Please don’t let us become the shame of Africa.
Frustrations of landing to a dark airport by Eunice Mathu.
Sunday December 10, 2023. I arrive at Lilongwe Airport in Malawi for my short flight to Nairobi. Upon arrival at the airport, the now too familiar message from Kenya Airways frequent fliers arrives (glad I am not one of them) – Flight delayed! Not again KQ – the Pride of Africa or (Shame of Africa)? You did the same with my flight from JKIA to Lilongwe a few days before. Reasons on both flights being delayed – “operational issues” – whatever that means.
We eventually left Lilongwe two hour late with a stopover at Nampula, Mozambique. I was looking forward to a late dinner at home as estimated arrival into JKIA was 10.05 pm. The nightmare began on landing – the airport had experienced another blackout! There were long chaotic queues in Terminal 1A, everyone trying to clear through immigration from all the KQ flights that had arrived from various destinations. Every time darkness engulfed the terminal, and it did several times, my phone became handy.
But the real nightmare was in the baggage hall. Frustrated passengers hurdled together like in a cattle market, waiting for their luggage or rummaging through suitcases and suitcases scattered everywhere. I don’t know how many times I walked from one carrousel to another, hoping my bag would be there. Eventually, after close to two hours of waiting, it appeared at a carrousel marked for other flights.
Then onto the even longer Custom’s queue. Having not seen the inside of a shop in Malawi, I joined ‘the nothing to declare’ line. But did it matter? Those on my line went through more scrutiny than those on ‘goods to declare’ line.
I have lived through all the presidents of this country but only became a traveler during Moi’s presidency. If you went out of the country and purchased a gift for your mother, you would be thoroughly harassed at the airport – not to pay tax but to give ‘kitu kidogo’. To avoid this harassment, those who could, organised to be met at the baggage hall and escorted through customs.
I was saddened to witness that we have gone back to the Moi days. I observed many travelers with escorts being ushered through the customs without having their luggage screened. I lost my cool when it was my time to pass and this lady customs officer told me to place my small carrier bag and handbag into the screening machine, and guys with suitcases and suitcases – obviously coming from destinations like London or Johannesburg where you can do some shopping being let through. I placed my bags but not without giving the custom’s officer a piece of my mind – “Can this rule apply to everyone!” I told her. She just looked at me as if I was talking to myself.
Please, President Ruto, don’t let our country become the “Shame of Africa.” I travel a lot and going through airports, even in our neighboring countries, is always a pleasant experience. I just couldn’t imagine the impression first time visitors to Kenya on that Sunday thought about our country. To be honest, I would not travel to such a chaotic airport unless I had to.
I know a couple who were thinking of having their destination wedding in Mt Kenya Safari Club next year but they have changed their plans if coming to Nairobi means even the wedding gown will be taxed!
I eventually arrived home at 1.30 am, hungry, angry and exhausted, to a dark. Thank God for the blessing of a generator. I could warm my food.