Monday, February 7, 2011

How Safe is Africa?

"Is it safe?"  That's the question I am most frequently asked when fielding enquiries from clients considering an African safari.  The answer is emphatically YES.  I know, I would say that wouldn't I?  But it's true, you're not going to be shot as you get off the plane at Johannesburg Airport.  You're not going to be mugged as you pick up your luggage from the carousel at Nairobi.  The fact is that as tourists you're more likely to be attacked in Sydney's Kings Cross, Brisbane's Queen Street Mall or the Gold Coast's Cavill Avenue.

Most Aussie tourists in Africa are met at the airport by reputable ground operators contracted by Australian companies.  They are driven by cheerful, pleasant drivers safely to their hotels and are picked up from that hotel by their tour operators.  They are not left to their own devices in a strange city - certainly my clients aren't.  If people want to do their own thing from their hotel I advise them to chat with the concierge.  If there are places that one should not go (And let's face it, they exist in almost every city in the world except maybe Singapore where the greatest crime is to take a durien into your hotel room.) the concierge will advise you.

In any case the bulk of your African safari will take place in wilderness areas where you are probably safer from attack than in your own home.  In thirty five years of travel through Africa I have never witnessed, must less be a victim of a violent crime.  I once lost some money from a hotel room safe, but that was a case of petty theft that could have occurred anywhere. I get very frustrated with some South African expats living in Australia.  They seem to compete with each other to see who can come up with the most horrific experience they had when they lived there.  I know bad things happen, I'm not that naive, but there is a huge difference between visiting a country as a tourist and living there.  It's a shame that so many expats are prepared to bag their own country.  It's as though they feel that they have to justify themselves for abandoning the nation once the apartheid system collapsed.

It's also quite amazing how many people think that Africa is just one country.  Africa is a vast continent made up of over fifty nations.  Deciding not to go to Botswana because there is a problem in Egypt is like not going to Disneyland because there's a street demonstration in Buenos Aires.  Ridiculous, most people would agree, but that's they way some of us think unfortunately.

In the end it would be a tragedy to miss out on an uplifting and life-changing  experience like an African safari because of a few unfounded fears.  Africans are kind, warm and generous of spirit.  They are anxious to please, proud of whatever country they are from and want to show you that country in the best possible light.

We are all subject to certain fears when overseas, including myself.  I once took a short cut along a lonely bush track from Victoria Falls to the township.  I was about halfway there when a large African man appeared in front of me.  As he approached, he reached into his jacket and I thought, Oh God!  Here we go, I'm about to be mugged at knife point.  I watched as his hand slowly withdrew from his jacket clutching...............a large ebony elephant.  "Wanna buy it?"  He said.  I shook my head numbly and was rewarded with a huge white smile.  "No problem sir." He said, and loped off towards the falls in search of someone more appreciative of his handiwork.        

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