Ooooota Adepo, entrepreneur and director of Cross Culture Creative, shares her experience of travelling with a Nigerian passport and highlights the ongoing geopolitical imbalances that will be front of mind for European travellers post-Brexit.
Historically, certain nationalities have enjoyed privileged access to the world. As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, I thought everyone needed a visa to travel. Having to wake up at 5am to get to our spot in line outside the American embassy by 6:30 am (which my mother’s staff had secured for us since 4am), was standard procedure. And my mother spending the two weeks before our embassy appointment gathering a mountain of supporting documents to prove to US immigration officers that we were financially credible and had no desire to flee Nigeria… well, that was normal too. This is what everyone needed to do if they wanted to go to Disney World, I thought. I soon realised this wasn’t the reality of all prospective travellers. “We’ve come a long way since then,” I would love to say, but I can’t. Last month, I was unable to make a trip to Marrakesh for the 1-54 Art Fair due to extended visa processing times for Nigerian applicants. This month, I must rule out Zanzibar as a possible location of my cousin’s birthday trip because new Tanzanian travel regulations require Nigerians undergo a two-month long visa application process. Morocco and Tanzania are two African countries my European friends can spontaneously visit and enjoy. That I, an African, cannot share in this privilege is disappointing.
Image: Ooooota with her mother in Abuja, Nigeria
Travel is an often inadvertent yet incredibly powerful form of education. It broadens world views, enables a more informed appreciation of cultures and expands the playing field of business and pleasure. It bridges the gap between apprehension and curiosity, and in my opinion remains a human right of each living person. Each country, too, has its rights, particularly to uphold national integrity. But the problem isn’t that countries need to manage border security, it is how they allow cultural biases, and historic geopolitical imbalances to guide their policing habits. For centuries, borders and cultural allegiances have shifted. National and international policies have adapted to contemporary urgencies and wisdoms, all of which prove that the status quo is not infallible. We are always on the brink of change.
Image: Taken in Avignon, France
As a UK resident, the ironic similarities between intra African relations and impending post Brexit Eurocentric relations is not lost on me. Brexit will have practical consequences in trade, migration and diplomacy. It will also have a softer, perhaps more insidious impact on the European cultural community which since 1957 and 1973 with the inclusion of the UK has come to symbolize a great deal to so many. Nevertheless, as I write this article, the verdict will be carried out in line with the 2016 referendum. I remember waking up the morning after the vote, hearing the result, and feeling slightly anxious about my residential status in the UK. It turns out that I will not be impacted, nor will my Russian friend who’s just completed her PhD and is job-hunting within the increasingly limited parameters international students are given here. My European friends, however, are beginning to marginally sense what it might feel like to have their global access compromised. An Italian friend who’s lived in London for over 10 years is considering hedging his bets with UK citizenship. A Swedish friend decided to marry his long-term American partner to secure her status in the UK and to protect their children from any future immigration complexities. An Indian-born Uber driver I met last week who has lived in the UK for over 15 years is still trying to decide if getting a British passport, and giving up his Danish nationality, is a sensible trade off.
Image: Ooooota in St. Petersburg, Russia
People make strategic decisions about nationality in the same way countries operate strategically to protect their resources. Brexit was a strategic decision designed to relieve the UK of the perceived burden in supporting non-British EU citizens. But as an African who has shuffled between emerging and established economies since birth, I know that well-meaning strategic decisions are not always thought through or well executed. The UK’s withdrawal from the European trade union is already creating complications with inventory stockpiling spanning from the food to the luxury fashion industry, where distribution is inextricably linked to production on the continent. The long-term impact on European trade relations is yet to be seen. In Africa, for instance, only 16% of total trade is between African countries, a figure reflective of our unwillingness as Africans to explore the multitude of opportunities literally at our front door. Among other factors, the intuition behind this is partly protectionist, partly ignorant, and partly because many Africans do not value the work and products of other Africans. Many of these sentiments were rife during the remain versus leave debate in 2016. In Africa, the consequence of our imperfect trading and production habits is that majority of our products (imports from the EU, the US, and Asia) remain unaffordable while domestically manufactured items are often counterfeits. After Brexit, it is unlikely the UK will retain the full advantages of being a part of the single market, including actively contributing to intraregional trade, currently an impressive 70% of total trade. But if post-Brexit negotiations are anything shy of surgically precise, complications could make life challenging for UK businesses, especially if they foresee demand within the 512 million residents of the EU.
Image: Prague, Czech Republic
The sense of shared identity that may or may not linger after Brexit is another area of uncertainty. I am already noticing small changes in the queuing system towards passport control on mainland Europe, some of which group UK nationals in the same category as South Americans. The frustration with having to slowly inch through a long line previously sped through, on the face of Brits is beyond palpable. Why wouldn’t it be, when a 2-second display of an ID document to a smiling border control officer previously sufficed? After March 29, speeding through the EU nationals line will no longer be an option for the Londoner desperate for a weekend getaway in Rome. Although UK nationals are unlikely to be barraged with the scrutinizing questions Asians routinely face, nor asked to present a return ticket to Belfast, Glasgow or London, their sense of belonging to Europe might alter when they receive the same welcome Chinese nationals are given. Perhaps the UK will intensify its screening of European tourists. Perhaps Westminster and Brussels are already discussing mitigating such issues. At this point, it’s difficult to tell.
Image: Ooooota in Forbidden City – Beijing, China
An increasingly multicultural tapestry of the world is inevitable, particularly in economies that offer better standards of living. The desire to move and migrate will not slow down, and governments must manage this. However, because intertwined global markets undermine isolated decisions of countries, governments must go beyond executing policy with positive ramifications for its citizens, to aiming for a broader positive impact for everyone regionally affected. A difficult task, yes, but a necessary one. In recent history, the Syrian refugee crisis, the migrant crisis through Libya and the Mediterranean, and the caravan of refugees through South and Central America have shown us, yet again, that when regional, religious, and racial biases inspire national and global policy, we are often presented with an even greater moral predicament in the future.
Image: Taken in Kampala, Uganda
For more from Ooooota, watch her TEDx talk here: