As Victor Okoth and his younger brother Owor rode in the darkness of a reserve forest in Malawi, fears and paranoia flooded their minds. Would a wild animal attack them, or perhaps an inattentive driver run them over before they reach the next village?
Despite the potential dangers, the brothers persisted on their journey. They have an important message to spread.
Okoth, NYU Abu Dhabi Class of 2019, and Owor, rode through parts of the east and south continent on a Yamaha Crux 110cc motorbike in hope to raise awareness about the one-African passport, which will allow a visa-free border across all 54 African states for holders of this passport.
The African Union had aimed to distribute passports by the end of 2018.
Frustrated by the slow progress, Okoth started saving and rallied through crowdfunding to raise money for a self-driven awareness campaign for the passport.
The one-African passport is important to me because it removes many barriers to travel in Africa, especially between regions. This has many secondary benefits such as promoting intra-African trade, greater cultural exchange between countries and regions, and creating a powerful symbol of Pan-African unity.
Man on a Mission
The brothers rode through various African states to meet up with local media for exposure, as well as to network with companies and influencers to push for more support on the one-Africa passport.
Securing media interviews were hard work, but the efforts paid off. The two brothers were recognized by strangers in various states, including a border immigration officer. It strengthens their belief that targeting local media is the best way to garner more awareness and support.
The initial plan was to ride 20,000 kilometers through the east, south, and west of Africa. Cost-saving measures included staying at cheap accommodations, camping outdoors, and even staying awake to avoid paying for a bed in expensive locations.
Despite these efforts, their fast-dwindling funds, frustrating delays at borders, and rejection of visas for countries like Namibia and Angola saw the the trip cut short.
Still, the brothers clocked in 10,000 kilometers across seven countries: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
Building rapport with immigration makes crossing borders a lot easier, Okoth learned. Officers were mostly professional in their work but one experience in Malawi left a bad taste in his mouth.
“This is the first time in my life that someone actually (ask for money) so blatantly,” Okoth said.
This is the first time in my life that someone actually (ask for money) so blatantly.
While border crossings were stressful affairs, Okoth was quick to point out that “crossing them is the purpose of our trip after all.”
Partnering with Afrochampions, an initiative that provides resources and supports private sectors in Africa, a petition is created to garner one million signatures. Okoth plans to deliver the signatures to the African Union once the target is achieved.
Limited funding may have shortened the Civil Engineering major’s dream of traveling through all 54 African states to campaign, but he isn’t going to stop here.
Okoth hopes his children or grandchildren will someday complete the round Africa journey.
An important learning from this trip that he will definitely pass on:
Find all ways to solve a punctured tire instead of trying to ride it out.
“It messes up both the tube and tire irreparably, and was a very expensive lesson,” Okoth recalled.