Bureaucracy – Day 48

Posted on April 20, 2012


While I was in London I applied for my visa early, carefully writing the start date as March 1st so that I wouldn’t have to wait in line with all the other plebs getting off the plane late at night at Entebbe’s border control.

But when I was handed back my passport from the Ugandan Commission in London not only had they started my visa entry early (February 8th) they had put me down as a tourist not a student and only given me three months instead of six which I had also applied for.

“You don’t need a student visa,” I was told very nicely by the woman behind the counter. She smiled sweetly.

“Oh ok…. but I’m doing research and my trip is longer than three months…..I don’t come back to the UK until June 6th…….what you’ve given me means my visa runs out on May 8th” I stammered.

“It’s ok, they will extend it, no problem,” she reassured me.

“Really? At no extra cost? At the airport?” I said cynically.

“Yes, yes,” she insisted.

But when I arrived in Uganda on March 2nd at midnight, I was firmly told: “I’m sorry Ms Tanna but you have to come back to Kampala a week or so before your visa runs out to get it extended. It cannot be done anywhere else and if you’re late you will be fined.”

I was livid, but not surprised. I knew this would happen.

So fast forward two months, I’ve had zero stress since doing research. I’ve been focussed and organised. Here in the chaos that is Kampala my patience has been more than tested today.

I’ve made the long and laborious journey from Budongo to Kampala specifically to get my visa extended. It’s ten o’clock in the morning and I’m clutching my wrinkled receipt to get my passport returned which I gave in two days ago along with photocopies of my BA return flight details; a letter from Budongo explaining why I need an extension until June; a letter from my UK university supervisor confirming I am a full-time student.

“There seems to be a problem, you are not here,” said the inspector looking through the pile of multi-coloured passports and cross-referencing them with paper. “What nationality are you?”


“Are you sure?”

“Of course,” I said firmly.

He sighed deeply and thrust the receipt back into my hand. Go stand in that queue outside,” he said wagging his finger at me and peering at me over his spectacles.

I turned to see a long line of faces wearing empty expressions. When I finally got to the front I was given a book to find my name and passport details.

“Here I am,” I piped.

“Your visa cannot be extended without the approval of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology,” said the officious immigration man shaking his head. His beady eyes had not an ounce of compassion what-so-ever.

“I don’t understand, I have two letters of support for my application, one from Budongo and one from Roehampton,” I said frustrated.

He ignored me continuing, “You also have to re-apply for a new visa as a student because you are doing research and you are not a tourist. It’s $30.”

I knew I should have argued with the woman in London, but against my better judgement I went with the flow. After all she should know what she is talking about.

The time was almost 11am by now. “But I have to go back to Budongo on Monday, can you sort this out today if I get the relevant documents,” I pleaded. “I gave this in on Wednesday to allow for processing and it’s Friday now.”

“If you rush and get back here before 4pm, it is possible,” he shrugged.

I walked away shoulders sloping downward, looking at the ground turning over in my head all the advice other students in Budongo had said to me. Taking supporting evidence, smile sweetly and they’ll do it for nothing if it’s only a month extension. Like hell they will!!

Back on the main road I waited in the smoke and fumes for a matatu –  one to take me up Kampala Road and then I would have to change at the post office to get to Ntinde, 40 minutes away. The journey was painful and by the time I arrived it was approaching midday.

“Please, please, please don’t be out to lunch,” I prayed as I hopped off the taxi and jogged down the steep hill to the offices. On arrival I was met with more bureaucracy.

“Your study has not been approved yet.” She said flatly.

“But why?” I was now emotional and fighting back tears of frustration. “It’s been sent to the president’s office for approval, I paid $300 dollars into your account on Wednesday and you have the National Forestry Authority approval permit as well as my project proposal. Tell me what I have to do to get it approved,” I pleaded.

“It’s because your permit for the NFA runs out on April 30th,” she said bluntly.

“But I’m only doing an ecological study until then. The second part is human participation where I will be interviewing people in Butiaba. It says all of that in my proposal which you have.”

“Have you been approved by an ethics committee?” she inquired.

“Yes, yes I have. If I find the email from my university and forward that onto you, will you write me a letter then?” I started to get excited, seeing some hope in all the disappointment I’d experienced so far today.

“Hmmmm, I have to talk to my boss and we’re about to go into a meeting for an hour or so. Take a seat outside.”

“Oh God more waiting,” I thought, “This is terrible, it’ll be a miracle if this gets sorted. If it doesn’t happen I will have to make another trip to Kampala in a week’s time. That’s cost me at least three days, not to mention more money and hassle.”My heart sank.

Never has an hour felt so long. At one thirty, she appeared. “Did you get the email I forwarded to you,” I said half standing from my seat as she whisked past.

“Come here,” she commanded.

“Oh-o what’s about to happen?” I picked up my rucksack and slung it over one shoulder and moved towards the front reception desk. I had a sour taste in my mouth as my stomach began to turn somersaults.

“Here,” she said pointing at two documents. “One is for immigration and one is your copy.”

“OH THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.” I cried almost overcome with emotion. “You’re a life-saver,” I yelled running out of the door and pegged it up the hill.

Back at Jinga Road , the immigration officer looked at me, “So you’re back Tanna.”

I handed over the forms, nodding eagerly, thinking great, ­­­­time is on my side. It was now two forty.

“Take these forms to the cashier and he will give you another form and you then go to the bank.”

“Errrr sorry? Bank? Can’t I pay in cash now?”

“No, you have to go to the Orient Bank on Kampala Road.”

“But I’ve just been passed there.”

“It’s not far, if you rush you can be back here soon.”

“Sure, have you seen the traffic outside?” I moaned to myself.

After another long queue at the cashier’s window, I was seen by a man whose face can only be described as a walnut. “So you’re a student aye?”

“Here we go again,” I thought…”Just keep it together Asha and mind your temper. Be polite and BREATHE!!”

Chit-chat over, new bank form in my hand, I dashed past the guarded front gate and started to run. And I mean run. All the buses were full, bloody Easter holidays.

“Hey lady you want ride?” beebed the Boda guys curb-crawling me. Jogging I half turned my head to look at them, for a split second I contemplated getting on one, and then I thought, have you lost your mind? At which point a matatu pulled up with the conducted yelling Kampala Road as he leaned out of the sliding open door.

Thirty minutes later.

Another queue at the bank. “Come on-come on-come on-come on.” I watched the hands of the clock on the wall strike three as I stood twitching in the line.

“Shit. I’ve got an hour,” I thought, at which point I gave up the will to live. “If it’s not meant to happen today, then you’ll just have to come back to Kampala Asha. You’ll give yourself a heart attack by the end of today,” I consoled myself.


I pushed the form and the money under the glass and leaned forward. Five minutes later I was out of the door running again, this time down the other side of Kampala Road with my bank receipt.

Time check: three thirty finally back at the immigration office.

My officer, or the one who had been dealing with me had conveniently disappeared.

“Just bloody great, now I have to explain the whole thing to someone else,” I thought, clenching my teeth.

I was told to stand in the queue for the cashier again to get yet another receipt that confirmed that the money had been paid and the receipt received. In front of me a nun, holding a British passport with her frail ageing hands. She looked like she’s seen it all before.

Now with the new receipt I was back in front of Mr Personality.

“Go and sit down, I deal with it,” he ordered me.

At this point I was about to collapse. I found a bench and squeezed myself between a south-east Asian woman and a Sikh guy who was covered in piercings. I checked my watch quarter to four.

I had better get this visa sorted today or all this blue-ass-flying around will have been for nothing I cursed to myself.


I stood to attention and side-stepped quickly over to the window.

“Yes,” I said meekly pressing my face against the bars covering the window.

“You see, I told you, if you rushed you’d get it by four,” the officer laughed. He sat back in his chair and rubbed his head thoughtfully. He handed me back my passport.  I forced a smile and eagerly flicked through the pages to check and double-check the dates and stamps.

After six hours of travelling from one end of Kampala to another, passing through the city centre four times, my visa issue was finally sorted.