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Monday,September 28,2020 04:03 AM

Khartoum will always remind

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th July 2007 03:00 AM

I couldn’t believe that I had been in Accra, Ghana just a week earlier debating the unification of Africa!

I couldn’t believe that I had been in Accra, Ghana just a week earlier debating the unification of Africa!

JERRY OKUNGU

I couldn’t believe that I had been in Accra, Ghana just a week earlier debating the unification of Africa!

In Ghana, the pro-union government Civil Society groups even went a notch higher by issuing a symbolic African passport to the Ghanaian Foreign Minister as a gesture of African unity. Three days later, I was denied entry into Khartoum. The decision to detain me and eventually put me on Kenya Airways flight back to Nairobi eight hours later was as baffling as it was strange.

The logic given was intriguing. Let me give you a little background why I was in Khartoum in the first place. Two weeks earlier, I was invited by an American Democracy organisation to train political parties in Sudan on Communications and Media Management. I had done this kind of training several times in South Sudan since the Comprehensive Agreement was signed in 2005.

My first trip to Khartoum in mid-June 2007 went smoothly. The organisation in the Nairobi office had acquired a one-month visa which was duly stamped by the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi as valid effective June 13, 2007.

My calculation told me that the visa would expire on July 13. Nowhere in my visa was it ever stated that it was for a single entry. I only learnt that the one-month validity meant a single entry to the immigration officials on arrival at Khartoum airport on July 5, 2007. Efforts to explain my situation to immigration officials at Khartoum Airport fell on deaf ears. For them one month meant one entry and their word was final. My American host in Sudan was at the airport waiting for me. Despite coming up to the immigration gate to argue my case, my black brothers were not prepared to budge. They had sealed my fate. I had to travel back to Nairobi on the same plane whether I liked it or not! What was even more infuriating and demeaning was the fact that I was even denied an opportunity to get a visa on entry, a privilege that was courteously accorded Europeans, Arabs from the Middle East and other Asian races. It did not matter that Kenya was and still is an immediate neighbour of Sudan and just three years before, was instrumental in negotiating the Peace Accord between the SPLA and the Government in Khartoum. Never mind that Kenya still shares IGAD, COMESA and AU memberships with the Sudan.

This inhuman handling of foreigners from Africa in African countries brought home the reality that as a continent, we have along way to go in negotiating a union government. It would appear the political leadership in many countries like the Sudan will not make things any easier for Africa to unite any sooner.

The so-called colonial boundaries still gives these regimes a good weapon to mete out discriminatory treatment to fellow Africans! As I sat in an otherwise jovial immigration waiting-room, waiting to be deported back to Kenya, I learnt something else from the staff working there. They felt extremely angry with the Sudanese authorities for treating me so badly. Then I realised they were from Darfur and South Sudan. They confirmed my worst fears. That what I had just gone through was their daily menu. That racism is alive in Sudan, especially in the north where Arabs hold sway.

A mere civilian, I was handled by no less than 10 security officials in the eight hours I was held at the airport. Two immigration officials handed me over to two airline ground staff immediately my passport was confiscated. The two ladies impolitely told me that I must get back to the aircraft bound for Cairo before handing me over to two other senior immigration officials.

As my passport was being severally photocopied and passed from hand to hand, other foreigners in the same situation, mostly people of European, Arab and Asian descent were busy chatting as their visas were being processed in the same room. Attempts to ask why I was being treated differently were met with mean stares that told it all. I was black and from an African country! For eight hours, I was alone and dumped in a large freezing waiting room to wait for a plane that would land in the wee hours of the morning. My passport and luggage were gone; strictly in the custody of security personnel. I had no reading material because all the books I had carried were in my confiscated suitcase.

In between all this misery, I found four kind souls that tried to help. These were junior immigration officials who felt embarrassed that I was being subjected to this senseless experience. The Darfur official was even more baffled. He confessed to me that every time he has come to Nairobi, the Kenya immigration officials have always treated him kindly and given him a visa on arrival! He was the one who fixed my laptop onto a main so that I could busy myself while waiting for my deportation.

The other official from Rumbek offered to make tea for me. He was excited to know that I had been to Rumbek and Juba several times on similar missions without any trouble. Eight hours later, the two ladies re-emerged with my passport, boarding pass and my suitcase ready to escort me to the aircraft. It was definitely a high society treatment, being escorted by so many security staff carrying my luggage and all.

And to prove that I was truly VIP, the two ladies upgraded me to business class with a parting smile! Khartoum Airport will always remind me of the tragedy of Africa tormenting its own.

jerry@nepadkenya.org

Khartoum will always remind

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