September 22, 2007

A Love Letter to Immigration

Chief Immigration Officer
Immigration Headquarters
Lusaka, Zambia

Re: Paying $700 in visa fees to volunteer in Zambia for 7 months

Dear Sir/Madam,

First let me cordially congratulate you on the grand opening of your new Customer Care Centre, a stunning achievement in superficial improvement. I had the opportunity to stew in frustration in the new waiting area last week, and I’d like to be the first to applaud you on a comfortable choice of furnishings. Your foresight in providing the finest in padded seating is nothing less than visionary.

I would also like to take this opportunity to further commend your honesty in calling long-term visitors, volunteers and immigrants to your fine nation ‘customers’ – just like the hapless cash cows you see them as. Surely these ingrates have nothing more to contribute to national development than exorbitant visa fees; it’s not like they would have recycled that money into the local economy to people who actually needed it. Thank goodness we have institutions in this country that shackle foreign investment and discourage return visits. The distinct privilege of being in Zambia demands your most vigilant protection and restriction.

In conversation with your most esteemed immigration officers, they have expressed disbelief with arguments to the contrary. It is, they would argue, just as frustrating for Zambians to gain access to the frozen wastes of Canada. This tit-for-tat attitude is wholly appropriate for a nation whose people can wait for development while their government figures out how to better antagonize would-be interlopers. There once was a time when Canada flung open its doors to the world to become a more prosperous nation, and we all know how that turned out. Having surged up development indices in recent years, Zambia is well-placed to set an international standard of border protection.

As ever, bold leadership is needed to see this through. Anything less could see the development of a tourist-driven services sector, vital foreign investment in agriculture or, worst of all, the all-out invasion of those annoying peace corps volunteers.

Yours in therapeutic sarcasm,
Brandon Currie


Pandawe said...

I would like to apologise for the poor and ungrateful reception that you received at the hands of our obvioussly corrupt and incompetent immigration officers.After all they are Africans, they are born corrupt!

Who do they think they are! The should have rolled out the red carpet and grinned ingritiatnly at the great Canadian 'expert' bearing crap and dollars.

'Sir'along with your wit and sarcarm, may I suggest that you invest yourself with a good knowledge of how poverty impacts on the function and systems of poor countries.

If you have no respect for us, the poor people of Zambia, Please leave us alone and take your 'expertise'somewhere were you will treated like the big white chief!

B. Scott Currie said...

Thanks for your comment Pandawe. I'm glad you see the world in the same oversimplified racial terms as your (presumed?) compatriates at immigration.

I never said immigration officers were incompetent or corrupt, though I can see that's how you think white people view Zambians. On the contrary, they are very good at following their policy of ripping off visitors. I wish they were corrupt! It would make things so much easier. Unfortunately, they stubbornly follow instructions from their superiors, no matter right or wrong.

If anyone has no respect for the poor people of Zambia, it's your own Government and decision-makers who represent their own narrow interests and not those of the constituents they supposedly serve. The poverty of leadership in Zambia is what causes policies like those at immigration; an attitude that favours immediate enrichment of Government coffers over sustainable long-term growth.

I have no respect for those people, it's true, but they're far from poor.

Chris said...

Hmmm, given the above exchange this would probably be a bad time to mention that a pair of earrings given to the right person in immigration resolved all of my visa issues here (not Zambia).

Yeah, it'd probably be a bad time to mention that.

Pandawe said...

I understand that your piece was probably aimed at your Canadian(western) audience.

You and your friends can chuckle and snigger at the expense of poor Zambians. You can also write pieces dripping with contempt and implied supreriority in the name of 'wit' and sacarsm... and have jolly good laugh.

But please don't expect us poor Zambians to join in the apprieciation of your 'wit'.

Bryn said...

I don't know about you Pandawe, but I'm generally contemptuous of any form of bad governance regardless of where in the world it exists. This implied superiority you speak about suggests to me that you feel Canadians are arrogant about their governance systems - and as a Canadian, I can tell you its not all sunshine and rainbows there either. We have more than our share of senseless bureaucratic nonsense and it makes my blood boil as well.

As for poverty impacting on governance, there is no doubt a strong link. Corruption is driven by a me-first attitude and the abuse of power for personal gain. That said, it's been proven again and again that the richest countries are not always the least corrupt - for instance, simply raising salaries in the public sector does little, on it's own, to reduce corruption and improve governance.

I'm the kind of person that believes that being open to giving and receiving criticism is the most important foundation for social change. Improving governance, for all the academic models, best practices and transparency mechanisms floating out there in ether, is fundamentally a society-wide responsibility and it begins with admitting faults and working to improve them.

Tacitly accusing your critics of ethno-centrism, egoism and paternalism seems like little more than an attempt to deflect criticisms and maintain the status quo.


Anonymous said...

Actually been there seen and done that. Immigration is one of the last strongholds the government has in squeezing money out of civilians.

They can't get it from the locals so why not take advantage of whats happening around the region and extort money thru fees and bribes.

I wonder if any Zambian has actually helped another country beside be another leech in the society. Wish them all the best.

Concerned African..