If you have ever been to any international airport in Africa, you might have observed two kinds of African travellers: one holding his country's passport, and the other a foreign passport – an American, British or European Union.Both are Africans by origin, but do not possess the same power and status.
The first needs to book an appointment at the embassy; needs to answer a lot of questions from the consul; and needs to furnish tons of documents before hoping to obtain a visa. The second only calls up a travel agency, books his flight for Milan, Paris, London or New York and buys just a one-way ticket – because he’s heading for his second home!
While the first African dresses up in a corporate two-piece suit and leaves for the airport carrying a big travel bag, the second simply wears jeans and a suede jacket, with two model’s magazines rolled in one hand and a packet of cigarette in the other hand.
The first African is checked, controlled and scrutinized by the police and immigration of his own country whether his visa, air ticket, travel cheques, etc, are all genuine, before they pass him on to be inspected once more by the security people of the airline he is boarding.
The second African is greeted “sir” by the police and immigration officers and climbs freely onto the plane after merely flashing his strong passport.
On arrival, the first African is subjected to more controls while his other brother has long taken a cab into the city.
Two Africans, two different treatments!
I have two friends from Bamako, Mali. They’re blood brothers born to same parents. The older is Malick, aged 29. He was born in Lyon, France, when the parents were living there. The younger is Adama, 24, born in Bamako two years after their parents came back from abroad.
Malick holds an EU passport, and travels the world back and forth. Adama has a brownish Malian passport and has never left the shores of Africa with it – not that he doesn’t desire to!
Both hold degrees in Economics but are jobless. However, you’ll hardly notice any sign of joblessness on Malick. He receives unemployment stipend from the French embassy in Bamako or back in France. Adama’s only country Mali has got no provision for the unemployed.
Malick speaks with a dignified foreign accent that seduces women and men. Adama speaks the ordinary French and local Bambara that may not influence even a fish seller.
Whenever Malick presents his EU passport, everybody bows and worships him. Girls want to offer themselves even before he asks. Married women want to adventure with him no matter the risks. But Adama’s passport will slip off his pocket without a passer-by alerting him of a loss.
Both brothers were in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, during the country’s 2004 uprising. Malick was evacuated from my place by French soldiers to a safe haven and was mothered throughout the tense period.
Adama remained in my place, because Mali’s embassy in Abidjan said they didn’t have his time or means to assure his safety. Malick later called us from Paris saying: “They bought my air ticket and sent me back to France because Abidjan was no longer safe for people like me.”
People like him? Yes, people like him. He was born in that part of the world where greater value, care and rights are offered, whereas his own blood brother dropped down on another angle of the world where you are required to survive on your own as you can – when you just can’t.
I interviewed both brothers separately days ago while preparing this article. My question asking where on earth they’d wish to be born if they reincarnate, got these answers.
Malick: “I’d like to be born again where I was earlier born. And I thank my parents for giving me this opportunity. It’s the greatest thing I can boast of in life.”
Adama: “I’d like to be born where my brother Malick was born. And I’ll ever blame my parents for not staying a bit longer abroad, letting me see the day there first before coming back to Africa.
Would you blame Adama? No, don’t. Blame those who keep making Africa undesirable, swelling the youths’ hunger and desire to leave for the West.
So, where were you born? Does that automatically make you a fortunate or unfortunate African? Send me your comments.
PEOPLE is a new satirical column written by Kingsley Kobo.