Tag Archives: Africa

Why passports are a disadvantage in South Africa

Since I arrived in South Africa in 2005 I’ve found that doing any dealings with banks, western union, letting agents, Insurance companies, furniture shops, post offices, security guards at most Johannesburg residential complexes and DHL (by DHL I mean all shipping companies) always leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.

It amazes me how all these groups of people seem to want different documents from me to verify my identity every time I need to make use of their services. In a normal world it is usually enough to provide some form of valid ID and proof of address when dealing with most companies in the service industry. However in South Africa, particularly if you are human being of the foreign variety, sometimes these requirements morph into an exercise that seems akin to trying to get a visa to visit the planet Krypton (No it does not exist).

For example, I tried sending money through Western Union. I had my passport and proof of residence with me simple enough right? Wrong! I was told that since I am not South African I would need to provide my passport, my valid work permit, proof of address, a 3 month bank statement, a recent pay slip not older than 3 months and a letter confirming my employment.

After a return journey home to fetch all these documents, a quick call to our bemused HR lady to email me the employment stuff and a quick turn to the print shop I found that the lady who had served me earlier had left and there was a new lady at the counter. She proceeded to give me forms that I duly filled in. She made copies of my passport, my permit, my proof of residence, my bank statement, handed me back my pay slip and confirmation of employment letter saying I wouldn’t need them and processed my transaction.

The next time I went to Western Union you can guess like any logical human being I took with me the documents that had been needed the last time only to be told again that I still needed my pay slip and a confirmation of employment letter. The only difference was that this time these documents were actually copied.

On a separate occasion I tried to visit a friend living in one of the flats in the Johannesburg CBD. All these flats require that you sign in at the entrance (most of which are manned by security guards) using some form of ID. Upon signing in I was about to enter when I was told by the security guard that I could not enter the flat because he had noticed that my work permit had expired. When I explained that my passport was valid and I was awaiting the outcome of my new application for a work permit (this is not to say that I understood why I needed a work permit to visit a friend) his response was that sadly he could not let me in because after all rules were rules. It seems even for a mere visit to a friend I needed a valid work permit.

Then there was the time I tried to register an online profile with Edgars (a clothing store) so that I could manage my account with them (I have learnt that using the internet often means I do not have to deal with people and this is usually an advantage because the computer has no idea that I am not South African. Or does it? Anyway that’s another story). I got to the part where you enter your ID number and I entered my passport number only for ‘the system’ (a word I hear a lot round these parts) to reject my registration saying I needed to enter an ID number that was 13 digits long (the format for all South African ID numbers). In my anger and disappointment at this obvious example of discrimination I did what any self-respecting person would do … I wrote a letter to them. Not counting the automated response that came seconds after I sent the letter, I have not heard back from them.

I have had many experiences like this and as a result have resorted to moving around with everything. So the next time you are rummaging through my bag (maybe that would also be a requirement for some service I need from you) do not be surprised if you find my passport, work permit, 3 month bank statement, proof of address, letter of employment, pay slip, my employment contract, police clearance certificate, signed medical certificate proving that I am fit and healthy attached to radiological reports, marriage licence, University transcripts, degree certificates, my 1st place ribbon from the egg and spoon race I won back in crèche and my Pokémon cards in case the requirements at a bank state that I need to battle and defeat another Pokémon before I can be given a line of credit.

Are you a foreigner? What is your experience of South Africa?

African leaders meet like ‘Africans’

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma proves that thinking like an African is not so bad if done in moderation

Pretoria –

African leaders on Tuesday opened talks in South Africa to discuss the formation of a panel that will consult on the creation of a committee that will confer to set up a forum that will moot the idea of different representatives meeting to exchange views on the possibility of the use of a rapid-deployment emergency force to swiftly intervene in crises on the continent.

The proposed new force will assist the continent pending the operation of the long-planned AU African Standby Force.

Jacob Zuma, the South African president , stated that the aim of the summit is to let leaders know that when it comes to security, “thinking like Africans in Africa in general” is not such a bad thing.  He added that the meeting would “enable Africa to act swiftly and independently in response to the urgent security challenges this continent faces”, except in Malawi where the dire state of the national road there makes it hard for anyone to act at all let alone act swiftly.

Apparently this decision came about due to the perceptive  and revolutionary realisation that 10 years was a long time to wait for “swift African responses to crises that arise on our continent..while the building blocks of the African Standby Force are carefully being put in place”.

The AU’s standby brigade has made little progress since its inception. A decade ago it was proposed that the force would be made up of 32 500 troops and civilians drawn from the continent’s five regions. Of the 32 500, only one has turned up. It’s not clear whether this lone ranger is actually part of the force or if he is the security guard of the site where the proposed base of the proposed force would have been built.

Name change expert, Diddy, formerly known as Puff Daddy, commented that “it probably has a lot to do with the use of the word brigade instead of force. I remember that when I was still called Puff Daddy the Puff got between the fans and I hence it was dropped in favour of Diddy. Now that the African standby brigade has a new name we should see it become more effective”. Other experts echo this view even stating that since the Organization of African Unity became the African Union things have been happening a lot faster in this body because of dropping the word “organization” from its name.

The meeting is being attended by countries that have said they are willing, in principle, holding all factors constant and provided the AU provides their soldiers with sunscreen that has SPF 15 or higher, to contribute to the force. It was not immediately clear how many countries have so far pledged troops to the new force.

The new force will be known simply as the African Capacity for Immediate & Swift Response to Crises in the Greater Africa bar Malawi (ACISRCGAM). – norushinafrica

photo credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea via photopin cc

When Pigs “flew” in Nairobi

A few days ago protesters in Nairobi, Kenya released almost a dozen pigs outside parliament to show their anger at newly elected MPs (Members of Parliament) asking for higher salaries. The statement they were making was that the MPs are like pigs because of their greed.

The association with pigs is apt given that politicians (I will focus on Africa because that’s where I live) have many similarities with pigs.

For example, a typical pig has a large head with a long snout used for smelling and foraging. Many African politicians typically have large heads and large stomachs used for the same things. The stomach adds, for the politician, an increased ability to absorb all that has been gathered from foraging.

Ever heard the saying “don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it.” Nothing is more truer when dealing with politicians. For years politicians have enjoyed slinging mud at opponents, critics and citizens alike. Similarly pigs have, over centuries of evolution, perfected the art of wallowing in mud so much so that the word “pig” has come to represent dirt and greed e.g “how disgusting you’re such a pig” or “your room is such a pigsty” or “last night we ate all the food in the house we really pigged out”.

Actually ever noticed how, of the many sayings about politicians/politics there are a significant number that make reference to pigs e.g “you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig”. It seems my Kenyan brothers took this a bit literally. That said the act of standing up against these pi….oops I meant politicians is commendable because far too much is spent by our politicians on personal development and not on nation building.

Lost In Abroad (Part 2)

As an African living abroad, what are you doing about Africa’s problems?

Have you ever been asked this question?  I was recently, and the following is the second installment of my answer.  As with most things in life, I think money is part of the solution.

[Read the first part here if you haven’t done so already]

Overtime.

Unfortunately many of us in America work too much.  We don’t manage to save much under the age of 40 – even though most of us are well-paid professionals. By our 40’s the sense of adventure required to contribute significantly back home is gone.  Family responsibilities ($$) take center stage, and other things become more important.  Those with the incomes that make wealth-building easier often stay here because life is easier and rich people are safer.  The huge houses that can be purchased in nice upper-class neighborhoods are too hard to resist.

I also doubt that Africans live like visitors in the U.S.  We don’t behave like people that have a home elsewhere.  We acquire hard assets, and live upper-middle-class lives – some even create social clubs and the sorts of things that make it feel like “back home”.  If you come to Houston, you’ll quickly find imported African foods as well as traditional fabrics.  Our home countries inevitably become vacation spots, rather than places we go to get goals accomplished.  Sure some people do Medical Missions, but other than saving a few lives, what systemic changes can that affect?  In Lost In Abroad, one of the characters understood this, and made an effort to use his Architectural skills back home where he thought it was needed most.

For my part, I don’t have plans right now to live in Nigeria.  However I recognize that plans change.  I remember that I was sent out to acquire certain things, and once I have them I don’t want to be stuck here or anywhere else.  I am also starting to question the merits of living out the rest of my life in the Western world. Do I want my children to grow up here?  I’m not saying that there is something wrong with being here, but I have other options.  I just heard that my father built a [second] small house, with the notion that my brother and I should not have to share space in the house he already has.  Somewhere in the world I can live in a house without rent or mortgage payments!

Will I Be Lost In Abroad?

My family wasn’t stuck in Nigeria; nor were we stuck in Zimbabwe.  When the kitchen got too hot, we moved on to greener pastures.  Doesn’t it make sense that if we weren’t stuck at “home” that we wouldn’t become stuck abroad?  This has many implications for how we build wealth in foreign lands, and how much we strive to be “at home” in another man’s house.  Citizenship acquired through legal means doesn’t feel quite like the citizenship that is a birthright.

Every time President Barack Obama’s race or citizenship is a topic in the American media, I smile at the thought of having a place where my grandfather’s house still stands.  I haven’t been there for a while, but that doesn’t mean I never will.  The prodigal son always knew he could go back, because even time cannot call into question the rights a person has on the land of his ancestors.  That means, no big house for me and no fancy car — not unless and until I can go home and contribute my sweat to African progress.  I may or may not, but I never will if I cannot.

So now I ask you.  As an African living outside your home country, what are you doing about Africa’s problems?

Albert Okagbue is a world travelled and globally educated Certified Public Accountant from Houston, Texas. He is a guest blogger on norushinafrica but mostly writes about finance related issues on http://okagbuecpa.com/

Myths about Africa

map of Africa
We really don’t like being called the ‘dark continent’

It amazes me that in 2012 certain stereotypes about Africa still exist and some are even embraced by people one would think are open minded. There are many such misconceptions out there but this week I will focus on a few that I’ve encountered personally in my reading, in the media and in conversation with Africans and people from other parts of the world.

  • Firstly, contrary to some beliefs we actually have airports. Some of these airports rank quite highly due to their world class facilities. So no worries, when you visit you will actually land. You won’t have to parachute off your plane while it circles the country to allow for everyone to jump off.
  • Secondly, Africa is a continent and not a country. It is the 2nd largest continent and is made up of +/- 60 countries (depending on your politics and whether you count a peck on the cheek as a kiss). So before you ask, No! I don’t know that guy you met in Ghana this one time. I’m from Malawi which is a separate country very far away from Ghana.
  • Although we have wild animals that live in the wild, we don’t have pet lions. Instead, we have these weird creatures called dogs, cats and birds amongst other things that we like to keep as pets. I know a guy who used to have a Lion though (psssh! giving us all a bad name).
  • In addition to this, we have computers, broadband, Blackberries, iPhones, Tablet PCs, the internet and in fact most technologies that people in the 1st world (whatever that means) are used to . We don’t have a soothsayer who posts Facebook status updates on our behalf using smoke signals. In case you need to send a text message, make a call or send an email via your phone we also have 3G connectivity in most areas.
  • Most of the major media companies would have you believe that it’s all doom and gloom here. What with all the stories of corruption, hunger, war and disease. Yes, like Britney Spears, Joe the plumber and Homer Simpson we have our problems (like running out of beer on a weekend) but despite this we go to movies, we have comedians, we gossip about celebrities doing what most people can’t imagine their parents doing, we have parties (where we actually eat), we worry about health insurance (yes we have that too) and we go to the park on weekends with our families.
  • Though Nelson Mandela is an icon he is not the only icon to come out of Africa. In as much as we appreciate the work that Mr Mandela did for his country and the rest of the continent we have a large number of Africans working hard to effect change in their countries today. Off the top of my head names that come up are Kofi Annan, Nwanko Kanu, Roger Milla, Desmond Tutu and many more.
  • Furthermore, we don’t need your help (I am of course referring to Tarzan, Superman and whoever feels that we need to be saved from something). We have the intellect and the human resources to come up with solutions to our problems. Don’t get me wrong everyone needs a little assistance when they are facing difficulties however giving us 22 million pounds or dollars and then lecturing us about ‘good governance’ doesn’t really sit well with most Africans especially if you are involved in a myriad of dodgy wars across the world and your airport security policies regard toothpaste as a potential weapon. That said, Oprah we love the school you opened and we hope you come here and do another one of ’em shows where you give away cars.
  • Finally, most of our clean water is provided to us via the tap and not Matt Damon.*

*Matt Damon funds projects in Zambia to bring clean water to communities in some areas that do not have access to it.

Hi, my name is Africa and I’m addicted to my cell phone

One of the new smart phonesOne of the most used technologies when it comes to communication in Africa is the cell phone (mobile phone). It is so widely used that most African banks now use it to deliver banking solutions to suit those people who live in remote areas or those who prefer not to deal with that clingy bank teller who rattles on and on about how she can’t find true love despite all her good efforts.

However, the cell phone, with all its advantages, has irreversibly changed the way we interact with each other. Gone are the days when someone spent a year without talking to you because they genuinely couldn’t get in touch with you. These days we have Facebook, BBM, Mxit, Whatsapp and a whole host of tools available on our phones that make it harder to use the “I didn’t have your number” line on anyone.

Although I am a fan of technology, I feel that as cell phones have become smarter they have also become so pervasive that there are few things in our lives that are not in some way connected to them. For example, I struggle to have a conversation with my friends or my girlfriend without someone or something on my phone petitioning for an audience with me.

We talk about being free and living in a civilised society yet our biggest slave master is right there with us all the time in our pockets, handbags and even inside our bras (yes TIA some people do that here). Upon leaving our houses every morning, we pad ourselves down every now and again as a ritual to check that we haven’t forgotten our phones.

It has become so ridiculous that we spend the day chatting to friends and loved ones telling them how we can’t wait to see them only to visit them, whip out our phones, start chatting with other people who are not there feeding them the same sentimental BS about how we must do lunch sometime. I am no expert but it is safe to suggest that we are very much addicted to our cell phones like alcoholics are to alcohol.

Think about it, we are on our cell phones almost all the time except when we are sleeping (with our phones right by the side of the pillow just in case). We spend money (that we don’t have sometimes) to feed this habit by buying the latest smart phone that we simply ‘need’ to have. We get irritated when someone even suggests that we are addicted to our cell phones and even retort with the “I can stop any time I want to” line.

I end this with a challenge; in fact forget that I dare you. I dare you to leave your Blackberry, iPhone, Tab or whatever your poison is… I dare you to leave that at home today and not look at it for the whole day. Prove to yourself that you are not a slave to your phone and that you can survive without it like you probably have for a large chunk of your life. Okay hold on brb my friend just pinged me.

*TIA = This is Africa

You can’t open a Steri Stumpie #butyougotthatiPhone5though

350ml bottle of stei stumpie
If you can’t open this without spilling you do not need an iPhone…any iPhone.

I was well on my way to saving up for an iPhone4 when I heard that Apple had released the iPhone5. As far as technology goes I know enough to get by in today’s world. I know that when my TV is not working I must first make sure I am facing the screen before I call for help. I know that repeatedly pressing the up or down button while waiting for an elevator will not make it come to where I am any faster. I also know that there are no little people inside my TV.

I am a lot of things but what I’m not is one of those people who queue outside a store at odd hours of the morning waiting to buy the newest edition of a phone. I am not alone. Mere observation around the time the iPhone5 launched will tell you that around Africa there wasn’t a rush to buy the iPhone5 as was seen across the developed world. This is mainly because the iPhone5 is expensive and out of reach of most average Africans. That said there are still many people here who can afford to buy it.

I am all for technological advancement. I get excited when new gadgets are invented that make our lives easier while at the same time making the goal of getting a six-pack harder. However, I think that advancement in one aspect of our lives i.e in phones; TVs and cars etc. should match advancement elsewhere. I will give you some examples.

In an age where we have smart phones, like the iPhone5 you’d expect that the guys at Steri Stumpie (South Africa’s current number one flavoured milk brand) would have by now figured out how to make a 350ml bottle of the stuff that opens easily without spilling all over the place. The current 350ml bottle of the flavoured milk is covered by foil that is notoriously hard to crack open without pulling really hard resulting in a jolt that catapults the first 10ml of the stuff all over whatever and whoever is in front of you at the time of opening.

You’d think that in an age where some cars can almost drive on autopilot we would by now have a machine that can put the thread into the eye of a needle so that you don’t have to do it yourself.

You would think that here in South Africa and around Africa by now we would have an efficient public transport system that makes it easier for people in remote areas without cars to plan their days and get around.

Instead, what we have is an iPhone that has a taller screen, a whole 0.5 inches more than its predecessors, a faster processor, a new operating system and still no slot for a memory card.

Most Africans might not have satellite television, computers or cars but almost everyone has a mobile phone. This continent presents a large market for mobile phone manufacturers so they ignore us at their own peril. However they face a challenge in making their products affordable so that we don’t have a situation where you are so broke you eat cornflakes with a fork just to save milk #butyougotthatiPhone5though.