I found this article on the recent increases in the cost of Zambian visas for British nationals as I was looking for visa information for my non-Zambian wedding guests.
I felt a little irritated as it fails to give people the full picture and is typical of the double standards that are often expected by British people when they travel abroad. I hear constant complaints that foreigners do not speak English when they are here, but travel to Spain and you have enclaves of Brits speaking English and refusing to learn Spanish.
And so to the visa issue.
Zambia is a former British colony and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, often referred to as the Commonwealth, a non-military organisation consisting of former colonial territories and British protectorates.
The Commonwealth originated from the ashes of the Empire but did not afford the British the same power over the emerging independent countries as the original arrangement did. It does however, have, the Queen, Elizabeth the II, at its helm (her title is Head of the Commonwealth) and affords the poorer post-colonial developing countries a forum at which they can voice their opinions and are supposedly treated as equals. They are able to band together and act against the behaviour of dissenting countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, who have all previously had their membership suspended and allows cooperation between the nations in areas of sport, education and trade.
Why am I prattling on about this historic and relatively ineffectual club of nations? Well the visa argument has its origins in the agreements between club members. In its early days, the Commonwealth was much more than it is now. Members accorded each other privileged access to their markets, and their citizens had free or preferred right of movement across their borders. So previously Zambian citizens did not require visas to enter the United Kingdom and vice versa.
However, when the Common Market evolved into the EEC and then the EU, the British had to adopt a number of border controls that meant a lot of the travel perks of being a citizen of a commonwealth country began to be eroded. Suddenly Zambians needed visas to enter the UK and they were required to attend the British High Commission in Lusaka in order to get them.
A visit to the High Commission is a generally an unpleasant experience for Zambians. One is subjected to Spanish inquisition type questioning in a non-private environment even before you submit your papers. And submitting your papers, paying the fee and attending the subsequent interview does not ensure that you will get the visa.
For years the Zambian government did not reciprocate. British tourists were allowed to travel to Zambia on the visa waiver program, as long as they could prove that they were bonifde tourists. If they could not they would pay £33 whilst submitting a valid ticket, letter of invitation and proof that they could look after themselves in Zambia, all typical visa application paraphernalia. They would then pick up the visa three days later. Despite the increase in fee the process has barely changed, there is no interview; no twenty questions about who your relatives are and your potential employment prospects on your return. In fact, if you cannot be bothered to go to the embassy, you are able to get your visa from any port of entry when you get to Zambia.
The visitor’s visa fee at the British High commission is currently a non-refundable £65, or half a million in Kwacha, the local currency in which you have to pay the fee (the rate somehow always manages to be unfavourable). The Foreign Office Minister has announced that this fee remains the same this year, though it, along with the fees for other visas, was increased last year with little warning. There were no large signs in every Zambian school, government office or private company reception. There were no headlines in newspapers either; you found out if you went to the high commission to apply for the visa as they had a small sign inside the visa section informing you of the new fees.
You could, off course, find out by visiting the high commission website before you travelled but given that some of the people attempting to get visas could barely scrap together the fee and had travelled from rural areas where Internet cafés are few and far between. These people may be trying to visit relatives in the UK or going to try and get an education (for which the visa fee is £99), not so wealthy people trying to better themselves.
In contrast British people travelling to Zambia tend to be of the wealthier variety, able to afford the £2,000 plus per person package holidays they take to look at animals and stare at the Victoria Falls. They are mainly relatively educated, middle class travellers (they are generally the ones who have heard of Zambia) who have access to the Internet and a quick check on the Zambian High Commission website, which is how my Mister found out about it, would have informed them of the change. He and my British guests have paid the fee, with no complaints (thank goodness, as I am up to my neck in irritating wedding related encounters ), I suppose they have not had any real choice.
The increase though admittedly large will not result in their in ability to travel and it seems a little distasteful that people who would spend so much to go on holiday would haggle with the government of a developing country over £75. Citizens of the United States have for years been charged a reciprocal $100 when they wish to enter Zambia, whether for tourism or otherwise. Despite this I have not, as yet, seen such an article in a national paper complaining about it.
And let’s be fair not all tourists who go to Zambia are British, the Irish, Australians, New Zealanders and nationals of other EU none of whom are affected by this change also visit us. Traditionally the majority of the British go on holiday in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, having only discovered Zambia after the government in the later country fell out with theirs and instituted a $65 entry fee on non African visitors. So this argument is not about the effects of the change on Zambia tourism, the British are just miffed at being charged at all.
I am not saying the UK should not charge for visas nor am I agreeing with the actions of the Zambian government. I am simply saying there are two sides to every story and moaning without presenting all the facts is simply unacceptable, especially for a paper of the Telegraph's standing.