As a teenager, my dream of studying in Canada was shattered when I was denied a visa even after landing a scholarship.
As the great Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, but I missed mine and my only undoing was that I was from a poor family and they felt that I would go to Canada and not come back.
At the embassy, they threw my papers back at me without dignity and I cried. The experience from the security guards to everyone else was horrible.
The visa process is a colonial system that ensures that the poor will always remain poor and the rich can always travel and take their children to the schools they want abroad.
I did not give up, though. I remembered the words of Marcus Garvey “If you don’t have confidence in yourself, you are twice defeated in the race of life” and, “with confidence, you have won even before you have started”.
I got another opportunity to study in the Netherlands, and this time I borrowed someone’s bank account to apply for a visa but I was denied a chance again. I met people who told me being poor is worse than committing a crime.
Wait for months
Again, I got another scholarship, this time in the USA. The visa application process was far from smooth. Imagine as a student, you have to wait for months or even a year to be granted an interview.
Finally, I went to the US and after studying, I came back to Kenya to continue building my globally recognised organisation, Shining Hope for Communities. I would later apply for the renewal of my visa, which also took a long time to be renewed. So many dreams are being shattered. These countries have a right to deny us their visa, but all we are asking for is dignity, a listening ear and an end to this colonial mentality.
There is a ray of hope at the US Embassy in Kenya. US Ambassador to Kenya, Meg Whitman, took less than two months to institute a raft of changes aimed at expediting the visa application process. The changes include applicants being able to see interview wait times until their next appointment on the embassy website, which also clearly shows the type of fees that are non-refundable.
The new US visa renewal process does not require in-person interviews for visitor (B1/B2 category) or student (F category) visas that expired less than one year ago. The US embassy has also expedited appointments for emergency situations.
The UK High Commission has also taken the cue and ended the long wait for their visa.
Kenyans are not begging, asking for any favour, or any special treatment, but dignity.
I want to congratulate President William Ruto for striking a deal with the South African government allowing Kenyans to travel to the country visa-free.
This is how you build strong diplomatic relations.
We can silence guns if we open our borders for people to seek opportunities in different countries.