When travelling thru Africa, normally you get to the border, greet the officer, ask him how he is, how his wife is, his girlfriends, the kids of his girlfriends and eventually the one with his wife. Then you get a stamp in your passport, depending on the mood of the officer on a page which is already full with lots of these old South African stamps from the Lesotho border, or if he wants to get you crazy he stamps a new page or he even places an enormous sticker and another page in your expensive passport is spoiled. Normally this procedure is accompanied by handing over of a considerable amount of Dollars. At least, it is straight forward, takes between 2 minutes and 2 hours and is done straight at the border.
Of course, in Ethiopia it works differently. How could you dare arriving at the border and expect the officer in charge to glue a piece of paper in your passport, call it visa and get some money for it. No, that’s definitely not the way things could happen. So we put on our best clothes and shoes and went in Kampala to the Embassy of Ethiopia. There the receptionist explained us that we must be absolutely ignorant guys to have such a request. As any reputable country in the world, the Embassy of Ethiopia would only accept visa requests of residents of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. So we had to apply in Pretoria, because this embassy would be responsible for residents of Lesotho, or of course we would be free to request the Ministry of Home Affairs in Kinshasa for DRC residential ship. Once approved in the DRC we may return to her and in case the Embassy in Uganda would still be responsible for DRC residents, our request may be accepted. So we had all the choices. No door was closed, but none was really open too. We could fly to Jo’burg, rent a car, drive to the Ethiopian Embassy and submit our request. Not a cheap solution, but feasible and probably fast. In addition we would have the advantage to have a chance for a dinner in the Waterkloof Country Club and to replace our worn out T-shirts in Sandton Mall. Also not cheap, but feasible. We might fly to Kinshasa, apply for residential ship, wait 35 years and after approval check if this lovely lady at the Ugandan Embassy in Kampala would still remember us. Finally we had the idea to involve a South African visa service. Less expensive than flying, but no dinner in Waterkloof, and probably not very fast. Nevertheless, we opted for this way.
Confronted with this situation of strange administrative behaviour of the embassy, we were as usual searching for reasons for this. And here we really had a challenge to clearly understand why people should travel to far places just to apply for a visa.
Of course we understand the problems of absorption capacity in many countries. Rich tourists want to visit the country. They arrive in the form of a huge bundle of Dollars on legs. They arrive with such huge amounts; the locals could not absorb them properly. We fully agree that this situation would be unbearable and a shame for any country in the world. To avoid this most Governments took appropriate measures. It starts at the borders. Tourists pay heavy visa fees when arriving. This already absorbs some of these dollars. Then the Government determines huge fees, especially for national parks. Best seen in Uganda where you pay 150 Dollars for the car only or in Rwanda where you are allowed to pay more than 12 Dollars for each minute observing a gorilla – and you are not allowed to observe these beasts for less than 60 minutes. All this, definitely appropriate measures to slim the bundles and to avoid the shame of inappropriate absorption capacity.
Ethiopia is different. The visa fees are really low, just 20 Dollars for a six month visa. So they must have no problem with absorption capacity of its population but one on their Government’s level, or they solve the issue in a different way. As mentioned above we rather think they solve it differently, because they must even have problems at different levels, even more than the other countries. The low visa fees could only be interpreted in the way that the Government does not want to raise too much funds. A logical explanation to this would be the extended general budget support they receive thru various development partners. Consequently, the Government is already challenged by proofing the good use of these funds, Ministers are constantly busy making 1st class business trips around the world to spend as much as they can and construction companies send trucks to the treasury to collect all the payments to prove a proper flow of funding. All this is understandable and proofs the limits in disbursing funds of a country. At least this may explain the low visa fees. Still the problem of tourists entering the country with too big amounts persists. That’s probably the point where Ethiopia had to develop his very own strategy to avoid this shameful situation.
Well, after long reflection and many consultations with fellow victims here’s the only logic we could imagine:
Instead of taking huge fees, they make future tourists spend their budget right before they arrive. So tourists currently staying in Kenya have to fly around the world to obtain a visa. They may spend their useless surplus funds on any airline. Then they spend even more money with hotels, restaurants, car hires, you name it, you spend it – but outside Ethiopia. And, you’ll arrive in Ethiopia as a slimmed bundle of Dollars, meaning with an adapted amount of money to spend it wisely but sparsely.
Remains the small question why the Embassy of Ethiopia still asks for a proof of sufficient funds to finance the trip to their country, once the visa application is accepted.