Africa excels at bureaucracy. No doubt the knack was acquired during the colonial past, but the locals have gone on to develop a distinctly African flavour. At border crossings we unload our bags from the planes, carry them into the airport, put them through a scanner (at which, often enough, no one looks) then carry them back out and load them back into the planes. In one airport we remove all suspect items from our persons, as requested, then are shepherded
through the metal detector while pushing our empty metal luggage trolleys. No one seems to mind that the machine beeps, protocol having been observed.
Arriving into Zimbabwe, customs forms are filled in by hand and in triplicate – the process takes two hours. Departing, Hamish’s leatherman elicits sharp interest. The question: who is the pilot? A pilot is allowed a leatherman. A crew member (me – I have the official badge to prove it) is not, doubtless for fear I might use my multi-tool in a hijack bid.
On a hot runway in Malawi we are given an efficient shake down: bags out, armed guard search (the automatic rifle isn’t loaded but still has an impact). Interest is exhibited in our medicines and toiletries. By the end of the process the guard and supervisor are taking photos of one another carrying out their inspection.
At a fuel stop in Tanzania it takes two hours for four receipts to be written. The two men in the office have only one pen between them. Tanzania works hard to discourage private pilots. Landings charges mount into the thousands, and ca
n apparently apply to days when you don’t land at all.
But it all proves worth it – the Serengeti feels like the ‘real’ Africa, Ngorongoro’s dense diversity offers its riches without restraint, and Stone Town’s tangled, vibrant, multi-cultural streets and alleys are sufficient reward in themselves.
There is also a moment of light relief. In Zanzibar our first commercial flight of the trip is delayed on the tarmac for nearly an hour while the local staff endeavour to sort out the paperwork: at least the bureaucracy is not reserved solely for private aviation.