Daniel Howden: Securing a visa is a real test of endurance

Africa Diary
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The Independent Online

Getting a short-term visa should be simple, no? When it comes to getting one from a country that, for the sake of diplomacy, will be referred to as Kundu it isn't.

This African embassy has turned an otherwise pompous corner of London into a little piece of Kundu with all its attendant chaos, theatre and bureaucracy. The building's stately entrance, a carved portal fanned gently by a heavy flag is not the way in. The actual entrance is around the corner. Guarding the door is a bouncer whose job it is to filter at least half of the line by telling them to go home and print more documents from Kundu's brilliantly confusing website.

Inside await the delights of the visa hall, a dank linoleum basement that somehow combines the charms of an A&E department with a supermarket cheese counter. Electronic tickets in three colours are issued. After a stupendously long wait, I get an application form which I later augment with letters saying that I was born, am a journalist and have not died. These are returned the next morning but received with disquiet. I'm told to sit back down and wait while an official is summoned. An elegant man who speaks in whispers comes to tell me that getting a visa is complicated. "I know," I assure him. "You see there's a small war going on," he says. "I know that too," I say.

Days pass. I phone a colleague already in Kundu who can't believe that I have knocked on the front door. She gives me the number of Kundu's minister of information. The minister tells me she will get me the visa and gives me the details of her fixer in London.

Her fixer can't believe I tried the official route. She sends me to see the deputy ambassador who appears horrified at the prospect of taking responsibility for my visa. He reluctantly agrees to speak to the fixer over the phone and a shouting match ensues with the official crying and insisting that he's being asked to destroy everything he has worked for for 14 years.

Tears dried he sends me to see Ezekiel. The man who stamps the visas. Ezekiel is having none of it. He locks his door on hearing my enquiry and insists I speak to him from a telephone outside. When I do he explains that he is a "small man" and can do nothing without a signed letter from the minister. And on it goes.

Hillary's help for rape victims

Rose's story never made it out of my notebook. Sitting in her hut made of banana leaves in eastern Congo, she told me how she had been raped by government soldiers. Her private horror missed the cut in the newspaper.

It was hard not to think of her last week when Hillary Clinton, pictured, eschewed the usual Goma itinerary and went to meet women like Rose. Preyed on from all sides and frequently forgotten, these women could use some powerful friends.

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