By Karim Bah
Its a week full tension around the content of Africa. Serra Leone recorded is worst Senior Secondary school exam results in which over 95% of those who took the exams failed. This has left the nation in a state of shock and national soul-searching has begun even if no accountability, no sackings, no resignations or no urgency on the part of government. The Xenophobia in South Africa hit the headlines as we all know with reprisal attacks of South Africans in other parts of Africa, which must also be condemned. While the whole world was talking about Xenophobia and what others have termed Afrophobia or African self-hate rooted in Slavery and colonialism, the government of Sierra Leone released a new visa policy.
This visa policy which comes in the wake of the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa was rather disappointing to say the least. The policy now makes it easier for some visitors to come to Sierra Leone apparently as tourists or investors. Europeans, Americans, Chinese, Australians, a lot of Asian countries like Bangladesh and even Tavula an come to Sierra Leone and get a visa on arrival at the airport in Sierra Leone. But disappointingly Africans, those outside the ECOWAS will not be welcome. At least that’s how I see it.
The disappointment and hypocrisy of the Sierra Leonean government is the fact that all other African citizens apart from ECOWAS and South Africa, yes you heard me right, South Africa, can not get automatic visa on arrival in Sierra Leone. The message from our government is that white people in the world including from pacific Islands and Bolivia are welcome to Sierra Leone without visa – other Africans outside of ECOWAS and South Africa are not. Unless of course those who are part of the Commonwealth – a neo-colonial institution.
Lot of questions coming into my mind. Why is that Bangladeshis, Europeans, Australians, Gulf states like Qatar etc can come to Sierra Leone easily without a visa, but a Congolese, an Ethiopian, a Mozambican, a Namibian or a Burundian cannot? Why South Africa was given a special status? What is the thinking of the government? Is this not part of the Afro-phobia and self-hate we continue to show against each other as Africans? Some African countries like Rwanda and Ghana have already passed a visa policy that allows all African Union nations visa free entry so why can’t we do this?
This just doesn’t make sense. What are we afraid of? That hundreds of thousands of people from East and Central African countries will troop down to Salone? Well that is as far fetched as Salone going into space this year. We already have free movement of people in West Africa and we have not seen people from other parts of West Africa running to Salone.
And given that the Africa Free Trade Area has been established and an African Union passport has been launched recently, why the hesitation to declare visa free entry for all African Union citizens. Why visa free entry for commonwealth countries, some of which we have no real tangible connection apart from the fact that we were former British colonies, but not Africans?
The future for Africa is unity. We need free movement of African people as was the case before colonial borders were established by the colonizers. We need Africans to move and settle anywhere they wish without any restriction and to fully participate in the political, economic, cultural arenas of their chosen countries.
If I am resident in the UK, for example, I can vote in local elections. But as an African from another country I cannot vote say in Ghana even for local council elections and never mind the length of time i have stayed in that country. Same in Salone a Ghanaian, Guinean or Liberian cannot participate in our elections even if they are resident here for years. We need to end this nonsense.
The leadership of Sierra Leone, like most of our leaders around the continent are myopic, micro-nationalist, Afro-phobic and xenophobic. They are very happy to make Europeans comfortable in their countries, but not other African citizens. The future for Africa, is dignity, its transformation, its prosperity lies in unity. Our only hope for transformation and progress in a short period of time. The alternative is the current misery, mass poverty, backwardness and dependency on handouts from those who exploited us for centuries and continue to exploit our wealth and labour.