I “launched” my visa application in the South Sudan Embassy today, here in Nairobi. While waiting with my bundle of documents – their demands for photocopies of things have increased in the last few months – I saw a fabulous case of paper versus personal citizenship in action.
A tall, let’s say “ethnically identifiable” middle-aged man walked into the office, in evident agitation. He explained, loudly and frustratedly, that he had just been deported from Juba airport for having no visa. The Kenyan lady processing the visas looked at his passport and explained that, as an Australian citizen, he was not eligible for an emergency South Sudanese travel permit, and had to apply for a visa as a foreign national.
The gentleman was extremely angry at this, particularly at hearing how much it would cost and how long he would have to wait. He protested strongly that he was South Sudanese, that he was born there and should automatically be a dual citizen. I thought of the queues of men and women holding American, Canadian and Australian passports at the border controls at Nimule and in the Nationality and Citizenship offices in Juba town, many of whom were similarly identifiable as South Sudanese from scarification and physiognomy. They also didn’t have the right paper for their face.
Two white men in the waiting room condoled with him, and told him that this visa requirement was a burden of being a “Western” citizen. I thought it is also a problem of being a citizen by belonging, but not by paper.