Suomi/Africa
Perspectives from Africa,
engagement from Finland
 
 

Understanding Africa

Representing Africans

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Fireworks at Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Fireworks in Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

The angst of a Namibian desk officer

Driving from South Africa to Namibia through Botswana is not hop, step and jump - whether you're the driver or a passenger in the vehicle. But it was easier than most for my group of fifteen recently - media practitioners from various countries in Africa, and the UK, US and Finland, plus a couple of diplomats who all gelled together in one comfortable mass of easy-going camaraderie and made it a ride through the park.

And we literally drove through the park, the Kalahari, on the lookout for some lucky spotting of big game - especially those who were on the continent for the first time in their lives.

Sadly, nothing of note happened and we only caught sight of the most docile of animals - ostriches, a couple of kudus or impalas, and numerous cows all the way through Botswana, overnight, and then the next day to Namibia.

And that's when we encountered hostility.

At the Trans-Kalahari Zealand Border Crossing Post of Mamuno, we found ourselves crunched up inside a little room in a queue that defied the space limitations. There, the frustration of facing a low-cadre government official hit us full in the face, served up by the lithe, light-skinned lady on duty on Sunday, 6 October 2013.

Unfortunately for Namibia, she did not have a name tag, so we can't say what her name is and the government there will therefore have to do some work in identifying her, then assigning her duties that will keep her away from interfacing with the public until she had undergone a little entry-level training in customer service.

Appearances - and inactionsIt can be less than agreeable at the Trans-Kalahari Border Post

What she did have, instead, was that blank look of unconcern that you normally see on the faces of people caught in a cycle of performing a mind-numbing task - such as stacking groceries into shopping bags, or mopping up toilet cubicles according to a timed schedule. That blank look is never found on the faces of people engaged in intellectual work, or in the progressive application of their minds at even simple tasks - there are truck drivers, for instance, who are bright and animated when they get to work.

A few drivers actually showed up with their passports next to us, which were processed and stamped within seconds by our vacant-looking immigration officer - whose face showed no sign of recognition that she was actually capable of stamping through a passport with seeking efficiency. She also saw no irony in explaining to us that the reason she stamped their passports so readily while giving us grief in a stagnant queue was that, "They are drivers."

The explanation, spat out at us when one of our party dared to complain about the fellows cutting in and getting stamped out within seconds while we waited close to an hour, broke the spirit of an Italian couple standing in the queue. The couple said they were entering Namibia for just a couple of days as part of their holiday and muttered to themselves angrily about the light-skinned immigration officer.

"But why do we have to go through two border posts in the same region? This should be like Schengen where you get one visa and go through all the countries!" the Italian lady said to her mate.

I agreed, but I was more focussed on what this light-skinned immigration officer was doing to Namibia as a nation. Of course, the governments of all our African nations would do well to get rid of some of these hurdles between borders, but that will only be properly achieved once the African Union is operating like the European Union or the federated United States of America.

But back to my annoying light-skinned immigration officer; this being the first Namibian I was coming into contact with as I entered the country, my impression of them was quite low. Characters such as immigration officers are the front desk officers of their countries; they must be smart, polite, intelligent, and useful - and they must exude all the characters that the nation wants to be associated with.

Also, with her sullen, annoying, and very inefficient approach to visitors there was no way she was no chance that she could have been contributing to national security by way of scrutinizing the travel documents handed to her.

Without batting an eyelid she handed me two South African, one Zambian and one Italian passport and only two of those were of females, and a third of a white male, the fourth of am African male but without a beard, which I wore solid.

Fifteen reasons to believe in Africa - amidst a billion opportunities missed

Worse, we presented ourselves as a group of media practitioners and handed her a list with our fifteen names on it, so one would have thought that she would have seen the opportunity to squeeze out fifteen positive stories about Namibia by journalists from 15 different countries. Instead, she chose to be mean, ugly, irritating, slow and quite repugnant; she chose fifteen negative stories about Namibia and Namibians, which should make for an interesting study for the Namibian government departments responsible.

Fourteen, I should say, because in my case I assessed her to be the problem individually, not all Namibians; her colleague on the other end of the room, for instance, noticed the furore and stepped in to help ease the 'workload' but with a smile and some encouraging and apologetic glances at people in the queue.

An hour after coming into contact with her, I was back outside of the cramped room and waiting for the rest of my colleagues to run through her gauntlet of bureaucratic ineptitude. Right next to me on the ledge was an empty can of Coke proclaiming the slogan: 'A billion reasons to believe in Africa'.

That light-skinned immigration officer at Mamuno Border Post, early in October 2013, is NOT one of the one billion reasons to believe in Africa. 

Simon Kaheru