Africa is so amazingly diverse, if you can imagine it - we have it somewhere. (As well as a lot off stuff that people find hard to imagine!) Be it a lazy, tropical Island breakaway or a hard core, adrenaline filled adventure - I will do my best to help you get the most out of your holiday. Seeing that this blog is a brand new project - it will take a while to grow. If you have a particular destination in mind that has not been featured yet, just send me a mail and I will assist in any way possible. Postings on this blog are based on personal experience. I plan to rate places and venues visited on a 'must go' or 'avoid' basis. I will also give a Lemon Award to the very worst festering pits that I have had the misfortune of stumbling across... If you have a comment, or your own input - lets have it! Complaints and compliments received from readers will be forwarded to the relevant venue for comment and/or follow up action. Please bear in mind that opinions expressed in this blog are my personal views only and I do not presume to know everybodys tastes... Any other advice dispensed is based on personal experience, and may not be factually correct. I therefore will not be held responsible if you do something silly after reading my advice on the matter. My main purpose here is to help you to think and plan in the right directions. I trust that you will have as much fun visiting this blog as I plan to have while writing the posts.

Monday 02 April 2007

Crime and political instability

Ok, let’s face it – we all watch the TV news and read the papers and yes, Africa has its problems… As elsewhere, tourists make easy targets.

NB! Most important!
No matter who you are or what special abilities you may have, you too will become a crime statistic if you are not vigilant. Trust me on this one... Rather leave the vanity at home and have a well deserved, safe holiday in the most awesome setting on mother earth, Africa.

Wars and Political Instability:
While things have quieted down in a lot of strife torn African countries, old issues flame up from time to time. It will be of no use to list all the areas to avoid as they may not be current when you read this. My best advice will be to contact the embassies of the countries you are planning to visit beforehand and try to get some info on current events in the particular country. Try to do a search of local newspapers, and the CNN site can also be helpful.

I personally won’t like landing in Harare the day before Zimbabwe’s next general election…

Although there are significant levels of crime throughout Africa, it is not the same everywhere and with a little ‘street smarts’ one can reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

Know where you are:
As with most places in the world, crime is not distributed evenly. Sometimes the difference between a dangerous and safe area is a matter of two or three city blocks. If you plan to go out and about, speak to your guide, guest house proprietor or hotel manager first. Find out where the local danger spots are, and the kind of threats to look out for. Just recognising a name on a signpost may avert disaster.

Don’t tempt them:
It is important to realise that poverty is a real issue in Africa. If you insist on dangling all your expensive belongings in front of people who could be fed for a few months on income generated by a new camera and set of diamond earrings, you are asking for trouble. If you leave your valuables unattended, they will most probably disappear…. Always keep the items about your person to a minimum, and you don’t have to ‘dress to impress’ – it’s Africa and you are on holiday!
The same rule applies for your vehicle. Never have valuables lying around on your car seats – this invites the ‘smash and grab’ specialists, and believe me, it happens as fast as lightning!
It's a good habit to keep windows wound up nearly all the way, but leave a small gap - it makes it much harder for the would be robber to break the window.
In a lot of places there are loads of beggars and street vendors that crowd your vehicle when you stop at parking lots and traffic intersections. It is important to keep your car windows wound up (as above) in such instances to prevent the sneaking hand that will sooner or later try to pilfer something from the unsuspecting traveller. Many a camera, laptop, cell phone or wallet has gone missing this way!
When leaving your car unattended anywhere, lock whatever you don’t take with you in the back and make sure there is nothing visible inside the car. It is good to keep most items locked in the boot all the time. Arriving somewhere and then displaying the whole content of the boot in front of watchful eyes is also not advisable for obvious reasons.

Lock up!
If you can lock something up - do it, and keep it locked. Get into the habit of putting things away and locking it up. It is a pain in the neck, but will help to prevent tears later on…

Be cautious:
If you are like me, you probably like living on the edge a bit and to investigate all aspects of what a country may offer...
This is a lot of fun, but can be very dangerous if you are not familiar with the local conditions, and alone.
It’s probably best to avoid the interesting dark alleys and more shadowy areas altogether. While they may promise adventure and unknown delights, chances are that you will find a nasty surprise instead. NEVER follow ANYBODY you have just met into a quiet corner, alley or other concealed area no matter what may lie at the end of the rainbow… (Remember, these guys have been waiting for you and in a lot of cases they are very good at what they do, as well as ruthless.)
Try to stay in groups wherever possible – the larger the group, the better.
When travelling the countryside, be wary when stopping at deserted tourist stops, take a good look around before stepping out of your vehicle, and be on the lookout at all times.
Try to avoid large congregations of people, especially on weekends when the beer is doing a lot of the talking…
Do not, ever, pick up hitch hikers. Not even police officers. Why expose yourself?

Fraud and con artists:
Come on people, we live in an enlightened age and should know better. I am constantly amazed at some of the scams that people get caught with. I have one golden rule – if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t….
No local in possession of a real diamond, gold nugget, emerald, tanzanite or any other valuable item (and his sanity) is going to be as ignorant as to give it away for small change. Any such ‘amazing deal’ is 100% guaranteed to end in misfortune for you. Still I have come across otherwise intelligent and successful people who believed that they can buy a real 100 carat diamond for only a handful of dollars! Greed truly is a terrible thing...
If you are looking for gem stones etc, first acquaint yourself with the local laws. With a bit of investigative research one can find what you are looking for at a good price, legally.

Another good habit is to never change money on the street. It’s a hassle, but rather stay with changing currency at banks, exchange bureaus, hotels and businesses. While you may often receive fair treatment on the street, chances are that you are going to lose out somehow.
One of the scams I often come across is the following: the guy approaches you with a whole song and dance about them not being able to exchange currency legally for some or other reason and will therefore offer you an exchange rate much higher than the going rate. At first he may even exchange a little bit at the promised rate. When you go and do the main transaction (usually around the corner, in the back of a parking lot or someplace similar), the guy hands you the money in a bag, and it’s often a roll of notes. As soon as you want to check the cash, they suddenly start panicking about the ‘policeman’ that is on his way to arrest everyone before they start running. Back at the hotel, after your ‘narrow escape’ - you discover that the roll of notes is actually a roll of paper, with one or two real notes around the outside. Congratulations, you have just traded US$ for Zim$ at 20:1!
If you are unlucky, the ‘policeman’ is real and you get arrested. If you are really unlucky, the ‘policeman’ is real and in on the scam… This will result in a heavy bribe and intolerable levels of harassment to be endured.
On my very first visit to Zambia (1992), on my first day in Lusaka, I walked right into the middle of a nasty one – the same idea as above, but there were three corrupt cops involved and they gave it the slant that I was selling fake US Dollars on the street. A huge bribe and a few hours of very stressful negotiating later, the young Tony (21) had a lot more to tell in his letter home than he had bargained for! Not worth it, in my opinion…

If something like the above ever happens to you (because you just couldn't resist it, could you?), remember - the moment you lose your temper with an African police officer, corrupt or not, it gets very expensive - time, tolerance and/or money wise...

After all the doom and gloom I would like to say that I have have been on a lot of safaris in different parts of Africa (I live in South Africa) and have had a few brushes with petty crime, but almost all my trips have been uneventful crimewise thus far.

If you have had a similar experience, let us know by leaving a comment.

With a little guidance, caution, vigilance and common sense one need not fear becoming a statistic.

Also read the article on Secure and Anonymous travel. (To be posted soon)


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