This is Africa: My immigration ordeal #TIA #Tanzania #Corruption in #Africa

MJ93fm reporters Rotlinde and Bilhuda interview PWC's Maanda Ngoitiko, while two immigration officers wait for me to exit.

MJ93fm reporters Rotlinde and Bilhuda interview PWC’s Maanda Ngoitiko, while two immigration officers wait in the background.

My immigration ordeal started on the morning of Tuesday, June 11, 24 hours after I returned from a 12-hour-long bus ride from Dar-es-Salaam. I woke up at 5 a.m. the day before, Monday morning, feeling physically ill (I won’t go into details, except to say I picked up a bug after eating from a roadside food stop somewhere between Arusha and Morogoro, in the north of Tanzania).

I went into MJ FM to meet with my journalists and hold my daily news meeting with them. I was so sick that I had to go home immediately afterward. I rested. Tuesday morning I woke up feeling a bit better.

Something wasn’t right though. I didn’t feel up to meeting with my reporters, but I had already arranged an interview for them with the executive director of the Pastoral Women’s Council, or PWC Tanzania, Maanda Ngoitiko.

I really wanted my news team to meet her (even though only 2/3 showed up that morning). Ngoitiko is a Maasai woman born in Ngorongoro. At 15-years-old she ran away from home to continue her education because her parents wanted her to leave school and get married, as most Maasai girls did at that age.

She moved to Dar es Salaam to complete her secondary studies, then was sponsored to go to Ireland to focus on developmental studies. When Ngoitiko returned to Tanzania, she began working on behalf of Maasai women facing the same predicament she once faced.

In 1997, she founded Pastoral Women’s Council. This non-governmental organization empowers Maasai women to make change in the traditional, male-dominated, society. I knew my two female reporters would get a lot out of meeting with Ngoitiko and asking her questions. I felt the same when I introduced them to Elizabeth Mosha, founder of Women in Action Tanzania, a few weeks back.

These two women’s organizations in Tanzania are fighting corruption in government and media misconceptions, so who better to sit down with and discuss how journalists can do a better job on educating the public about women’s rights and good governance.

Tanzania is ranked among the 14 most corrupt countries in the world, according to the 2013 Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer. 56 per cent of Tanzanians interviewed by the corruption watchdog admitted to having payed a bribe to government or non-government institutions.

Back to me, after leaving the PWC office in Njiro (the area in which I live) I was approached by three people claiming to be immigration officers. One asked to see my passport. I replied that I didn’t have it on me, then he proceeded to show me his badge or booklet. It was a faded little blue I.D. card and I couldn’t understand what it said on it.

I walked away from the situation because I’d been approached once before while I was in Bamako, Mali and asked for my passport. At that time I walked away and nothing came of it. I escaped unscathed.

This time I wouldn’t be so lucky. As I left the property (the PWC office is located next to the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum) another man followed me asking me to come with him. I ignored his request and kept walking along the street toward my home. Finally, he got upset and started yelling at me to come with him. I said I was going home to pick up my passport and return with my documents.

He said he would follow me. At this point I hopped into a passing car that stopped to see if I was okay, because I guess I looked visually distraught. We drove directly to the nearby police station to report what had happened. I wasn’t convinced that these three people were actually immigration.

The police in Tanzania don’t have cars, so if you want to report something you must go directly to them and bring them to the scene of the crime, accident, etc.

We returned to the PWC office, where the three of them were waiting in a car. One had a pair of handcuffs at his side, ready to arrest me I assumed. The police and immigration got into an argument and I was told that they were, in fact, immigration and that they were detaining me until I retrieved my passport.

The man next to me in the back seat had his handcuffs out, but I told him he wouldn’t need those, so I directed them to the house I’ve been sitting for the last few weeks (rent free, mind you). I opened the gate and let one of the immigration officers on to the property. I went inside and ditched all the money in my pockets, because I knew they would try to shake me down for something.

I took my passport out, locked the door behind me, and handed it to the man. He scanned each page and came upon my multiple-entry tourist visa for Tanzania. I purchased it in Lusaka, Zambia a few months ago and it was valid until next year. He told me this wouldn’t suffice and that I had to come with him downtown.

I don’t know about you, but when someone says “downtown” I automatically assume I’m being arrested. Maybe I’ve seen one too many cop shows on television. Anyway, I went with them and spent the day in their holding cell. I was asked to give a statement, then they would get back to me about what steps I could take to get my passport back.

Just before I was released, I was made to sign a document and the employee said I could return the following day to pick it up. The next day I went in. I asked for my passport. Someone in the office told me to sit and wait. A few hours later I was told I’d have to come back again the following. This went on for two weeks, until one woman in the office told me I’d have to pay $600 USD by Friday (it was already Wednesday).

I told her it would take some time to find the money. She responded; “Don’t worry so much, this is Africa.” I didn’t know how to

The 2006 film Blood Diamond stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a diamond smuggler in war-torn Liberia.

The 2006 film Blood Diamond stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a gunrunner and diamond smuggler in war-torn Sierra Leone and Liberia.

take this. I’d heard it so many times before. “T.I.A. – This is Africa” is a line Leonardo DiCaprio uses in the 2006 film Blood Diamond and gets repeated as mantra across the continent.

I remember the first time I heard someone say it as I exited my broken-down bus on the highway from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to Tamale, Ghana. Since then I’ve heard it a million times and I think it’s time for some new terminology to describe the on-going corruption in Africa.

One month after immigration confiscated my passport, July 11, I had it returned to me. But I thought about the brief moment when the immigration officers drove me “downtown.” We made a brief stop at the Njiro shopping complex, where there are restaurants and shops inside. One man flung my car door open and gave me a chance to bribe him. Of course I acted like I had no idea what was happening.

It went something like this; “We’re very hungry, do you want to get out of this situation?” I replied; “Yes, of course.” Then as I tried to exit the vehicle with no money for him and the others, he told me to sit back down. He slammed the door shut and I was whisked away to the Arusha immigration office. I could have payed them off and been on my way for a fraction of the cost I ended up paying, but I’m 100 per cent against corruption and in no way would I support this activity.

Since then I’ve heard many stories from ex-pats living in Arusha who’ve been approached by immigration, deviously posing as potential supporters or donors to foreign organizations based in Tanzania. This is shameful. If I was Tanzanian I would be disgraced by the acts of government institutions and no longer support these illicit activities. But hey, who am I to judge?

Thankfully this isn’t my country. This is Africa. The travels and tribulations of Adam Bemma continue…


Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Posted in op-ed
2 comments on “This is Africa: My immigration ordeal #TIA #Tanzania #Corruption in #Africa
  1. Solomon says:

    Adam, you have narrated at length about the corrupt behavior of the immigration staff on this issue but you havent actually stated what the issue was relating to your immigration status. Can you advise whether you were working illegally on a tourist visa or whether you had a valid working permit which was somehow misrepresented by the officials. Having lived in Arusha for a number of years i have found that for each corrupt immigration official there is a corrupt ex-pat who is breaching their visa status and thus giving these guys an avenue to exercise the rough tactics on other, more innocent people. Compliance is a two way street: ex-pats who have “fallen in love with Africa” or are setting out to “save Africa” need to be informed that immigration laws are pretty standard across nations. For example, If a Tanzanians overstay their visa in the UK the police there treat them pretty harshly. Similarly when Iraq refugees jump on boats to get to Australia border patrol treat them pretty harshly too; they ship then to an offshore concentration camp!
    So by giving the exact facts of your situation in your op-ed you educate us and give other ex-pats like your self better information when they find themselves in similar circumstances and is therefore more helpful than a one sided monologue on the TIA thing.

  2. adambemma says:

    Thanks for the response Solomon. This is what journalists do, they write when they feel they’ve been wronged. I hope some ex-pats are able to read this and realize there are many different breaches immigration officials can find to arrest you and make you pay. The problem was clearly stated in the story that these “officials” weren’t looking for anything but “baksheesh” or “chai” if you will (in my case they just wanted to be fed).

    Clearly corruption is a serious problem across Africa and endemic in Tanzania. Unfortunately, not a lot of journalists here question corrupt practices. Thus, my visa status is irrelevant to the matter. I’m glad you’re asking questions though, and yes these kinds of things happen to people around the world. They just don’t get “shaken down” for money to feed this ugly system.


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