received a single-entry, two-week long visa (instead of the multiple-entry, three-month thing I usually get), I shrugged my shoulders and went about my business.
What I neither accept nor understand, however, is why the Government of Uganda can’t or won’t adopt a policy of reciprocity in its immigration dealings with other governments.
Are Ugandans, who have to lay bare their personal and financial affairs in order to get visas, inferior to those who turn up at Entebbe with just 50 bucks? Many Ugandans go abroad in search of jobs and want to settle there. Fact. Some are even criminals who sponge off the welfare state. But guess what? I also know of many foreigners running criminal syndicates in Uganda (some disguised as companies), or who came here to do jobs that Ugandans can do. Again, c’est la vie!
The idea that a principle of reciprocity will drive away investors or tourists is hokum. Those really interested in visiting our country or tapping into our vast opportunities will respect the rules we impose as long as they are fair, predictable and similar to those their countries impose on us.
Seeing yourselves as equal to others is the foundation of dignity and self-respect. Why should Ugandans who hosted ANC fighter camps, gave passports and other forms of support, who eat eggs from Shoprite, use MTN, keep their money in Stanbic and fly on SAA have to queue up in the dead of the night for visas to South Africa as has recently been happening? Is that right? Is it fair?
When Pretoria started harassing Nigerians in the country, Abuja responded immediately in the same currency. Why does our government remain silent?
We have become like one of those homesteads where guests are served choice meats while the children feed on wild fruit. How can we claim to be patriotic when we have built an exploitative State in which citizens have become subjects and participants, rather than contestants, in the political economy? Where is the pride and dignity in being a Ugandan?
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org andTwitter: @Kalinaki
SOURCE: Daily Monitor