Barriers to civilisations – from Kinshasa to Paris

We’ve got free flow of goods, and free flow of capital. (Both with some exceptions, whose origin are irrational decisions based on strong small lobbies.) Not so with people. We carefully choose at which time we need whom to enter our “developed” countries: Do we need Italian factory workers, German dentists, Eritrean asylum seekers, or the African poor?

“Economic migrants” from under-developed countries is certainly not what Europe wants. People more intelligent and better paid than me have written about the “fortress Europe”. To people like me, it is visible on an Air France flight from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Paris, France.

When you arrive at one of the most chaotic airports in the world in the N’djili suburb of Kinshasa, a uniformed policeman controls something in your passport before he lets you enter the building. It could be:
– to check that you have a valid ticket to travel anywhere
– to check  that you have paid the USD 50.- for the infamous Congolese “Go Pass” (airport tax)
– to check that you are not a researched criminal
The officer is normally friendly, but may ask you for a small contribution to his livelihoods, which I always turn down with a smile.

You then walk past an X-Ray machine, which would probably serve (if working):
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are not exporting illegal items or items liable to taxes

Just a few metres behind the dysfunctional machine, there are five Congolese police officers. They ask to check your baggage. This could be:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are not exporting illegal items or items liable to taxes
They also normally ask for a small contribution to their livelihoods, which I normally turn down with a smile.

Then, depending whether you are flying with SN Bruxelles or Air France, you get to see a police counter. Yes, there was already policemen, but one can never be safe enough.

Air France. A Congolese policeman waves you into that counter, one on one. First, you get to see a French policeman. This could be:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are legally allowed to travel to France

You immediately proceed the next cue, which is the Congolese police. Just like in every place, where you were checked before, you hand in passport, ticket, “Go Pass”, vaccination card, because you just don’t know why you are being checked. This here could be
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are legally allowed to travel to France
– to check that you are legally allowed to leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo (as you need both an establishment visa and a “visa to leave Congo”, the latter has to be renewed every seven months)
– to check that you have a “Go Pass”

Then, you move on to the Air France check-in counter just a few metres to the right of the two police counters. But first, a security staff (presumably Air France), again physically checks all your bags. This could be:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are not exporting illegal items or items liable to taxes

Then, Air France check-in.

Then, you move to Congolese immigration. There are several layers of officials, who ensure that everything goes in an orderly way. Before you enter a door – like a valve to the next step towards a rich country, an immigration official lets you in, one by one. All in one line, not British, but hey we are in Africa. Only some people mysteriously pass the line and show their bunch of documents straight to the official. They have presumably contributed something to the livelihoods of that official. This step could serve to
– Check that you are legally allowed to exit Congo
– Check that you have a ticket to travel
– Check that you are not a terrorist

While waiting, you notice a Ministry of Health stand to your right. This can only be to check your vaccination card. It is a very important document, that the Democratic Republic of the Congo takes normally seriously when you enter and when you leave the country. One out of five children die before age five due to preventable diseases. Horrible things, such as Ebola, are known here. One does not want anyone to bring in more diseases. But this is to leave, so the counter is closed. (When it is open and if you have forgotten your vaccination card, you can buy a new one with all stamps needed for a fee, which contributes to the livelihoods of someone.)

The next step are several cues, immigration as we know it. This could be:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you have been legally in the Congo
– to check that it is legal for you to leave the Congo
You are generally also asked for a small contribution to the livelihoods of an immigration official, which I generally turn down with a smile if in a good mood, with a cold “No” if in a bad mood.

Further goes the quest for legality and security.

Next cue is again in front of a door, a door before the security check. About four to five officials are waiting there. Some people again mysteriously pass more quickly than others. Some shouting is going on. The handing over of your passport et al could serve, at this stage:
– to check you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are a legal resident in Congo
– to check that you are legally allowed to leave Congo

Then, behind the door, a metal detector, sometimes a manual search, by Congolese police. This could be:
– to check you are not a terrorist
You are also normally asked for a small contribution to the livelihoods, which I generally turn down with a smile.

There you are, in the one big waiting hall. Smoking is still allowed here, so you are not quite there yet. One is wondering why you should show up three hours before departure (including the traffic jam to Ndili that means leaving five hours before the flight from home), because everything is so smooth.

When the flight is called (meaning when you see the majority of the crowd moving towards the only door), your documents are checked by a Congolese official. This could be:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are allowed to travel to France
– to check that you have the necessary travel documents
– to check that you have paid the “Go Pass”
– to check that you are legally allowed to leave Congo.

A small bus-ride then takes you to what seems such an immensely big airplane from Air France. The sight of the machine impresses me as another step towards what cynical people would call civilisation about to be taken. Trust in Congolese procedures does not seem to be enormous in Europe, though. Upon disembarkation of the bus, an Air France staff checks your documents. Although this could be for a number of reasons, I will give in and say that this is to check the “Go Pass”, as this is what they most persistently ask for.

You then cue up to enter the airplane. Air France security staff are waiting for you to check by hand your hand luggage. This could be
– to check that you are not a terrorist

When you pick it up again, an official or Air France staff (forgot) checks your entire pile of documents. This could b:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are allowed to legally leave Congo
– to check that you are allowed to legally enter France

Then, you climb up the stairs, and the showing of your boarding pass seems to serve no other purpose than to guide you to your seat.

By this time, you have endured hours of sweat and checks, but security is non-negotiable. I understand.

Eight hours or so later, you exit the Air France plane in Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle along with the majority of passangers, who are Congolese. Who would you expect to see at the boarding gate? A Franch police officer. This could be:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are legally allowed to enter France
No contribution to livelihoods is asked for, and the showing of a Swiss passport dispenses you even from opening it.

French customs is the next and last step in your odyssee, which can only possibly serve:
– to check that you are not a terrorist
– to check that you are not importing illegal items or items subject to import tax.

Here you are, then, finally, in the “developed” world, in the “free” world, where you are one of the privileged persons to enter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s