Nigeria: Getting Visa to Some African Countries Is Impossible – Kenyan Envoy

1 JANUARY 2016

Kenyan Ambassador to Nigeria, Tom Amolo spared some time to speak with Daily Trust on a number of issues confronting Africa, especially the need to improve inter-African relations. Excerpts:

Daily Trust: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your diplomatic experience?

Ambassador Tom Amolo: My name is Tom Amolo, my Christian name is Thomas, and my real name is Sango. Sango is the name my people gave to me. Because of my name, I met a governor who says I come from his state, from a place called Osogbo because my name is also Sango, and I am told in that part of the world, it means ‘god of thunder.’ I come from a place called Kano, I am also told in Nigeria, there is a place called Kano. So I am a Kenyan who is Nigerian and a Nigerian who is Kenyan and I have been here since March 2013. Before this, I was ambassador in South Africa for seven years. I am a career diplomat and I have been serving our great nation of Kenya since 1983. This is the first time I am in an African country where I truly feel at home. My work here is to bridge relations, make relations between our two countries good and that is why I am here.

DT: How did you come about the Igbo title, Ugo Ndi igbo?

Amolo: One of my tasks as ambassador is to build bridges and work with indigenous communities in Nigeria. The Igbo community is very large and they are traders. The Igbo people felt I have done a lot to help their business people do business with Kenya and they took a special moment to invite me to their community and there they awarded me the title ‘Ugo Ndi Igbo,’ which means ‘the eagle that looks after the affairs of the Igbo people.’

DT: What is your assessment of inter-African trade?

Amolo: We have done very terribly. My first tour as an ambassador was in South Africa, but I had served in the United States for almost 20 years. I have also travelled to Europe and Asia extensively and I can tell you that 11 percent intra-African trade is abysmal. In Europe it is close to 70 or 80 percent and same in Asia. We are the only continent where we don’t trade with each other, even within a sub-region. We really need to up our game as Africans to change that narrative. Travel is one key area to change that narrative. People in Nigeria approach me and expect me to speak some Igbo or Yoruba language. We need to interact with other people. My mother is an average consumer of Nollyhood, she knows more about the Nigerian culture than some Nigerians know themselves because of Nollyhood. We have to travel to enjoy each other’s cultures and learn about one another. Nigerians coming to Kenya would be able to say, Kenya is not only about runners and animals, it is about people like Ambassador Amolo or about rugby or something. My own secretary knows more about Paris than she knows about Nairobi or Accra. Everyone during summer in Nigeria is rushing to Europe or America because of our colonial heritage and the same thing happens in East Africa, we know more about London and New York than we do about Kigali or Kampala.

DT: How do we break the barrier of free movement in Africa?

Amolo: It is critical that we break this barriers and one way to do that is to ensure that the way to each other’s country is not overtly difficult. To get a visa to some African countries is terrible and impossible, they ask for all sorts of things and we need to break that down. We in Kenya have made it very easy for Nigerians; you can get it online; you can come to our consulate in Lagos or do it in Abuja; that is the only way to break this negative perception of each other. If we have a problem with country ‘X,’ then create a category. There are business people in Nigeria who don’t want to come and live in Kenya and there are business people in Kenya who also do not want to come and live in Nigeria, so we must create a category that enables that group to move without the need to get visa every day. Multiple re-entry visas, you pay once and forget about it for 10 years, which is what we need to do.

DT: What similarities are there between the Kenyan and the Nigerian culture?

Amolo: Our physical and cultural characteristics are amazing. When I went to see His Excellency, President Buhari to congratulate him and to give him President Uhuru Kenyatta’s congratulations, I went with one of my colleagues and President Buhari thought he was Fulani because we have a group in the country who are Somali and they look like Fulani. We are also very entrepreneurial. In fact, your former minister of trade told me that the people whom he has seen in Africa who are closest to Nigeria in terms of their entrepreneurial spirit are Kenyans. The third is this, Nigerians are very warm people and they tell you to your face. They tell you when they are happy, sad or angry and that way, diplomacy is easy. I have had in this tour of beauty, such openness amongst government officials. They tell you what is possible and what is not possible. This is something we should truly cherish. I believe that Nigeria not only has an important role in the continent of Africa but in the comity of great countries in the whole world.

DT: What about improving trade amongst Nigerians and Kenyans?

Amolo: We need to improve commodity trade amongst ourselves. At the last edition of the Lagos International Trade Fair, Nigerians were fascinated by Kenyan tea. Up north, Nigerians do a lot of Lipton which is a milled derivative of Kenyan tea. Our agricultural products are also there. Kenyans love the Nigerian media; my daughter has been asking me to bring her the latest music of the gentleman called Davido. One of the things I miss as a Kenyan is fresh milk, here in Nigeria you use powdered milk and something called Peak milk, nothing fresh, but you have vast territory of land that can be used for dairy, for tea and coffee as we see in Taraba State. To be able to make money, you don’t have to go to Europe, you can just move east into Kenya, make a buck, come back and invest, buy property etc. It is only five hours and seven flights a week out of Nigerian. Nigerians are well educated in more ways than some many other parts of the continent of Africa. So it is a special place and you have to take it up. We are so happy that Nigeria has the opportunity now with the leadership you have, to make your possession found and to take us forward as a great continent of Africa.

DT: How can Africa collaborate to deal with the issues of insecurity on the continent?

Amolo: Security is a continental challenge, you cannot say I am in Edo State, the problems here are unique to me they cannot be transferred to Kaduna. We have to tackle security collectively and holistically. The problem of Boko Haram is being dealt with militarily effectively, but it requires human intelligence and information sharing. It requires that when I see something happening, I am able to share with my counterpart in Ghana, South Africa to understand what is happening. We are very happy that the African Union has taken up the mantle. The issue of insecurity and terrorism in particular, has to be managed as a continental issue with a very high level of exchange of information. One of the things we have seen with the way terrorists have decimated the population and run amok in huge sway of territory in Mali, Chad, is something we really have to address. The terrorists are not even just people who are looking for ideological gain, they are criminals, they traffic human beings and drugs, they steal things and sell across borders and so it is a common challenge across our whole nations. When I meet President Buhari, I emphasised that we really needs to strengthen collaborations because what we have seen with the Russian flight been dropped can happen anywhere and we have to work together collectively to bring this down.

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