“Why do you want to go to Sudan?” The ambassador asks, seated behind a large brown desk with a small Sudanese flag on the corner nearest to me.
“I am touring.” I replied.
“Who do you know in Khartoum.?”
“No one.” I responded.
“Where are you going to stay?”
“At a hostel.”
The Sudanese ambassador has a quizzical look on his face. Clearly I had not supplied any convincing responses to his questions about my intentions in Sudan. As I stood there, in that well-furnished office in the Sudanese embassy in Cairo, I contemplated the difficulties I was facing in getting a visa to travel to Sudan. I had spent the previous three weeks attaining visas for Egypt, Ethiopia and Rwanda, none as difficult or requiring an extensive interview of this nature. In those three weeks I had patiently waited for a response on the Sudan visa I had applied for in Pretoria. After multiple phones calls (at least twice a week) and multiple visits to the consulate (with the same response “Your application is being processed in Khartoum”), I had bought a flight ticket and was in Cairo to try my luck closer to the source.
Recorded as amongst the top five most difficult African visas to attain, the Sudan visa experience left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, even though I was granted the visa. Having to jump through multiple hoops and red tape and yet we are on the same continent left me bewildered. I hold a Zimbabwean passport, but on the African continent I can only access 14 countries without requiring a visa. Most of the countries I can access visa free are in Southern Africa and East Africa. Ghana is the only country in west Africa that allows Zimbabweans access without a visa and I would like to think that this is due to the strong relations between my dear president and the Ghanaian people, pre independence days, when he was still a teacher there. Recently Ghana also introduced a new visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of African Union (AU) member states, which is a step forward in enabling hassle free travel through Africa for Africans. Another leader on this front is Mozambique, who in 2007 relaxed their visa rules, allowing. This will be very advantageous for people like my father who used to be subjected to an expensive one day delay to get a transit visa for travel to Malawi via Mozambique for work.
The European Union allows, with the use of the Schengen visa has allowed hassle free movement of citizens between borders. The East Africa community of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have something similar. As I stood in line waiting to be served at the Gatuna border (between Rwanda and Uganda), I observed many an individual simply displaying their Identity cards (ID) to the immigration official, stating their purpose for visit and crossing over, without having to produce passport or visa.
It felt weird, being one of a handful of people standing at the border with a passport, while other passengers from the bus I was on could walk over with just their IDs and immigration stamps. It did however, make me feel good as well. It was a sign of progress towards a space of open trade without the constraints of administrative issues, visas and passports.
The difficulty with attaining a visa primarily depends on what kind of passport you hold. For example, with my Zimbabwean passport, entering the DRC (which I have done before) is a seamless experience. However, if one holds a British or American passport, this might not be as easy. I met many a tourist in Rwanda who wanted to visit Goma for Gorilla trekking and to view the Nyiragongo volcano, who were still awaiting their DRC visa clearance. Other countries including, Eritrea, Angola, Chad and Somalia could prove equally if not more difficult given each country’s unique economic and political landscape.
Reading http://qz.com/641025/the-trials-restrictions-and-costs-of-traveling-in-africa-if-youre-an-african/, I was inspired to share my experience of trying to get into Sudan. I was fortunate to be granted the visa after that meeting with the ambassador!