Stupidity is worse than drunkenness. Stupidity remains, drunkenness goes away. Wait until you meet a stupid Tanzanian immigration official and you wish he was drunk. It happened to me in August 2013. I have met so many intelligent immigration officers around the world and inTanzania as well and so, meeting a stupid one hit me like a tornado. Luckily, I lived to tell of my unforgettable encounter with first class stupidity at Julius Nyerere International Airport, in Dar es Salaam, the city of peace, but not peace of mind, at least at the airport.
Julius Nyerere International Airport

I hold a Kenyan passport. Otherwise, earth is my home. I just happen to live in a random place called Germany. I left Frankfurt am Main end of June 2013, flew to Nairobi through Dubai, stayed in Kenya for two weeks and mid-July, I travelled to Tanzania by bus from Mombasa through Lungalunga border where wonderful Tanzanian immigration staff took my fingerprints, registered me in their computer and after a friendly chit-chat I left, spent some days living with a most generous Tanzanian family, their children call me uncle, and I still hear voices of uncle, uncle. I left for unforgettable Zanzibar, for Iringa, then I visited the astounding Ruaha National Park for a beautiful day and rushed back to Dar es Salaam to catch a flight to Frankfurt.

I was booked on an Emirates flight to leave Dar es Salaam on the first of August for Frankfurt am Main.

I queued with other passengers. As I got my boarding pass, an airport check-in officer quipped “you are Kenyan, why are you flying from Dar es Salaam” to which I respectfully answered, “Apart from other interests, I studied with many Tanzanians in Germany and whenever I am in East Africa, I pass by to say hallo, or to join friends from Germany that might be around.” He slapped my passport at the desk and took a long time to say “you are welcome” to my “thank you.”

I again queued at the immigration control and this is where the definition of stupidity has its home. A friendly immigration officer Mr. Joachim H. Mhonde asked me how I got into Tanzania. I answered “by bus.” He answered “that is a problem. You cannot travel from our airport if you are not a resident in Tanzania and if you are not a Tanzanian citizen. Also, you cannot travel from here if you did not enter Tanzania using a flight.”

He called one Mr. Yusuf and passed my papers to him and he repeated the same sentiment urging me to go fly from Nairobi. And then came one person I prefer to refer to as “the stupid one.” A very special case of stupendous behavior, probably a case of malignant illiteracy and astonishing ignorance. His name, Mr. Asumsio P. Achacha. Apparently, the boss of immigration at the Julius Nyerere International Airport located in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

He told me, “go back to Nairobi by bus and take your flight from there…enda kwenu (go to back where you belong (wow!)).” I explained to him that I was on a round-ticket travel. Meanwhile, he took my boarding tickets and gave them to Emirates staff and stubbornly told them “huyu ashushwe (offload his luggage from the airplane).” Meanwhile, I frantically and respectfully explained to him, that I live in Germany since many years, I am a resident there, not in Tanzania. Meanwhile Emirates staff rechecked my round-trip details and offered Mr. Asumsio P. Achacha an opportunity to look at the computer-screen to confirm in a split of a second that I was really a round-trip case. He did not.

Wearing an indifferent Mugabe-face, he wore a snear that made him look like an old bull-dog as he scribbled some nonsense on the yellow departure form that I had filled out earlier. He reminded me of a stupid corrupt government official I had watched in a film several years back. Meanwhile, my luggage was offloaded from the Emirates plane and ground staff there were so kind as to remind me that my luggage lay a meter away from my feet. Staff at Emirates asked Mr. Achacha once more whether I could be allowed to fly, he was adamant. He insisted that I should go back to Kenya by bus and fly from there. I asked him whether Kenyans cannot fly from Dar es Salaam, in case they want to.

I then dashed back to the immigration official where all the drama began, the friendly one who is caught up in The Mr. Achacha Primary School of Stupidity. His name is Mr. Joachim H. Mhonde. In a friendly manner I discussed the whole issues with him. I told him that a few hours after arriving in Germany, I was meant to take another plane to London then to St. Lucia in the Caribbean for an international conference, and I risked missing all planes especially since Friday the second of August was meant for me to clear a Visa issue for my other flights.

An immigration official who had been listening to me talk to Mr. Mhonde from a cubicle a few meters away came out of his little room and asked Mr. Joachim H. Mhonde, “how can we help this guy, let’s try talk to the boss” to which Mr. Mhonde replied “may be you can try, but the boss said he cannot travel.” That immigration official looked horrified having listened to my plight at the hands of Mr. Achacha. The immigration official approached Mr. Yusuf and asked “why can’t we let this guy travel? What did the boss say?”

I got out of the airport and reprinted the information that he had refused to view on the Emirates check-in computer. When I handed him the printout, Mr. Yusuf felt very sorry for me. You could see shame written on his face as he dropped his head in disbelief as he saw that I was really on a round-trip. He then said in a soft voice “unfortunately, the plane has left.” He shook my hand and said “pole sana” (I am very sorry). He then went into Mr. Achacha’s office and came out. He told me to come see Mr. Achacha the following day to clear with him regarding my flight.

Everybody who heard this story about going back to Kenya by bus was so shocked, especially the Tanzanians. Immigration officials, security officials, some interested public people. Emirates staff upstairs listened to me with open mouths. They said it was illogical for Mr. Achacha to act the way he did and added that Mr. Achacha and immigration officials at the airport were a huge menace and a big problem to the airlines.

I would have to pay 130 US dollars fine to Emirates and be on a standby list and probably, I would be able to leave the following day. Emirates staff complained bitterly about Mr. Achacha who, together with others, have a habit of stopping passengers from travelling without even counter-checking with Emirates though Emirates offices and Mr. Achacha’s office are barely seventy meters from each other.

One Tanzanian lady at the airport security was so moved that she offered to show me a hotel next to the airport, just a walking distance while others walked to eat after sunset since it was Ramadhan. Since about fifteen ATM machines in and around the airport were not working because either they had no money, were broken, had jammed or whatever explanations the watchmen gave, she again drove me in her car to Uchumi at Quality Plaza where I finally managed to withdraw some money. I have Tanzanian friends in Dar es Salaam and around Tanzania, but I chose to stay around the airport to avoid the traffic jam headaches. I knew that I just needed to make a phone-call or two and a convoy would be on its way to pick me up, but somehow, I also wanted to experience what others who know no one must go through. I also did not want my friends to get stuck in traffic jams coming to save me. I was not sick. So I stay put and decided to deal with the situation myself.

I spent the night at Airport Hotel just opposite Julius Nyerere International Airport. The following morning, I went to see Mr. Achaha at 9 a.m. The director of the Julius Nyerere Airport passed by and coincidentally asked if I was waiting for someone. I told him yes and he asked what the issue was. Oh, no! Why did he even ask! I explained briefly that I live in Germany as a resident, I hold a Kenyan passport and was just travelling through Tanzania when I was told to go back to Kenya by bus and fly from there. What he said, made me shiver inside. He said “yes if you want to apply for citizenship, that is a difficult issue (!?*!)” I told him “sir, I am not applying for Tanzanian citizenship! I am just travelling through Tanzania!” He clearly either did not understand English well. I tried in Kiswahili but he seemed so uninterested and just told three immigration inspectors standing a few minutes away to listen to my citizenship issues.

Before saying anything to the officials, I made it clear that I hold a Kenyan passport and I am happy with it and that the issue was travelling through Tanzania. Then Mr. Achacha dressed in his black uniform appeared from nowhere like a dark spirit. I said “shikamoo mzee” (a most respectful way of greeting elderly people) he answered “marahabaa.” He looked at my printout and said “yes, I see, ok, the issue that is unclear is how you got here from Kenya.” I was so angry at that moment. I had so much adrenalin and testosterone in my blood, but I chose to ignore my hormones and just relax. Today, I was not going to argue with a fool. Remember the good old saying ‘don’t argue with a fool, people might not realize the difference between both of you.’ I said nothing. Zero.

Inside, I was thinking, “stupid man, I came to Tanzania through Lungalunga border, my fingerprints were captured, a photo and details were captured in your computer networks. How come you cannot check and clear your doubt? Or must you take a bus to Lungalunga and check in a computer?” I chose to keep completely quiet. After all, I was standing next to a person with First Class Honours in Stupidity. What was I supposed to say? He then said, “we shall discuss this issue and let you know briefly.” He then went into a room and came out after three minutes or so and said, it was ok, they would allow me to travel to Frankfurt. Did he really talk to anyone inside there?

I took my papers, went to Emirates and confirmed permission to fly. Emirates staff were so kind. They said I should be at the airport at 1500 and wait to see if any free seats would be available. Luckily, a few people were late, as always, mostly held up in crazy traffic jams in Dar es Salaam. So I flew on the 2nd of August and after a stopover in Dubai, I arrived in Frankfurt late for every other plans I had. I did not fly on to London and to St. Lucia. Those tickets were wasted money, just the way you could take cash and throw it to the winds. Until now, I am not sure anyone will be willing to refund anything, as usual. The Immigration Department in Tanzania will definitely not refund my losses, even if I went to court. You know why.

Tanzania, I cry for you. So, a Kenyan must travel from Kenya? So a Kenyan who is a resident elsewhere must become a resident in Tanzania so as to be allowed to travel from Tanzania? So a Kenyan should change his citizenship to Tanzanian so as to travel from Tanzania? Really? Take a bus to Nairobi and fly from there? How stupid can men and their rules be or become? No one cares to ask a passenger whether they have somewhere to sleep, or money or anything else? No. “Just take a bus. Take your luggage and leave the airport.” Who makes such stupid rules that make a man so stupid anyway? And then we blame others when our countries do not develop? We blame the West for our problems? We blame China for our problems. We blame colonialism. So where was the West and China and colonialism as Mr. Achacha refused to just look at a screen to confirm a ticket detail? May be he thinks a printed Emirates ticket differs from details displayed on an Emirates online system.

I have travelled all over the world, name me a place: in Japan for example, immigration officials called a friend after they missed a detail after I arrived in Tokyo on my way to Kochi city. In California, a friend was called to confirm a detail. In the Czech Republic once before they joined Schengen, a bus I was crossing with to Vienna was stopped for fifteen minutes as immigration officials cross-checked my passport photo. The American Embassy in Berlin called me several times to re-confirm my address after my Visa was returned to the Embassy by the postal services by mistake. Around the world, I was treated so kindly and warmly by migration officials who used their brains to the maximum to ensure that all possible was done immediately so that I proceed with my journeys. But in Tanzania, a country that is supposedly in an East African Union, just a few kilometers to Kenya, I was treated like a stranger. The lesser I say about that union, the better.

Only in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania does an immigration official wearing a ‘power-display’ snear throw papers at passengers and go away with it. Tanzania, you have beautiful people, some of them my good friends, but nevertheless, if these is the caliber of elites on key Tanzanian institutions that are the ‘face of Tanzania’ God help you, I cry for you Tanzania. Think for a moment, if there are just fifty people behaving like Mr. Asumsio P. Achacha in your key institutions, then, well, you can imagine the impact. To you Mr. Asumsio P. Achacha, shikamoo, but, shika adabu na adabu ikushike! And you are welcome to register at Shika Adabu Primary School in Mombasa. Kenya is famous for educating elderly people, for free! Take a flight or a bus there, or walk, I am sure someone will receive you well.

Every passenger at Julius Nyerere International Airport deserves better! How much money do passengers at the Dar es Salaam airport loose daily due to stupid flimsy reasoning by the Immigration Department officials? May be Mr. Achacha and his immigration colleagues have not travelled at all to be able to understand the hussles of travelling. I will not accuse anyone of corruption, but in case you hopped for a split second that I would bribe my way through stupidity, no, not me.

If Mwalimu Julius Nyerere woke up and heard about you, he would teach you a few things about power and how not to misuse it.

Shame on you Mr. Asumsio P. Achacha! Shame on Immigration Department at Julius Nyerere International Airport. You are an international airport and not an airstrip somewhere in the bush. Act like an int’l airport. Globalisation will not catch up with you, you must catch up with it. Otherwise rename to Julius Nyerere Jungle Airstrip.

Before I left, a lady called Jasmine from Immigration at the airport approached me and genuinely apologized. Jasmine, you did not have to apologise. I accepted your apology. Mr. Asumsio P. Achacha was the one to apologise, but as you can imagine, Mugabe apologises for nothing. But again, your pole and samahani (sorry), sweet as they sound will not return my losses. As I walked up to catch my flight, almost every migration officer made a comment either apologizing or criticizing the foolish incident and stupid rules. It seemed like a guard of honour mounted to apologise or watch the man with the long rasta hair finally take his flight. Thank you, but instead, sit together and stop this terrible nonsensical rules and unintelligent reasoning. Safari njema (nice journey) sounds better than pole and samahani.

A Sri Lankan gentleman, a resident in Sweden taking his masters studies who had been in Kigali Rwanda for research visited Zanzibar, got a Tanzanian Visa and spent his holiday together with his friends from his masters course, a German gentleman and an American lady. He planned to leave Tanzania for Sweden through Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport after his holiday in Zanzibar together with them. The German and the American were allowed to proceed with their journey. He was stopped by the same Tanzanian immigration official. He spent the night in the same hotel as me, traumatized as hell. The director of the airport told him in my presence (since we tried solving our problems together the following morning) that “Sri Lanka? Ah, yes we have problems with Sri Lanka and eh some other Asian countries.”

Mr. Achacha also told him that, “yes, you must go back to Kigali and start your journey there or travel to Sri Lanka.” The poor man bought a ticket to Sri Lanka, after advice from the Immigration Department that that was the only compromise. He would then buy another ticket to Sweden from there. His old travel ticket was lost to the dogs. He had a residence permit for Sweden but no, he would not be allowed to travel from Dar es Salaam. Immigration Department argued that, as a Sri Lankan, he is not allowed to start a new journey from Dar es Salaam. Why? Because, if he is deported back, he would be deported wherever he started his journey.

So Tanzania’s Immigration Department feared that he would be deported back to Tanzania. Similar to me, he was told that he would be allowed to start his journey from Tanzania if he were a resident in Tanzania, a Tanzanian or if he had originally arrived by flight to Tanzania. He regretted having visited Tanzania for his holidays. He just wanted to leave Tanzania using any next available Qatar Airways plane. He said, “they welcome tourists through their other borders. We spent our money here and then when you want to leave, they introduce this rules about being Sri Lankan. Why did they not protest that a Sri Lankan was entering Tanzania? How come they protest now that I am leaving. What a country of ------!”

In his case, it was even worse, since he is from Sri Lanka. He is naturally perceived as a deportation suspect and so he was denied permission to leave for Sweden through Dar es Salaam, even though he had a residence permit in his possession. At least call Swedish Embassy in Tanzania, or fax the darn residence permit to Swedish authorities or scan and email Swedish authorities before making a man spend 2000 US dollars re-routing just because he was born in a random place called Sri Lanka and holds a Sri Lankan passport. No one cared to confirm whether his residence permit was ok. He had a valid Tanzanian Visa. But No. Go back to Kigali, Rwanda and start your journey to Stockholm from there. So anyone holding a non-European, non-American passport is not perceived as a passenger but as a possible deportation suspect by Tanzania’s Immigration Department. Eh! Mch!

My friends, even as we smile on those photos we are captured in receiving international aid from the West and from the East, we must come back to our senses and run our countries better. We should not be racist amongst ourselves and towards others. Every human being has a right to be treated decently and to be dignified. In the cases above, just a person who listened briefly but keenly could have saved a Kenyan and a Sri Lankan so much money and trouble. But who is interested in a Kenyan and a Sri Lankan in Tanzania?

When I told this story to a white friend, my friend said, Mzungu (white people) are not asked all that in Tanzania, “they let us travel as we wish”, and then my friend laughed.

They let us travel as we wish.
And then my friend laughed.

John Njenga Karugia is a researcher and lecturer at Frankfurt Goethe University.