Why Should Immigration Department ‘Glorify’ Visitors at Kenyans’ Expense?

Patriotism is defined as the act of vigorously supporting one’s country and being prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors. Quite similarly, loyalty is defined as a strong feeling of support or allegiance.

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NATION

The two actions evoke a lot of emotion and passion particularly about the country, person, organisation or item that is the subject matter.

Many years ago, while I was still a minion busting the banking grind, we went to visit the executive team at Airtel’s predecessor, Celtel who had indicated that they wanted to undertake an enormous capex project that required millions of dollars. As we drove to their offices, the key relationship manager asked us to show him our business cards.

He took one look at the cards and muttered an expletive under his breath with raised eyebrows. My senior asked him what the problem was. “You can’t give your cards when we get to the Celtel offices,” he answered.

“The Celtel executives are very sensitive about working with people who use their services and all your cards show Safaricom numbers.” With raised eyebrows, we swallowed the snide retorts that were on the tip of our tongues and feigned having forgotten our business cards in the office when the meeting introductions took place at Celtel.

I have also been reliably informed that if you are going to do business with the government of Rwanda, don’t try and rock up on the first Kenya Airways morning flight, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for business. They don’t appreciate that.

If you want to do business with them, then fly RwandAir and pay the “loyalty tax” that is levied on suppliers by many businesses worldwide. The evidence may be anecdotal, but is very true. Business loyalty demands business loyalty.

I write this because I have a veritable bee in my bonnet. Landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) at about 9:30 p.m. a few days ago, I found the usual, absolute total chaos at the immigration hall after passing through a makeshift Ebola processing barrier where a tiny plastic pen was appended to my forehead and I was given a clean bill of health.

Now, frequent travellers will know that the worst times to land at JKIA are between 5:30am and 7:30am and between 8pm and 10pm, this is when several Kenya Airways flights as well as other international airlines land.

Our immigration department has attempted (please note the deliberate use of the word attempted) to reward Kenyans with their citizenship by creating about four dedicated counters for passport processing.

East African Community and Comesa get about two more counters and then the rest of the world get another four counters or so. It is noteworthy that most of the rest-of-the-world citizens are given visas at the counter and thus their processes can take at least 10 minutes.

I have traveled widely in the last 10 years and nowhere am I made to feel more like a gnat in a bottle than in American airports like Chicago, Miami, New York or Heathrow, Johannesburg and Dubai. Why you ask?

Because you are NOT allowed to even THINK about standing in the queue that says citizens only (which of course moves faster than every other queue) and you will stand in a snake of a line that would make Moses and his Red Sea crossing look like a kindergarten game.

Typical wait times on these airport immigration queues are anything from one and a half to two hours. You cannot and will not be invited to join the citizens-only queue until ALL the citizens have been served. How do they do this? They employ floorwalkers whose job it is to monitor the counters and ensure that all immigration counters are being utilised effectively, with priority to citizens.

So you can imagine my anger when I landed a few days ago and found at least 30 Americans standing on the “Kenyans Only” queue. The Americans needed visas and therefore tied up the entire queue of Kenyans waiting behind them as they were being served.

When I got to the immigration official an hour later, I just let it rip. How in heaven’s name could they allow this to happen? The immigration official shrugged her shoulders and said “Ongea na wakubwa, wao ndio watasema vile tutafanya.”

So I should talk to Immigration seniors to ask them to tell their officers at JKIA inbound immigration to respect the very BIG signs above them that clearly state Kenyan citizens only? Nonsense!

I had no words. I still have no words. As a Kenyan I am used to being treated nothing less than an unwelcome cockroach when I visit other countries and watch them glorify their own citizens by giving them an express pass without giving a rat’s toenail about the long lines of hungry, tired passengers that wait their turn to be given a smidgeon of attention.

So I expect the same when I come home. I expect that someone will be standing at the front of the queues ensuring that Kenyan citizens get their just rewards for holding those navy blue passports emblazoned with our national coat of arms.

I expect that I will sashay past those hungry, tired passengers who have come from countries that will give them royal treatment when they return home. I am a proud Kenyan. I want others to pay a loyalty tax by standing in queues for hours as they make us do when we go to their country.

But no, instead I get my fellow countrymen manning immigration counters and celebrating the foreigners as if they were their paymasters. Dear next-head-of-the-Department-of-Immigration: Please remember you are Kenyan.

Please celebrate your Kenyan-ness at the expense of other visitors. Please enforce the citizens only immigration counters at JKIA and make visitors remember that we, Kenyan citizens, own this country. Yours truly, a Kenyan patriot.

– Business Daily