Archive for November, 2010

Systematic Injustice

I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to raise our predicament publicly, but an injustice has been done. I must try all avenues available to right this situation. If after reading this, you have any ideas on how to proceed, please get in touch.

One of our partcipants, Zacharia Wambua, applied for and received a travel scholarship to attend the ICTD Conference next month at Royal Holloway, University of London. Zack is one of our brightest mappers, and shows great promise to take on this work as a career (Zack is standing to the right of US Ambassador to Kenya Ranneberger in this picture). The conference was going to be an opportunity for him to network, especially with UK universities, and take part in our panel focused on citizen mapping and media projects. He was to be joined by fellow mapper, Douglas Namale. For Zack, this would be his first time traveling outside Kenya, and I’m sure a life changing experience for a highly intelligent young man from Kibera.

As required, Zack submitted an application for a business visa (ref NAIROBI\323731), and took great care to fill out the application honestly and comprehensively. Yesterday, he received noticed that he was refused entry, with no opportunity to appeal. The decision gives no weight to our organization, the Map Kibera Trust, and draws attention to Zack’s economic situation as the primary evidence for the decision that, in the view of the UK Border Agency, Zack is not genuinely seeking to attend this conference.

To me, this is a deep systematic failure, based on probabilities. Zack is impoverished, it’s true. But he is working very hard to improve himself and situation, partly through participating in our programs. Despite having very little financial ties, or having family with a bank account, he is in fact very tied to his family, church and community. I’m not sure how you are supposed to show evidence of strong relationships to your family in a visa application. Zack is volunteering with a program, that among other things, has been featured on the BBC, is the subject of a DFID funded and UK university led research program, and he’s been invited to a prestigious conference organized by UNESCO and the University of London, that focuses on social and economic development through technology. Yet he is denied entry by the UK Border Agency. This is a terrible contradiction.

Frankly, if being poor is a barrier to taking part in these kind of activities, then the intentions of the entire conference, the work of DFID, etc, are completely negated.

We understand that an incorrect decision could have been made. However, Zack has been denied the right of appeal, the right to an interview, and the right for his supporters to speak on his behalf. Therefore, I ask, if there’s anything you can see we can do in this situation that could lead to a change of decision, we’d greatly appreciate the advice and action.

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