The world has never been this global: people connected through innovations such as telephony, videos and the internet in ways that make geographical distances between locations mean almost nothing any longer. In fact, it now takes a lot of thought processing to actually not feel belonged in this evolving spherical called earth.
Thanks to modernization and the surge of technological advancements, African-Americans and Blacks scattered across the globe have now been able to reconnect to Africa, the place they call the ‘motherland’, helping them learn more and more about the pasts of their ancestors. The same is with the rest of the world and how by and by, they are beginning to discover the wealth of many things that Africa has.
And all these apply to knowledge sharing and academia too. And that is why it shouldn’t be a mysterious venture for people to desire to travel to different locations to seek further academic studies and even so, for highly placed academics to accept travelling opportunities to also share their knowledge with others while equally being able to learn from these other people and places.
That should seem an ideal and easy thing to be doing but then there seems to be a looming, unjustifiably interesting turn of events that the world should be relooking.
In an April 2019 article by The Guardian, the UK Home Office is reported to have denied visas to some academics invited to the UK to attend a vital training funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of a £1.5m flagship pandemic preparedness programme.
This was on the back of Ebola cases that have heavily hit certain parts of Africa.
This decision by the Home Office is what The Guardian describes as one that was taken on “arbitrary and ‘insulting’ grounds”. It must be noted that the Wellcome Trust, is a biomedical research charity based in London, United Kingdom, while The Guardian is also a UK-based media outlet.
Also in April, 24 out of 25 researchers were missing from a single workshop for similar reasons. Shortly afterwards, the Save the Children centenary events – a UK organization concentrated on the welfare of children globally, were marred by multiple visa refusals of key guests.
In 2017, about 100 top African government officials and speakers were denied U.S. visas to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit held at the University of Southern California. Eventually, the annual conference had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour due to the lack of African representatives.
Of course, it was an African conference and with such huge numbers denied the opportunity to be a part of it, what was there to ‘conference’ about anyway.
Now here is the bigger picture of the kinds of problems these developments create for Africa and the rest of the world: and the rest of the world is working hard to penetrate and establish grounds in Africa today.
It’s a simple case of pure discrimination and an unimaginable insult to the people of Africa. Melissa Leach, as of 2017, was the director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. She told the Observer that the constant suspicion faced by applicants from Africa is undermining global collaboration.
“The UK has just committed to investing heavily in the Ebola outbreak in DRC [the Democratic Republic of the Congo]. Here at IDS we are leading a major collaborative research programme to look at efforts to avoid big pandemics.
“At our inception meeting in April, all six of the Africa researchers were either refused a visa or it arrived too late. One individual was refused because they said ‘on the balance of probabilities we don’t believe you are a researcher’.”
Like American politician Mary Flowers, the chairperson for the 2017 African Global Economic and Development Summit, “I have to say that most of us feel it’s a discrimination issue with the African nations. We experience it over and over, and the people being rejected are legitimate business people with ties to the continent.”
Over the years, severally reported cases of visa denials and the outrageous reasons given for the denials. Many of these applicants have only made such attempts at the invitation of the very countries to which they have been denied visas.
These ensuing accounts of people who were rejected, as shared with The Guardian, explain further, the frustrations and fears that Africans are being met with when it comes to things such as this:
Medical anthropologist and researcher for the London School of Economics CPAID programme in Northern Uganda
“I’m trying to learn how to improve the lives of war victims through interviews and research into their lives. LSE invited me to their Africa conference because sometimes you need to meet your colleagues.
“I had to travel 350km to apply for the visa, it’s seven hours travel so you can’t get there and back in one day. You have to sleep there then travel back the next day.
They said I didn’t give enough evidence. You feel the reason is not very nice. They said I didn’t provide enough evidence and they said I might go to the UK and never come back. But I am an LSE researcher, it shows I have a nine-month contract, it’s ridiculous of them to suggest I won’t come back.”
Social worker, Transparency International, Uganda
“I work with communities in the oil and mining region explaining land rights and the law. I was coming for a conference looking at open contracting for health.
“I got a rejection letter and the reasons were ridiculous. First they said I don’t have any dependants so might not return to Uganda, even though I’m only 30, why should I have children? They said my earnings were not reflected in my bank account.
“I provided everything – tenant agreements, bank statements, they asked for so many things but they were not convinced I would return, it’s insulting. They are being too strict, the workshop was funded by DFID! It’s so hard to get to the UK if you are from Africa.”
We are also talking about professors, established business people, politicians, chief executives, groups of persons, among others who, for most of these opportunities presented them to travel, it is only for them to move away for a moment and then return to their home countries.
Now, it makes it a difficult thing to believe that attempts by people of repute to travel to some of these European countries, not for fun or pleasure, but mainly for work, can be so denied on such grounds as the suspicions that these people will not return. That is an insult indeed!
Is that what the case in reverse looks like when people from such countries want to visit anywhere in Africa, or, accept invitations to attend similar conferences, workshops or teaching and learning openings here?
Africa is changing and the people of Africa are as well. There should be no justification for people who, regardless of their positions in society, are able to meet all the basic requirements for applying for visas, to be treated as if they are just interested in running away to a new land.
It is true that until recently, for many people of African descent, traveling to places like these for “greener pastures” was almost fashionable but then, in 2019, these greener pasture is no longer a location outside Africa. If that was actually the case, why is everybody fighting so hard to establish their place in Africa once again, many decades after the first Europeans settled on the shores of Africa?