An Encounter with Tanzanian Immigration Officer
By Mike Onwuke
An encounter with Tanzania Immigration Officer is like kiss of death, something that is pretty much like to quarter to midnight. It is like a movie scene gone bad where iron-fist meets the iron head especially when you meet a man obsessed with himself. In Tanzania and other African countries, getting through the day’s daily routine is becoming more hectic and a full-time job. All they do is to welcome premature death as relief from this wrenching world.
If this world is a stage in which we are all players, for God’s sake let each man play his part well.
I have just finished my holidays in Tanzania and noticed that the car AC of my wife wasn’t working well. I was on my way to Kenya Airways office to confirm my return trip and I saw a space and stopped not knowing that it was a devil’s parking space. The rest is now history as street kids removed my travel bag containing my UN Passport, memory stick, international driving license, Sudanese driving license and vaccination papers among other items. After realizing next morning that I have actually lost this bag, I decided to get out, stop bemoaning my loss and move ahead and explore ways of fixing my problem. The first place to start after reporting to the police is the immigration office situated few meters away from the police station.
It was there that I got my greatest surprise and saw the worst way of running public office by clueless charlatans. It took me four hours to explain to the desk officer what I came for and despite best efforts; he still engaged negative in repetitive behavior. I am not a man on honey moon with Tanzanian public but this man disappointed me. This is the poster boy of Tanzania civil service. This man does not know what to do with a foreigner whose travel papers are stolen. All explanations that I made that my national passport be stamped in while I wait for my office to fix the problem rang hollow to him. He repeatedly told me to go home and call on them if anybody harassed me. As they say if you need a friend get a dog. Yes immigration office in Tanzania is a wrong place to look for a friendly hand. The more I try to dig out myself, the more I get dug in.
A wise lion reckons with a mouse because a mouse can also roar. In immigration office, you will easily notice that small men are in-charge of so many things and you constitute your own grave digger if you argue with them. Life might not be good to them as it once was but it is not a reason to latch and charge at everybody like an attack dog. I am tired of being right all the time because I am gradually loosing my friends. Not every fighting is worth it. Walking away sometimes even when we are right is not a bad idea but a sign of grown man. It was the unseen hand of God that extricated me from this over zealous official and not by sheer arrogance.
I evaluated this man and concluded that he just came out from one hovel and I saw him as a man whose life is going no where. Thank God I had a large and endless supply of patience that day because I have anticipated this shouting match.
I was looking for a genuine and endearing action that will swirl me back to him after we had hot exchanges. Like a flash of pan the opportunity presented itself when a casually dressed white tourist came in and sat on the desk of the colleague of my tormentor lazily. It wasa brief moment of disbelief, bewilderment, and then mind seizure. It was like hell was let loose.
I charged and latched at him asking when it became normal for white reprobates and recidivists to debase our office and turn it to a play ground. If you applaud and consecrate such acts in your land, we condemn them here. Can I or any other person in this room exhibit such level of complacency in Europe and go scot-free? You are here for a visa or any other thing and the respect you can show them is to plant your unclean rear end onto the writing desk. If they did not teach you that in school, or your friends and family members were too polite to tell you that, I will do it for you free. If they did not teach you that then they have all failed you. And that explains why you are exporting such primitive behavior abroad which is what you are doing now. I never allowed him to respond as I followed up with multiple barrages of questions all aimed at embarrassing him and winning back my adversary. At the end of three minutes ordeal I went out for fresh air simply because the atmosphere was tense. The white tourist was drenched in self guilt because there was no justification. Then the women, one of whose desk was desecrated came out to hail me. There was an unwillingly male behind who turned out to be the Immigration Officer who blocked my way. He then agreed to take me upstairs to see his boss.
His boss is a serious bulky man with rotund face, who appeared quite busy. Or so it seemed. His big table was a riot of papers and all manners of document each struggling for space. He has one aide whose only job was to dial the phone for him. “Get me this man” he will often yell pointing to a phone number! Thank God he didn’t wear eye glass, otherwise I would have seen such a terrific bulging eyes that is always fired up; I wouldn’t have seen the grin on his face to receive this belligerent and recalcitrant careless travel who lost his documents. But he had an optical glass with obsolete rims which he removed each time he wanted to talk to me. His voice was hoarse, deep, guttural and not soothing at all and he was used to barking orders. All the officers who came into the office to see him were either trembling or frantic.
“I have been in this job for 30 yrs and we don’t take instruction from our clients.” He bellowed. “I am a busy man here dealing with immigration matters from here to Kilimanjaro and to Namanga border and wouldn’t want any distraction like this” He crowed. “Why is it that you cannot follow simple instruction from my officer and you have chosen to argue with him and take my time?” While I listened quietly I was plotting on my response strategy. Suddenly like a brain wave, I thought of one entry behavior. I asked him just to give me two minutes and I will summarize all the issues and he will get a grasp of it and decide fairly. I then told him that I can surmise all the issues and write it on the head of a pin with enough space still remaining.
He dropped his pen and reading glass in utter amazement and beckoned on me to sit down and go ahead. “My family lives here and I am here on holidays as I do every two months. I have worked here for 7 years or more and I was unlucky to loose my travel documents to street kids yesterday just because I was doing the car AC of my wife’s car who happen to be your sister. I have contacted my office in Dares salaam and they have asked me to come over but I need your office to stamp my Nigerian passport and give me few days during which I can obtain all the missing papers. But bear in mind that I will be driving to Dar, your capital, wouldn’t this be a problem if any of your boys stop me and discover that I don’t have a shred of papers? It is a trip of 8-9 hours stretching over 800kms and what will be my fate, if I am stopped by immigration. Your officer standing here assures me that there will be no problem and that I call him should that happens. I think this is not proper. Thank you Sir”
He looked at his officer now standing and fretting and took another look at me with a deep breadth and asked him to issue me 3-months visa with a receipt. I got up and shook his hand and raced down stairs and purposely walked outside so that the dunce of the immigration officer can come to his senses and meet me outside. That happened just immediately.
He now came completely battered and ashamed of himself tried to change his posture by being friendly. His unrehearsed baby steps failed to amuse me. It was late. I tried in vain to hide my disgust. I asked him why it took 4 hours for him to understand what I was explaining. Is it that I couldn’t explain myself well or that he was deaf to reason? What happens to a traveler who looses his papers, is he brought out on Friday and hanged or what?
He tried to justify his actions by saying that they must first explore all avenues before meeting the boss, still underlining that his acts were in order. If you kill a person and deny that there was murder; that amounts to double murder because you have just added truth to the list of your victims. It is like a magistrate asking a woman to recount her rape ordeal in an open court. That amounts to rape for the second time.
These are people who will claim that their fingers are clean even if they dip it in a pot of palm oil. He displayed an uncommon genius in thwarting me from seeing the boss when he was allergic to common sense. The immigration official must have escaped from the pit of hell. This does not convey an image of a government that is competent. I was bone tired of the whole episode.
Is possible for government to employ somebody from the shacks and hovels of a primitive village who won’t understand simple meaning of any thing even after it is explained to him? These are people who complicate already simplified procedures and will do anything to debase and devalue lives? They crow about everything and take delight in kicking the wind. The episode is not merely symptomatic or symbolic, but the sum total of what awaits you in every government office as they have been afflicted with one cancer or another. But can we cleanse the kitchen with the same mop stick that made it filthy in the first place? This is the ultimate sign of our underdevelopment . It is just summative .
Tanzania as a government is still one of the HIPC of the world and their economy is donor driven apart from some squandered money they are creaming from tourism. The whole talk of taking the nation to greater heights is saber rattling, sound bytes and nothing really will happen with people like this in sensitive posts. Talks of bringing in foreign investors are still up in the air and will continue to remain a pipe dream. The domino effect of this behavior is what you get: quantum leap to under-development and all the other things that shorten life.
But hope is what keeps a man going. The people you thought would move the earth for you rarely do . Support usually comes from the least expected quarter. Do I find this encounter funny? No! I fail, and not for lack of trying, to understand. His manoeuvre was bizarre but hardly surprising. My explanations was met with adversity and mattered nonetheless to him .
Tanzania needs break away from the past and stop behaving like a vulture circling carrion. They should abandon their ancient past and commence a progressive march towards 21 century. A good way of doing this is to reorganize her immigration office who draw inspiration from the Soviet era style. It is time to shed the local champion toga and don the global garb. I got home that day urgently requiring to bath.
That runner who takes first in the race isn’t the fastest, but one whom God has shown the way. Keep a thing for seven years and you will find a use for it! A truly honest man in possession of stolen property will show remorse, avoid recompense and return what he stole .
Mikeonwukwe@gmail.com sent this piece from the Great Lakes Region.