My love of African rules

When I was in Kampala some months ago, I decided that I wanted to visit Juba in South Sudan. I took myself off to the South Sudanese representation in the Ugandan capital and asked if they could provide me with travel permission.

“You need an invitation,” they promptly told me.

I said that unfortunately I didn’t have an invitation, but really wanted to go there, because I’d heard such great things about South Sudan. I may have even mentioned the Dinka and the Nuer, as well, and of course that immediately ingratiated me with the prim-looking woman sitting the other side of the counter.

“Come back tomorrow,” she told me courteously, stamping a receipt and handing it to me.

I came back the following day and was presented with the travel permission to South Sudan. It didn’t seem to matter that I was lacking a formal invitation. The name of the company that I work for – which includes the words “war”, “peace” and “reporting” – was also overlooked.

The woman quite clearly didn’t believe I was going to Juba for tourism reasons – she rolled my eyes when I suggested that that was what I was doing, as if anyone could be daft enough to visit the country as a tourist. It seemed to just be enough that I knew a few South Sudan tribes.

Compare that to Russia.

I waited an hour-and-a-half outside the Russian Embassy in Antwerp so that I could lodge my visa application. My reason for going to Antwerp was because, in The Hague, I had been told that I needed a residency permit for the Netherlands – something that I do not have, because I am officially employed from London.

Unfortunately, the story was the same here. Moreover, I was told that I needed two consecative pages in my passport for a visa – I have two blank pages, but, thanks to Thai carelessness, they are not consecative.

“I am afraid zer is nuzzin I can do,” I was told, as I fell to my knees and commenced with the pleading.

In Congo, Uganda, CAR, such apparent rejection could have been deflected with a swift and discrete fluttering of bank notes. Not with Russia, though, I feared.

A lot of people understandably become frustrated with the totally blantant corruption that is rampant through Africa. But, as a foreigner travelling in the continent, such “flexibility” has its advantages.


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