The African visa door is really not open

28 July 2016
With much fanfare, at the recently concluded African Union (AU) meeting of Heads of State and Government in Kigali, the continental body gave the first ceremonial African passports to selected officials. 
Following that, our very own President Hage Geingob announced that visas would not be required for Africans to enter Namibia. We are not certain that this directive is consultative, logistically thought out and in line with existing/pending laws and regulations that, in effect, severely restrict access to Namibia by Africans and people from other nations. 
With this presidential pronouncement, we get the image of someone opening their front entrance, but leaving the metal door with burglar bars, firmly locked and barred.
We wonder if the president made that announcement of allowing Africans to enter without visas or without obtaining visas at the airport upon arrival, in consultation with his own Cabinet.  Has he announced a noble diplomatic aspiration or a new immigration regulation?
With Namibia’s high unemployment rate as their mantra, officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration are gleefully dogged in blocking Africans (and other nationals) from entering the country, getting jobs, buying land and marrying locals.  This is no secret; it has been this way since independence.  All countries have some level of restriction in place for foreigners, so this is not unusual. 
Deportations of Africans, who arrive for religious sessions, conferences and meetings, visits to friends and relatives, schooling and medical treatment, as well those who sell their wares on the streets and for a myriad other reasons, occur regularly.  We are not sure therefore, what the president’s announcement means on the ground for Africans being harassed and chased out of Namibia right now.  Are those advising the president so detached from what actually goes on regarding Africans trying to enter and live in Namibia?
Foreigners now have to wait 10 years for Namibian citizenship when marrying locally and permission to marry (and receive domicile) can only happen after a document approving the marriage is obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs. 
This announced ‘open door’ for all Africans says nothing about their ability to get jobs here, build a life here, send their kids to public schools or use our State medical facilities – so what’s the point?
The tourism industry is up in arms about the demand for a business visa for those coming from South Africa to attend events, meetings and workshops in Namibia.  This new and selective application of the business visa law refutes the announcement about the Namibian open door for Africans.
Those arriving for a conference (African or not) are liable to deportation, if they arrive without a business visa.  This is killing Namibia as a conferencing destination, as event organisers are now choosing other countries as hosts instead.
There are serious security concerns in allowing all Africans to enter with no visa. Does this include Boko Haram, warlords from Somalia, African paparazzi, who want to hound our VIP ‘star’ guests like Prince Harry or Brangelina, religious charlatans from whatever church in Africa, failed coup leaders, indigent Africans, who arrive with no money to sustain themselves, civil war instigators or conmen like the Kora Awards criminal from West Africa?  Should our doors really be that open?
The plan to allow Africans to receive their visas “at the airport or border posts” is not a considered one.  We do not have the research/vetting computers and internet access at all border posts to do background checks on those who arrive (African or not).  What happens if an African is not granted a visa when arriving at the airport?  Who pays for their deportation?  Airlines have internationally approved directives about this.  If they are instructed through that system to allow ANY African with a ticket on a plane bound for Namibia with no visa, then that is what they will do.  If those people are subsequently denied entry, it is Namibia’s cost to deport them.  Who finances this?  What do we do with those Africans who will claim refugee status upon arrival?  
We all endured the horrors of the West African Ebola crisis, now there is Zika moving across the world and Yellow Fever raging just over the borders in Angola.  Shall we allow anyone from countries where these diseases are rampant (African or not) to have entry, regardless of their health status?
Policy pronouncements of this magnitude from the Head of State are taken seriously.  There are probably African migrants on their way to Namibia right now on the basis of that statement.  How can we accommodate any serious influx of unemployed, unskilled African migrants to Namibia?
We applaud the Pan-Africanist solidarity belying the president’s welcome to all Africans.  But, we believe that policy shifts ought to be logistically-organised, before they are announced.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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