NO visa-on-arrival at Libreville Airport
Despite some recent progress, Africa is still on the dark side. On no other continent is the traveller so exposed to the mercy of corrupt officials and the whim of daily changing procedures. I have managed to enter Libya, Congo, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Burundi, etc. without proper visa and I have been refused entry to Libya, Angola and Ghana despite having all the correct documents.
This time I was in for a bad surprise in Gabon.
(Foto: World of Powerboat)
In theory, the oil rich President Ali Bongo wants to promote upscale tourism with personnel like Annie Blondel, or events like the Offshore Powerboat Championship or eco-projects like Africa's Eden - Operation Loango or luxury-projects like Amanresorts. Last not least: eased visa-procedures such as visa-on-arrival even for overland travellers crossing in their own cars, according to several trip reports on the HUBB forum.
Here is what the current Wiktravel info on Gabon says:
"The fee for a visa to enter the country is typically 70 euros. The visa can be purchased on arrival in either euros or in the local francs in the right hand line upon exiting the plane. Reportedly, as of August 2010 this is no longer possible and personnel arriving to Gabon must have a valid visa upon arrival or they will be sent back. Recently, most of International arrived in Gabon claim that visa fee increase and the paid almost 122Euros for 03 months unique entrance visa and more for multiple entrance."
And here is what happened to me in Gabon in June 2014:
Landed in Libreville at 10pm with South African Airways who accepted me without a Gabonese visa, boarding in Douala
Went to the Visa counter at Libreville airport, with print-out of onward flight ticket (3 days later) and hotel reservation confirmation
Already at 11pm it was clear that the chief of airport police Mr. (...) Blaise Pascal would not allow me to enter Gabon, that I could not exit the airport (he kept my 2 passports) and that I would have to pay him directly to buy a new outward flight ticket. (BTW: That is the scam here!).
Nothing worked: not my habitus, not my business card, not a mention of my local contacts (try to call them on a Friday night!), not a show of fotos with my famous acquaintances. It happens rarely, but here I was stuck.
Put up in the small transit hall, completely alone, without food or water, to sleep on the concrete floor or on the metal benches (luckily I found some cardboards from the duty free shops). The aircon was so cold that I was freezing and shivering all night, even though carrying three layers of shirts and two trousers. I felt like a bozo in a Brioni suit:
(Luxury hospitality the Gabonese way)
The adventurer inside me did not really mind the ridiculous experience, but the gentleman (45yrs, businessman, university lecturer, ...) within me revolted against this lack of respect. I was now indeed a Papillon (butterfly) imprisoned in a former French colony:
(One of ca. 100 Western tourists collected at Libreville Gabon Intl. Airport per year)
When I woke up from my own shivering at 4am, a new arrival was put next to me, a couple from the Malabo flight where they had attended the Heads of African States Meeting. They looked well-to-do too. I guess that was their only offence, like mine. Prey for a corrupt, disrespectful state.
By 8am the police Nr. 2 had arrived, a young-already-fat kind of type, with the typical "Naturally Intelligent God Gifted Africans" attitude you get all over Central Africa in police uniforms. He promised to take us outside for breakfast, but he never came. He made it clear to me that I had to buy my flight ticket from him. I refused. He called me the "white man". I understood. I was gonna have to wait and be patient (not really my forte).
Now it was Saturday. Very few departure flights on the display. I sensed my best chance would be the SAA flight at 8pm. But how to buy the ticket? Internet not working. My travel agent neither.
Time passed. Slowly. It feels bad to be imprisoned. And all I wanted to do is to give this wannabe tourist destination called Gabon a chance. That is their gratitude.
Bit of action on the airport runway:. Two V-22 Osprey were performing a manoeuvre at Libreville airport (oh yes, protecting the oil):
Late in the afternoon, I had the feeling that "my" policemen were not on their shift, so I asked a friendlier security guard if i could go outside for a quick smoke. He knew I couldn't flee without a passport, so he accepted. With luck I managed to buy a flight ticket in local CFA money, after changing money from a black trader, and to check in with my passport Nr. 3. Long discussion why there was no stamp inside, but I made it. Then back to transit side past the friendly guard.
I quickly poked into the police office when there was big, big African chaos due to the arriving SAA flight from Johannesburg and - in a good moment - I took my two passports from the main desk. Now I was just hoping that fat cop 1 and fat cop 2 wouldn't check on me in the wrong moment. In theory, they could still stop me until I was on the plane. Yes, I was a bit nervous in the last hour ... and yes, I was really happy when my plane took off to Douala.
As a hotel connoisseur I would have loved to stay in Libreville's Le Cristal or the Nomad Residence or the Residence du Phare for a night each and to post about them in my blog LuxuryRogue and on Tripadvisor where I am Nr. 1 Explorer. All I can say now is that I've been to one of the world's worst shitholes ... and just for the thoughts I harbour, need to wipe my ... mouth. Let's move on ...