Prayers Are Not Enough

Prayers Are Not Enough

prayers“Is it safe?” is the question I get most often from travelers considering visiting Africa.

Today is the anniversary of the ebola outbreak in West Africa. What has transpired since then?

11,331 deaths from ebola. Around 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S., of which nearly the same number of ebola deaths were homicides including about 300 mass shootings. What else?

The most amazing panic by Americans, especially conservatives, that ebola was doomsday. Billions of dollars of unnecessary and unworkable precautions were spent. The “ebola threat” consumed the American psyche. Travel to Africa stopped.

When a potential vacationer asks me if “it’s safe” that person means much more than those few words, and it’s hard for me to answer.

Statistically, it’s safer than driving on the interstate, but that’s trivial because the questioner feels confident driving the interstate … whether she should or not. He believes “the chances” of his being in an accident are small, because he practices safe driving, knows the way, and maintains his vehicle.

In that sense what he’s asking me: Does the vacation you envision for me carry little risk vis-a-vis all the vacations out there; do you undertake due diligence in protecting your clients; and do you have experience and knowledge?

It still doesn’t matter that I can convince her the answer is “Yes.”

Americans’ perceptions, I believe, more than any other culture’s are formed by the media they watch, the spiritual leaders they trust, and the politicians they hate.

We are truly as impressionable as we believe we are free.

There is evil in the world and there’s a lot of money to be made with evil-ness. The manufacturers of weapons, the owners of cable, the paymasters of our politicians are all heavily invested in evil.

There’s no better market for them than us.

Another Black Day in Kenya

Another Black Day in Kenya

Visitors and citizens alike were horribly killed in Kenya yesterday reflecting a very strained society.

As of this morning four tourists are reported dead with several others still in critical condition after a scheduled flight aboard of Mombasa Air Safari LET aircraft from the Maasai Mara to Mombasa crashed on take-off.

Forty-eight Kenyans were killed in ethnic clashes near the town of Mandera in the arid Tana River region far east of Nairobi.

The two quite different incidents both reflect Kenya’s growing strain as it prepares for critical elections next March.

The Mombasa Air Safari crash was of a Czechoslovakian made, Soviet-styled LET aircraft. LET aircraft (of a variety of different sizes and types) has a horrible safety record with twelve accidents and 424 fatalities just this year alone. It was a cheap aircraft to begin with that became even cheaper with the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Almost like bad weaponry, LET aircraft have been showing up more and more in Africa as lax aircraft regulation mixes with strained economies.

The ethnic clashes which have been mostly reported in the world press as revenge killings by one ethnic group against another for disputes over water resources and range rights is actually only the tip of the story.

Kenya has redistricted itself in preparation for next year’s elections under the new constitution. Multiple smaller districts have been consolidated – as I believe they should – to create a truly more representative parliament.

And one logical outcome pits former established politicians as competitors for a single representative seat. It isn’t just coincidence that this is the case where the ethnic clashes occurred yesterday.

Police have confirmed that villagers have been incited to violence by local politicians vying for a consolidated district under the new constitution.

To a certain extent both these tragedies are isolated. Kenya tourism – indeed more and more of East African tourism as a whole and almost all of southern African tourism – depends upon small aircraft. I’d estimate in East Africa that more than half the tourists take at least one such flight, and likely a quarter take two or more.

The overall safety record for such a massive industry is pretty good. LET aircraft represent a very small proportion of the tourist aircraft, which are predominantly very safe Cessnas. (Unfortunately, there are no actual statistics, although the data is there to compile. So my statements are not evidential, but I believe accurate enough.)

And the ethnic clashes in Mandera which have been picked up in the world press as evidence of Kenya’s overall ethnic strife is nonsense. The new constitution, some pretty harsh laws, four prominent citizens on trial in The Hague for causing ethnic violence in 2007 all point to a Kenyan society righting itself masterfully.

But dead is dead. Another few hurdles for this tough and struggling society.

Travel to Uganda Now Deadly

Travel to Uganda Now Deadly

There is a reason that ebola has reached Kampala, and it’s the same reason I’ve recommended against visiting Uganda for a while: the dictatorial Ugandan government.

The first (and last) time that ebola (or what we thought might have been ebola) reached a metropolitan area was in Nairobi in 1980, which became the subject of the documentary book “Hot Zone.” But in 1980 the size of Africa’s city populations were much smaller. Transport around the area and even just within the cities themselves was nowhere near as easy as it is, today.

As the most infectious disease we know on earth, the Kampala outbreak may unfortunately be a story only just beginning.

All the neighboring countries have moved into full-scale alert. Kenya has put all its national hospitals on special alert and has dispatched health officers to all border crossings with protective Hazmat gear.

“All the necessary kit and medical supplies needed have been assembled and dispatched to health facilities in the bordering districts,” Rwanda’s New Times newspaper reported this morning.

The South Sudan government said it will “not take any chances“ with the disease and has mobilized its national health network.

This is the fourth outbreak of ebola in Uganda since 2000. This is the first time that an announced original outbreak was not contained. Whatever the reasons for not being able to contain it this time, the reason it reached Kampala so quickly from the far end of the country is because the government of Uganda lied about the outbreak.

Three days before 14 people hemorrhaged to death in Kampala’s Mulago hospital, the government denied there was an outbreak. Friday, the Associated Press quoted a Ugandan government official who dismissed the possibility of a widely reported ebola outbreak in Kibaale province “as merely a rumor.”

Two days before the outbreak appeared in Kampala, a local news source quoting government authorities reported that “The team deployed in Kibaale has indicated that the outbreak is now fully contained and no further spread is expected to take place.”

This misinformation is typical of Ugandan authorities.

London’s Daily Telegraph tells the story best. After an outbreak in a nonrural area of northwest Uganda 2-3 weeks ago, the government tried to keep a lid on the story. When they were unable to, they claimed the outbreak had been contained. The confusion contributed to panic in the hospitals in the region, which led to people fleeing the area.

The Ugandan government’s policies of lies and misinformation are now beginning to undermine the little health care infrastructure that exists in its rural areas. Several weeks ago Transparency International issued a damning indictment of the government’s failing health care policies in rural Uganda.

Ebola’s incubation period is 7-10 days. One of the ironic components of this most infective of all diseases is that it’s so deadly if contained it kills itself pretty quickly. So if health officials can actually contain the disease this story will be dead and over in 3 weeks.

Unless, of course, Ugandan officials try to hide it, again.

I’ve said for a while now that the increasingly oppressive regime in Uganda with its unstable politic and jittery society makes it an undesirable destination for tourists.

And now there’s lot more reasons not to visit.

Tourist Killed Dot Com

Tourist Killed Dot Com

Saturday the U.S. and French governments issued special advisories warning their citizens about an imminent terrorist attack in the beach resort of Mombasa. Sunday the bomb went off; three died.

A few days earlier in neighboring Tanzania, bandits held at gunpoint all 40 tourists in a downmarket camp just outside the Serengeti, robbed them then killed the assistant manager and one Dutch tourist.

Also recently an Australian tourist was killed in a robbery attempt in Phuket, an American was shot during a robbery in a Belgian airport, a Belgian tourist was found killed in Nepal, an Israeli tourist was shot dead at the Israeli/Egyptian border, and backpackers were assaulted and knifed while hiking a famous North Island track in New Zealand.

These and 93 more tourist attacks are documented on the new website, touristkilled.com, under the rubric “Most Recent 100 Events.”

The site is updated every 10 minutes.

I don’t mean to minimize the significance of the two events last week in East Africa, but I want to point out in today’s world travel to virtually any place carries risk. Would you have worried about trekking in New Zealand before?

All countries provide travel advice. The U.S. site is seriously flawed, heavily restricted by Congressional funding and politics. I believe the best site in the world is the British site, and really the only one you need to refer to.

Mostly restricted by Congressional bickering, and heavily influenced by politics (neither Egypt or Israel is as safe as the U.S. claims for tourist right now) the U.S. site is limited to either actual or expected terrorist incidents, or to warnings that our embassies or counsels in certain places can no longer assist Americans for one reason or another (such as having been booted out of the country).

The British site on the other hand is not restricted by Parliament or politics. And it broadens the definition of “tourist safety” to include such things as disease outbreaks or strikes.

In 2009 the British Foreign Office ranked 73 countries most visited by British tourists in order of their likely safety should you choose to visit them, scored mostly by the percentage of tourists who died as a tourist.

Albania, Belarus, Hungary, Singapore, Ireland, Latvia, Slovenia, Belgium, Sweden and Austria were the safest countries in the world in that order. (By the way, the U.S. was 13th out of 73 ranked.)

The deadliest ten countries were Botswana, Burma, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Namibia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Thailand, Qatar and Uganda, in that order, and all of these received their bad rating because of violent acts against tourists or terrorism. A remarkable 1 in every 833 British tourists to Botswana in 2009 was killed.

Kenya and Tanzania were not among them, although Kenya was close.

But I dare suggest that travelers dissuaded from visiting East Africa were unlikely to have considered that a vacation in Botswana, Namibia or Thailand would have been more dangerous.

One of the reasons I think that Botswana and Namibia rank so high in Africa, is that more and more travelers are visiting these countries in self-drive vehicles. This, in fact, is the source of the violent acts against those tourists in 2009.

By the way, the FCO ceased simple compilations in 2009 of the “Best Ten” and “Worst Ten” believing it was misleading. The most recent report for 2011 will take you a bit longer to analyze, and with more data (such as arrests, deaths in hospitals from natural causes, drug violations, etc.) it’s not as clear as before 2010.

And I have to admit that I agree with the FCO. Scoring safety based on such few parameters as robberies and murders would leave my city of Chicago as the worst place in the world to visit, and I highly recommend you get there this July for the annual Blues Festival.

But I felt given the current stories out of East Africa this week, deaths from violent acts in tourist spots, we needed this perspective.

Violence against tourism is on the increase. This is because the world economic situation is on the decrease. The two have always been correlated; it’s common sense. The second most important reason for tourist incidents is the political and social stability of the region.

Those two reasons you should consider when planning your vacation. But just as I hope you’ll visit Chicago this July, they should not be the only reasons. Understanding the threats, traveling with guides and friends who know where to go and where not to go, exponentially increases the safety of your voyage.

The incident last week in Tanzania was isolated. Traveling to Zanzibar in Tanzania requires some caution, now, as a result of widespread religious riots there last month, but elsewhere it’s safe, certainly on the tourist circuit and certainly if you know where you shouldn’t go. The camp attacked last week is not a well policed camp and is on private land, not secured by national park rangers.

I continue to believe that Kenya requires special vigilance. It’s important to note that the incident last week was at a sports bar that while frequented by some tourists was mostly attended by local Kenyans. This is identical to the blasts in Uganda nearly two years ago, which was when al-Shabaab (al-Qaeda in Somalia) began to lose grip there.

Shabaab threatened these attacks and has continued to carry them out quite regularly, now mostly in Kenya as Kenya takes the lead in routing the terrorists from Somalia.

This coordinated terrorism has been augmented by banditry and other common crime including kidnaping exacerbated by the world economic downturn.

Vigilance is required is you rent a car in Orlando. Much more vigilance is required if you take an East African safari.

It’s always been that way.

Field of Nightmares

Field of Nightmares

Young Uganda school boys amazingly won the all-African baseball championship and thereby an invitation to the U.S. for the Little League World Series in Williamsport this past summer. But they didn’t come. The American consulate in Kampala denied them visas.

So the day before yesterday, the Canadian little league winners who were scheduled to play the Ugandans in the first round last August, played the Ugandan kids in Kampala. And lost.

In times past, which means before 9-11, the Ugandan schoolboys would have gotten visas. But the sloppiness of their application process, and the fact that they didn’t have the money to hire someone locally who could have helped them, doomed them from the start. If I can’t say it was wrong of the U.S., I must just lament how the world has changed.

Personally aghast at what had happened, Phillies super star shortstop Jimmy Rollins bankrolled the Canadian Little League winners who flew into Uganda last week with Rollins. Rollins wasn’t the only American to help the Ugandan kids. The team had long been coached and funded by American, Richard Stanley, who owns several AA minor league teams in the U.S.

The heart-breaking story is a simple one. The goodwill and extraordinary charity, including not only from stellar individuals like Stanley and Rollins but also from several branches of the U.S. government that funds much of school sports in Uganda, all were trumped by …

… national security.

And who is to say it should have been otherwise? We know how children particularly in Uganda’s part of the world have been coopted, or more truthfully brainwashed, by hideous forces like the Lord’s Resistance Army. We know that as unlikely as any of them might have been active terrorists, that the enormous love that would have been showered on them as individuals from unsuspecting Americans could have been so easily manipulated into odious ways.

None of this might have posed an imminent threat, but the level of resources that would suddenly have had to have been dedicated to monitoring the affair and its endless aftermath was simply “beyond budget.”

Do I really believe all that malarkey? Of course not. They were children, easily contained, easily watched. All you had to do was photograph and fingerprint. It’s an absurd and heart-wrenching story.

What exactly was the State Department worried about?

It seems that the principal concern was that birth dates and names didn’t register with the personal interviews of the applicants by the U.S. consulate in Kampala.

African kids change their names all the time, and few know when they were born. That discrepancy is an honest one that would never occur if a double-agent or dedicated terrorist tried to get into the U.S.

Even Stanley said he accepted the State Department’s decision. And a filmmaker instrumental in publicizing the Ugandan kids’ great baseball story, Jay Shapiro, agreed, too, with the Americans’ decision. They’ve both caved.

A kid with a mitt won’t take down the Twin Towers.

Is this a reflection on the Obama administration, on the budget, on the paranoia of America?

All the above.

Broken like Most Everything at VicFalls

Broken like Most Everything at VicFalls

A young Australian tourist who miraculously survived her bungi chord snapping over Victoria Falls New Year’s Eve is back in a hospital in South Africa.

Her traveling companion took a video of the failed jump and it’s going viral on YouTube.

Her survival is miraculous. Remember, your feet are bound when taking the plunge, and she recounted at one point that this binding got caught on something at the bottom of the raging river, so that she had to swim under water to untangle herself.

The video ends showing many of her cuts and bruises. She was a day in a local hospital and then resumed her travels but has since been reported in a South African hospital with a possible collapsed lung.

I’m restraining myself from making too many assumptions about this, because it easily fits into a growing dysfunctionality in Zimbabwe and with all tourist interests that are associated with Zimbabwe. The company providing these services actually functions also as a wholly Zambian company, but its roots are distinctly Zimbabwean.

Unlike here, or where bungi jumping began “Down Under” there is no government regulation or oversight of significance at Victoria Falls. No certification of the operators, no examination of the equipment, no good review of rescue plans.

Discard the yellow journalistic claims that she plunged into a crocodile infested river, by the way. There are lots of crocs in the Zambezi. My 42k canoeing trip in 3 days passes upwards of a thousand, but not where she fell. Crocs don’t like raging rivers, and she fell into the river just after it tumbles off the falls.

We are further hampered by no good bungi jumping accident statistics. They’re likely pretty good. The operator’s contention that an accident is more likely “driving to the bridge” where the activity occurs than on the activity itself may be true.

But if my interest were principally bungi jumping, I wouldn’t do it at Victoria Falls, just as I wouldn’t rent a car there or book my canoe trip right now. And if my principal interest was seeing VicFalls and this came as a secondary interest, I’d suppress it. It’s a lot safer to look at than to look back.

Zambia’s not so bad at the moment, but Zimbabwe is a mess. VicFalls is shared by them both, and anything to do with the river in particular is a joint administration, and given the terror of today’s Zimbabwe, essentially no administration, no safety gauges and no safety assurances.

Right now? OK to look at. Terrifying to look back.

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Twevolution, the Arab Spring [by Twitter] is universally considered the most important story of the year, much less just in Africa. But I believe the Kenyan invasion of Somalia will have as lasting an effect on Africa, so I’ve considered them both Number One.

1A: KENYA INVADES SOMALIA
On October 18 Kenya invaded Somalia, where 4-5,000 of its troops remain today. Provoked by several kidnapings and other fighting in and around the rapidly growing refugee camp of Dadaab, the impression given at the time was that Kenyans had “just had enough” of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorism group in The Horn which at the time controlled approximately the southern third of Somalia. Later on, however, it became apparent that the invasion had been in the works for some time.

At the beginning of the invasion the Kenyan command announced its objective was the port city of Kismayo. To date that hasn’t happened. Aided by American drones and intelligence, and by French intelligence and naval warships, an assessment was made early on that the battle for Kismayo would be much harder than the Kenyans first assumed, and the strategy was reduced to laying siege.

That continues and remarkably, might be working. Call it what you will, but the Kenyan restraint managed to gain the support of a number of other African nations, and Kenya is now theoretically but a part of the larger African Union peacekeeping force which has been in Somali for 8 years. Moreover, the capital of Mogadishu has been pretty much secured, a task the previous peace keepers had been unable to do for 8 years.

The invasion costs Kenya dearly. The Kenyan shilling has lost about a third of its value, there are food shortages nationwide, about a half dozen terrorist attacks in retribution have occurred killing and wounding scores of people (2 in Nairobi city) and tourism – its principal source of foreign reserves – lingers around a third of what it would otherwise be had there be no invasion.

At first I considered this was just another failed “war against terrorism” albeit in this case the avowed terrorists controlled the country right next door. Moreover, I saw it as basically a proxy war by France and the U.S., which it may indeed be. But the Kenyan military restraint and the near unanimous support for the war at home, as well as the accumulation of individually marginal battle successes and outside support now coming to Kenya in assistance, all makes me wonder if once again Africans have shown us how to do it right.

That’s what makes this such an important story. The possibility that conventional military reaction to guerilla terrorism has learned a way to succeed, essentially displacing the great powers – the U.S. primarily – as the world’s best military strategists. There is as much hope in this statement as evidence, but both exist, and that alone raises this story to the top.

You may also wish to review Top al-Shabaab Leader Killed and Somali Professionals Flee as Refugees.

1B: TWEVOLUTION CHANGES EGYPT
The Egyptian uprising, unlike its Tunisian predecessor, ensured that no African government was immune to revolution, perhaps no government in the world. I called it Twevolution because especially in Egypt the moment-by-moment activities of the mass was definitely managed by Twitter.

And the particular connection to Kenya was fabulous, because the software that powered the Twitter, Facebook and other similar revolution managing tools came originally from Kenya.

Similar of course to Tunisia was the platform for any “software instructions” – the power of the people! And this in the face of the most unimaginable odds if you’re rating the brute physical force of the regime in power.

Egypt fell rather quickly and the aftermath was remarkably peaceful. Compared to the original demonstrations, later civil disobedience whether it was against the Coptics or the military, was actually quite small. So I found it particularly fascinating how world travelers reacted. Whereas tourist murders, kidnapings and muggings were common for the many years that Egypt experienced millions of visitors annually, tourists balked at coming now that such political acts against tourists no longer occurred, because the instigators were now a part of the political process! This despite incredible deals.

We wait with baited breath for the outcome in Syria, but less visible countries like Botswana and Malawi also experienced their own Twevolution. And I listed 11 dictators that I expected would ultimately fall because of the Egyptian revolution.

Like any major revolution, the path has been bumpy, the future not easily predicted. But I’m certain, for example, that the hard and often brutal tactics of the military who currently assumes the reins of state will ultimately be vindicated. And certainly this tumultuous African revolution if not the outright cause was an important factor in our own protests, like Occupy Wall Street.

3: NEW COUNTRY OF SOUTH SUDAN
The free election and emergence of South Sudan as Africa’s 54th country would have been the year’s top story if all that revolution hadn’t started further north! In the making for more than ten years, a remarkably successful diplomatic coup for the United States, this new western ally rich with natural resources was gingerly excised from of the west’s most notorious foes, The Sudan.

Even as Sudan’s president was being indicted for war crimes in Darfur, he ostensibly participated in the creation of this new entity. But because of the drama up north, the final act of the ultimate referendum in the South which set up the new republic produced no more news noise than a snap of the fingers.

Regrettably, with so much of the world’s attention focused elsewhere, the new country was hassled violently by its former parent to the north. We can only hope that this new country will forge a more humane path than its parent, and my greatest concern for Africa right now is that global attention to reigning in the brutal regime of the north will be directed elsewhere.

4: UGANDA FALTERS
Twevolution essentially effected every country in Africa in some way. Uganda’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni, looked in the early part of the last decade like he was in for life. Much was made about his attachment to American politicians on the right, and this right after he was Bill Clinton’s Africa doll child.

But even before Twevolution – or perhaps because of the same dynamics that first erupted in Tunisia and Egypt – Museveni’s opponents grew bold and his vicious suppression of their attempts to legitimately oust him from power ended with the most flawed election seen in East Africa since Independence.

But unlike in neighboring Kenya where a similar 2007 election caused nationwide turmoil and an ultimate power sharing agreement, Museveni simply jailed anyone who opposed him. At first this seemed to work but several months later the opposition resurfaced and it became apparent that the country was at a crossroads. Submit to the strongman or fight him.

Meanwhile, tourism sunk into near oblivion. And by mid-May I was predicting that Museveni was the new Mugabe and had successfully oppressed his country to his regime. But as it turned out it was a hiatus not a surrender and a month later demonstrations began, twice as strong as before. And it was sad, because they went on and on and on, and hundreds if not thousands of people were injured and jailed.

Finally towards the end of August a major demonstration seemed to alter the balance. And if it did so it was because Museveni simply wouldn’t believe what was happening.

I wish I could tell you the story continued to a happy ending, but it hasn’t, at least not yet. There is an uneasy calm in Ugandan society, one buoyed to some extent by a new voice in legislators that dares to criticize Museveni, that has begun a number of inquiries and with media that has even dared to suggest Museveni will be impeached. The U.S. deployment of 100 green berets in the country enroute the Central African Republic in October essentially seems to have actually raised Museveni’s popularity. So Uganda falters, and how it falls – either way – will dramatically alter the East African landscape for decades.

5: GLOBAL WARMING
This is a global phenomena, of course, but it is the developing world like so much of Africa which suffers the most and is least capable of dealing with it. The year began with incessant reporting by western media of droughts, then floods, in a confused misunderstanding of what global warming means.

It means both, just as in temperate climates it means colder and hotter. With statistics that questions the very name “Developed World,” America is reported to still have a third of its citizens disputing that global warming is even happening, and an even greater percentage who accept it is happening but believe man is not responsible either for it occurring or trying to change it. Even as clear and obvious events happen all around them.

Global warming is pretty simple to understand, so doubters’ only recourse is to make it much more confusing than it really is. And the most important reason that we must get everyone to understand and accept global warming, is we then must accept global responsibilities for doing something about it. I was incensed, for example, about how so much of the media described the droughts in Africa as fate when in fact they are a direct result of the developed world’s high carbon emissions.

And the news continued in a depressing way with the very bad (proponents call it “compromised”) outcome of the Durban climate talks. My take was that even the countries most effected, the developed world, were basically bought off from making a bigger stink.

Environmentalists will argue, understandably, that this is really the biggest story and will remain so until we all fry. The problem is that our lives are measured in the nano seconds of video games, and until we can embrace a long view of humanity and that our most fundamental role is to keep the world alive for those who come after us, it won’t even make the top ten for too much longer.

6: COLTAN WARS IMPEDED
This is a remarkable story that so little attention has been given. An obscure part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act essentially halved if not ultimately will end the wars in the eastern Congo which have been going on for decades.

These wars are very much like the fractional wars in Somalia before al-Shabaab began to consolidate its power, there. Numerous militias, certain ones predominant, but a series of fiefdoms up and down the eastern Congo. You can’t survive in this deepest jungle of interior Africa without money, and that money came from the sale of this area’s rich rare earth metals.

Tantalum, coltran more commonly said, is needed by virtually every cell phone, computer and communication device used today. And there are mines in the U.S. and Australia and elsewhere, but the deal came from the warlords in the eastern Congo. And Playbox masters, Sony, and computer wizards, Intel, bought illegally from these warlords because the price was right.

And that price funded guns, rape, pillaging and the destruction of the jungle. The Consumer Protection Agency, set up by the Dodd-Frank Act, now forbids these giants of technology from doing business in the U.S. unless they can prove they aren’t buying Coltran from the warlords. Done. War if not right now, soon over.

7: ELEPHANTS AND CITES
The semi-decade meeting of CITES occurred this March in Doha, Qatar, and the big fight of interest to me was over elephants. The two basic opposing positions on whether to downlist elephants from an endangered species hasn’t changed: those opposed to taking elephants off the list so that their body parts (ivory) could be traded believed that poaching was at bay, and that at least it was at bay in their country. South Africa has led this flank for years and has a compelling argument, since poaching of elephants is controlled in the south and the stockpiling of ivory, incapable of being sold, lessens the funds that might otherwise be available for wider conservation.

The east and most western countries like the U.S. and U.K. argue that while this may be true in the south, it isn’t at all true elsewhere on the continent, and that once a market is legal no matter from where, poaching will increase geometrically especially in the east where it is more difficult to control. I concur with this argument, although it is weakened by the fact that elephants are overpopulated in the east, now, and that there are no good strategic plans to do something about the increasing human/elephant conflicts, there.

But while the arguments didn’t change, the proponents themselves did. In a dramatic retreat from its East African colleagues, Tanzania sided with the south, and that put enormous strain on the negotiations. When evidence emerged that Tanzania was about the worst country in all of Africa to manage its poaching and that officials there were likely involved, the tide returned to normal and the convention voted to continue keeping elephants listed as an endangered species.

8: RHINO POACHING REACHES EXTREME LEVELS
For the first time in history, an animal product (ground rhino horn) became more expensive on illicit markets than gold.

Rhino, unlike elephant, is not doing well in the wild. It’s doing wonderfully in captivity and right next to the wild in many private reserves, but in the wild it’s too easy a take. This year’s elevation of the value of rhino horn resulted in unexpectedly high poaching, and some of it very high profile.

9: SERENGETI HIGHWAY STOPPED
This story isn’t all good, but mostly, because the Serengeti Highway project was shelved and that’s the important part. And to be sure, the success of stopping this untenable project was aided by a group called Serengeti Watch.

But after some extremely good and aggressive work, Serengeti Watch started to behave like Congress, more interested in keeping itself in place than doing the work it was intended to do. The first indication of this came when a Tanzanian government report in February, which on careful reading suggested the government was having second thoughts about the project, was identified but for some reason not carefully analyzed by Watch.

So while the highway is at least for the time being dead, Serengeti Watch which based on its original genesis should be as well, isn’t.

10: KENYAN TRANSFORMATION AND WORLD COURT
The ongoing and now seemingly endless transformation of Kenyan society and politics provoked by the widespread election violence of 2007, and which has led to a marvelous new constitution, is an ongoing top ten story for this year for sure. But more specifically, the acceptance of this new Kenyan society of the validity of the World Court has elevated the power of that controversial institution well beyond anyone’s expectations here in the west.

Following last year’s publication by the court of the principal accused of the crimes against humanity that fired the 2007 violence, it was widely expected that Kenya would simply ignore it. Not so. Politicians and current government officials of the highest profile, including the son of the founder of Kenya, dutifully traveled to The Hague to voluntarily participate in the global judicial process that ultimately has the power to incarcerate them.

The outcome, of course, remains to be seen and no telling what they’ll do if actually convicted. It’s very hard to imagine them all getting on an airplane in Nairobi to walk into a cell in Rotterdam.

But in a real switcheroo this travel to The Hague has even been spun by those accused as something positive and in fact might have boosted their political standing at home. And however it effects the specific accused, or Kenya society’s orientation to them, the main story is how it has validated a global institution’s political authority.

War : Week 3

War : Week 3

It’s clear that a major battle is brewing, but it isn’t at all clear who is going to win. America is worried. Kenyans are growing increasingly anxious. More deaths, including tourists.

The Thursday afternoon killing of a safari vehicle driver in the Shaba Reserve, and the wounding of a Swiss tourist inside, has no clear motive. There is no clear evidence that it is linked to any retribution from those Kenya is fighting in neighboring Somalia.

The safari vehicle was on a routine game drive and was returning to the lodge when several gunmen opened fire. The driver accelerated the vehicle but there was a second batch of gunmen waiting and they pummeled the vehicle with additional gunfire.

The driver was killed, the vehicle rolled over, one tourist was hit by a bullet and one was uninjured. Kenyan Wildlife Service agents at Archer’s Post were first on the scene.

Nevertheless this is exactly the area that I warned was unsafe only a a month ago. Whether these were bandits or ideologue militias doesn’t really matter. Kenya’s rule of law is falling apart as all its resources are funneled to the conflict in Somalia.

Go back and read the hostile comments I suppose understandably left by Kenyans who read that article. But wouldn’t it have now been much better if all had taken heed, and the tourist was now not dead?

Definite links have been established, however, with additional kidnappings around the border area of foreign aid workers, and of a grenade attack on a church in Garissa, a major town not far from the Somali border.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan offensive seems stalled. This is my view, not the view expressed by the Kenyan military, which claims to be on track in its liberation of Kismayo.

The army, though, has not yet even taken Afmadow, a northern town distraction that Kenyans learned was being fortified by al-Shabaab militias, and which they announced they would first have to pacify before continuing the progress towards Kismayo.

In the course of last week, French fired from naval vessels into Kismayo and America launched drone attacks from a base in Ethiopia. Kenya claimed a number of small skirmish victories, but its army does not seem to be moving.

This could be because of new reports of how heavily fortified Kismayo has become. During an African leaders conference last week, Prime Minister Raila Odinga literally pleaded with the west for more assistance.

Meanwhile Kenyan society is growing increasingly anxious with the war.

“The worst case scenario,” writes blogger Abdi Sheikh, is that Kenya gets deeply embroiled in the “conflict for years and disenfranchise both Kenyan Somalis and Somali refugees living in Kenya.”

“Any major mistake will bring the conflict into Kenya,” he goes on, and “may also stir xenophobia against Somalis living in Kenya.”

That may already have happened. Additional police are seen regularly in the densely populated Somali suburb of Eastleigh in Nairobi. New government policies demanding Kenyan Somalis disarm themselves are likely only going to inflame the situation.

Several newspapers reprinted old publications of WikiLeaks documents of American embassy dispatches detailing al-Shabaab recruiting within Kenya.

One thing everyone seems to agree on, which I don’t think is quite as evident as presumed is that “Kenya has taken an action that is irreversible” (Abdi Sheikh). “It has sparked a war with a shadowy group that has no clear frontline. This means those responsible for military action must think carefully not to create new enemies or inflame the conflict further.”

And yet if it isn’t reversible, it may be doomed. Sheikh reminds us, “There has been no foreign military invasion that has ever been successful in Somalia.”

Saving A Penny with Davey Jones

Saving A Penny with Davey Jones

For some clients, today, traveling for leisure is being squeezed by the economy. And as a result, they’re making some very dangerous decisions. Tight economic times are absolutely not the time to dismiss expert advice.

I can think of no better example than the horrible tragedy last Friday in Tanzania. One of the ferries that plies between Zanzibar and Dar capsized. At least 200 people are dead or missing.

The usual way for a tourist to get between mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar is to fly. From Dar, the quick 15-minute flight costs around $60. Recently, I had a client booked this way who discovered on her own that one of the 5 daily ferries between Dar and Zanzibar would cost her only $8.

Now my first task was to determine if this was really a budget issue or something else. Since her overall safari was well over $5000 it seemed silly she would be interested in saving $50 particularly when it wasn’t very comfortable and took 6-8 times as long.

But it seems so romantic, she said.

A ferry that is licensed to carry 400 people and that often carries 600 is not particularly romantic.

I have nothing else going that day, she retorted.

At this point, one begins to wonder if this is becoming one of those epic battles between the expert (me) and the client (her) over my alleged disrespect for her budgetary and travel research capabilities.

I’d like to get to know the local people, she added.

At which point I laid down the gauntlet and said the ferry schedule was totally unreliable, they only depart when they fill up, they have a terrible safety record and my straight-out advice is don’t do it.

She did.

Fortunately, she wasn’t on the ferry last Friday. Her ferry went off more or less on schedule, it was a fine sailing day, and I’m sure she’s telling everyone she meets that it was one of the best parts of her safari.

And that she really had to fight with her travel expert to do it.

This isn’t just an “I-told-you-so” anecdote. As a traveler, you can do it on your own, or you can do it with an expert. A lot of people can do it on their own quite well, and I’m the first to champion the feelings of personal accomplishment and excitement that comes with plotting your own distant explorations.

But don’t mix and match.

Personally arranged travel to exotic places carries significant risk that is a part of the whole adventure experience. I know that better than anyone. The challenge of personally overcoming intrinsic difficulties are the same as felt by the climber of McKinley or the swimmer of the English Channel.

But here’s the point. Had she arranged her own safari on her own completely, she would have learned that the ferries are unreliable and dangerous. She might then – as I have, especially in my youth – played the odds and gone, anyway. And in her case, she would be vindicated.

But she had no clue. Because she relinquished the responsibility initially to me to get her to Zanzibar from the mainland, I (a) did not believe that she wanted a daring experience and (b) knew that the 1% savings of her trip was not worth the added risk.

She was not in a position to make such a determination.

So what was her beef? Well, in all honesty, I think the squeeze of the economy is getting to people. Like so many others, this was a trip of a lifetime for her. A retired teacher, she had saved and saved, and no doubt those savings were less than she expected.

And probably she felt the villains who reduced her 401K weren’t so dissimilar to the villain (me) who was trying to extort her.

Beware, dear travelers, of projecting your angers and stress onto your advisers. Most of us aren’t going to ask you to pay for something you don’t have to do, and we certainly aren’t going to jeopardize the possibility of giving you a “trip of a lifetime” so you can save a penny with Davey Jones.

How Not To Travel

How Not To Travel

As we drove from the airport to the city last night, my newly arrived clients asked about the kidnaped British couple. The news isn’t good for Kenyan tourism, of course, but it isn’t surprising, either.

The couple, Judith and David Tebutt, were vacationing at a lovely beach resort on the mainland opposite Lamu Island off Kenya’s far northern coast. There are several truly beautiful paradise getaways in the area, but I’ve felt for a long time it wasn’t a good place to go.

About two years ago another British couple had been kidnaped while sailing their yacht in the Indian Ocean between the Seychelles and Somalia. Both situations were just too vulnerable to pirate attacks.

Initial news reports suggested the Tebutts’ kidnappers were al-Shabaab terrorists. I knew they weren’t, and later reports confirmed they are likely pirates.

The Tebutts and Paul and Rachel Chandler, the sailing couple, were in places they should not have been. So why were they there?

Both couples were doing little more than believing the advertisements that lured them to these tropical paradises without doing due diligence on the grandiose claims.

The Tebutts obviously didn’t read the New York Times and the many world newspapers that republished that story the day before they arrived of increased trouble in the area.

And if you think that’s unfair that a couple on holiday should be reading about where they’re planning to go the next day, certainly they had looked at maps before leaving England, hadn’t they? The Kiwayuu Resort where they were is less than 20 miles from the trouble in Somalia. Unlike Lamu, a heavily populated tropical island with lots of police, their beach was remote and unguarded.

And as for the Chandlers, the weak claim by Rachel that the Seychelles’ waters were “thought to be safe” is balderdash. Not long before their kidnaping a Greek freighter 1000 times bigger than their yacht was hijacked by pirates.

Don’t think me heartless. I’ve been in similar situations myself and involved in several more. We all would prefer a world where everything you read or hear is true. But my own past mistakes are not justification for others’, now.

I’ve learned, and you as travelers should all learn, that neither pretty picture advertisements or simple recommendations from friends who have been somewhere once stand as solid endorsements that it’s a good place to go. You’ve got to check it out further.

As a postscript, note that the resort from where the Tebutts were kidnaped has been closed “indefinitely.” Seeing as how the Tebutts were the only ones at the resort, it seems a rather de facto announcement. The other few resorts in the same area should follow suit.

Overland Samburu is OUTlawed

Overland Samburu is OUTlawed

Just as Russia’s leap into modernity created a powerful mafia, so it now appears that Kenya’s is doing the same. And for travelers this unfortunately means you can no longer travel overland north of Mt. Kenya.

I’ve found myself becoming peculiarly cautious in my golden years, so I reflect when I was a twenty-something year old gallivanting through Idi Amin’s very dangerous Uganda, or even daring to cross the Omo in the presence of desperate, armed thugs. So jungle on, you young’uns, but keep your eyes wide open.

And if you’re one of my clients, I’m afraid we’re staying clear. Of where? Of some of the finest wilderness left in Africa: Samburu and Laikipia, to be precise.

Now there’s still a very safe way to visit these places: fly in. If you fly into the reserve’s airstrip, I’m absolutely confident that you’ll be as safe as the Queen of England shopping at Harrods. But that spectacularly gorgeous drive off Mt. Kenya onto the Great Northern Frontier, or those amazing landscapes between Samburu and Laikipia seen only from the ground … it’s over. At least for the foreseeable future.

This past weekend saw one of the most spectacular, clearly well planned cattle raids ever seen in the history of Kenya. Seven people were killed and scores wounded and a thousand cattle whisked away.

It happened about 50 miles northeast of the Samburu National Park Archer’s Post gate, and about 35 miles north of the nearest lodge in Shaba National Park.

Now admittedly this particular raid is pretty far from tourist areas, but its size got me, and it’s one of a series of raids that’s been increasing in the area. Last year, for instance, there was a gun battle in broad daylight right on the bridge over the Ewaso Nyiro River at Archer’s Post.

This is the only way tourists can enter the area overland.

The weekend raid is about 20 miles from where Joy Adamson was killed by bandits more than three decades ago.

And that’s what gives me perspective. The “Northern Frontier” has always been a lawless land. It’s just too hard to patrol. I remember only 4 years ago having to charter an aircraft for a group of only 11 of us who wanted to drive all of 20 miles from Samburu to a lovely retreat in the Mathews Mountains, because bandits had been sighted on the road we were scheduled to drive.

But bandits stopping cars and taking an occasional goat are way different from what is being reported in today’s modernizing Kenya.

First of all, in order to steal 1000 head of cattle in a single raid, you’ve got to have someone who has a 1000 head of cattle to steal from. That never existed in the days of subsistence herding, where a man with 25 head was a royal chief.

Second, it’s rather hard to conceal 1000 cows. These guys had multiple trucks, using the new Chinese paved road built through the desert to whisk their booty into the markets down south.

According to the police commissioner of the area, law enforcement was outgunned. Shotguns against AK47s.

Recognizing this danger was coming, the Kenyan Government has been aggressively trying to disarm everyone in the area. But according to Member of Parliament from the area in which this giant raid occurred, Abdul Bahari (Isiolo South), “people in Samburu have not been disarmed and even if they have, we have not seen the effect as they seem to have guns during the raids.”

And playing to his constituency as I suppose he has to, a neighboring MP, Adan Keynan (Wajir West) continued during the press conference with a warning to the government.

“We’re giving them seven days, or else we’ll tell our people to protect themselves. We cannot be perpetually talking to a government that does not see, does not hear and does not sense the value of life,” said Mr Keynan.

The drought has something to do with this, of course. It makes the weak, weaker, and it makes the markets more ready to take on stolen goods.

And finally what concerns me most is that the old days’ criminals were very respectful of us tourists. Sometimes, it took a bribe, but nary a hair was mussed. I felt we were respected as distant foreigners interested in a distant land, and part of a movement that in the end everyone living in the area really gained from.

A thousand cattle is a hefty haul. You’d have to have a pretty good tourist season to reach that booty. So I just don’t want to be on that new Chinese road when these guys are in the midst of a heist.

Safety At Ground Level

Safety At Ground Level

The airline you’re going to fly next week isn’t considered among the safest? Should you cancel? And what was that report out this week?

There is enormous confusion over the report widely circulated in the media this week routinely labeled “The World’s Ten Safest Airlines.” The report is an annual one from the Geneva-based Transport Rating Agency (ATRA).

No, I’m not right away listing the ten “safest airlines” because I think for us average travelers it’s a bunch of malarkey. It might have some usefulness for large groups of travelers negotiating a corporate rate structure, or for potential mergers and acquisitions, but for Joes like you and me, forget it.

Here’s why. The analysis was done on only what ATRA calls the “100 most important airlines” without explaining what it meant by “important.”

According to Wikipedia, there are 5,663 airlines in the world. That means the analysis didn’t even consider 5,553. JetBlue, for example, wasn’t considered important enough.

The report is a for-sale report from a profit making consulting firm. It’s sort of like Americans for Progress rating the best Congressmen.

I don’t think ATRA is necessarily political, but it is interested only in the Big Guys. This is because their customers aren’t interested in Ryan Air or Kenya Airways. Or, for that matter, Qatar Airlines, one of the finest carriers in the world.

Click here for what I use to determine if an airline is good or not, the StarRanking. Now admittedly, the star ranking – or quality rank – theoretically doesn’t measure safety. But I think the correlation is obvious. Any business that invests enough to make it noticeably better than its competitors is likely to invest enough to preserve itself well.

A major difference between ATRA and StarRanking is that StarRanking applies no filter of “important airline” to its analysis. Can we even guess what ATRA’s definition of importance is?

In several examples snipped out of its expensive report it’s clear that LARGE means IMPORTANT. If you aren’t among the 100 biggest airlines in the world, you won’t even be considered.

It seems to me that if you want an indication of safety, you find out which airline has had the most crash fatalities. The list of the top 100 fatal airline crashes shows American Airlines right up there with 4 crashes and 55 fatalities, Delta and USAir each had a single crash with more than 130 fatalities, and Air France had two crashes with 358 fatalities.

All four of those airlines are in ATRA’s list of the top ten safest airlines.

OK, I’m playing with statistic a bit. The many airlines with no fatalities whatever are mostly smaller ones and just by that fact have a lower probability of disaster. But there are a few, like Air Jamaica (which has been in business since 1966), Air Seychelles (1985) and Virgin Atlantic (1984) which by both the standards of safety and service would probably win an individual travelers’ loyalty over any of the Big Guys.

The overall winner, by the way, is Pluna Airlines. This little Uruguay carrier has been flying since 1936. No fatalities.

So unless you’re a Fortune 500 or traveler who’s rarely at home, forget about this report. There are better ways to figure this one out.

Uganda is Dying

Uganda is Dying


Nairobi's GADO says it best: Museveni is like Idi Amin.

Yesterday the Ugandan Wildlife Authority drastically reduced the fee for visiting mountain gorillas. Yesterday 6th term president Yoweri Museveni lambasted the police for being too soft on demonstrators. Get the connection?

I don’t think people realize how bad it’s getting in Uganda. This is in large part because of the clever dictator’s successfully distracting the world’s media by the admittedly draconian “Kill the Gays Bill”. But this has drawn all the attention away from the much greater and more serious human rights violations affected on all Ugandans, increasingly brutal every day.

For travelers heading there now, don’t be too alarmed. Proceed with caution. Keep your eyes on the “Kill the Gay’s Bill” that like flotsam on a dying reservoir won’t go away. See if Museveni actually imprisons all of his opponents, and keep your attention on that rebel rouser, Kizza Besigye.

And especially, keep reading one of the best blogs in Uganda, Mark Jordahl’s Wild Thoughts from Uganda. And hope that Mark isn’t imprisoned like a lot of other journalists.

Today, Jordahl notes:
“Why does a sitting president, who is no longer a member of the active military, wear fatigues to a swearing in ceremony for Members of Parliament? … Does he want to remind people that he can come down on them, at any time, with the full force of the military?”

For tour companies like EWT, and if as an individual you’re now beginning to plan a safari for the future, scratch Uganda off the list.

The Hide is a great camp in what was one of the best wildlife parks on earth, Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. EWT still carries a credit from that camp from our last safari into Zimbabwe in 1999. I’m afraid 2011 has seen our last safari in Uganda.

I can’t remember exactly the straw that broke Zimbabwe’s back for EWT, but I do recall a series of events including growing police brutality that displaced Africa’s beautiful sunsets with red flags: First there was the harassment of journalists. And then the emasculation of other branches of government, starting with Zimbabwe’s until then flamboyant parliament and ultimately killing the judiciary.

And that’s exactly what’s happening, today, in Uganda. It’s a methodically slow and miserable decline.

And the decade which followed EWT’s decision to stop safaris in Zimbabwe didn’t result in any real danger or injury to tourists who still went. But it became increasingly uncomfortable.

At this stage – NOW in Uganda – expect bloody demonstrations, road blocks, crazed police.

And then as the population is subdued the country’s suffering infuses society like lupus: the growing bellies of malnutrition to the long lines of cars at gas stations. For tourists it’s the possibility that gas for your transfer to the airport won’t be available and brunch will be canceled.

Ultimately tourist attractions do suffer. The boreholes so essential to Hwange and other national parks were neglected. Soldiers shot the animals.

We know well how tourists are immune to internal troubles, whether that be Tibet, Nepal or Madagascar. No sides in an internal conflict want to discourage tourists. In fact, tourists become an indication that “everything’s OK.”

And I’ve always believed that travelers should go wherever they want to, wherever their own clever devices can get them. Whether that be Cuba for an American in the 1990s or South Africa under apartheid.

But go with your eyes wide open. Travelers in the future won’t be going to Uganda to see mountain gorillas. They’ll be going to explore a once great society cut to its knees by a maniac dictator.

As Mark warns today to all of us who still love that place: “Uganda needs to be watched closely.”

The Sun Rises on Egypt

The Sun Rises on Egypt


If you’re interested in a good deal in Egypt, time is running out. Good times in Egypt are on the march. But good deals are coming to an end.

Following a press release from Europe’s largest tour company, KUONI, on Friday it rescinded several of its deals in Egypt over the weekend.

KUONI stopped offering multiple night incentives and cash discounts on many of its upmarket properties and cruises in Egypt. Many of these are still available for mid- and down-market products, but top ranked hotels and cruise ships are now back to rack rates.

This and many other indications suggest that unless there’s some serious reversal in the political situation in Egypt, good deals there may be ending.

Tourism is a great barometer – a leading indicator – of a society’s perceived tranquility. I say “perceived” because as tourism skyrocketed in China, it would be hard to argue that areas of Tibet were “tranquil” or that progressive movements were being liberated.

And it’s perception, rather than reality, which drives tourism.

Take the current civil violence between Muslims and Christians in Egypt which broke out, again, this weekend. And last weekend was worse: 12 Copts were killed following a peculiar rumor that they were trying to force a Muslim woman to convert. (There were an estimated 65,000 tourists in Egypt last week.)

But on Christmas Eve before the revolution, 22 Copts were killed in the same type of religious violence. This was the highest of high tourist seasons in Egypt. An estimated one million tourists were in Egypt at the time, and that news story didn’t effect travel there one iota.

Coptic/Muslim violence has been ongoing in Egypt literally for millennia, but the story has rarely percolated into the world press. But Egypt is in the news, now – as it should be. Coptic oppression, like the oppression of women and Muslim activists, will make world headlines, now. And perhaps this new spotlight on problems the country has suffered for a long time will hasten resolution.

I think tourists know this. And the growing numbers of tourism to Egypt suggest it.

Egypt is just a bit smaller than South Africa. Last year’s hosting of the World Cup in South Africa help to boost its annual tourist figures to nearly 9 million. Before the revolution, Egypt welcomed around 12 million visitors annually.

This year South Africa will likely reach 9 million again, and Egypt will fall back to around 6-7 million.

That’s a lot of tourists! A lot LOT more than was expected only a few months, ago. And it’s likely a harbinger of good times to come.

On April 28 the U.S. State Department dropped its travel warning to Egypt, replacing it with a milder travel alert.

The U.S. move followed by about a month similar moves by most European countries.

Is tourism to Egypt as safe, now, as it was last year before the revolution? I think so, particularly if we speak of the main tourist areas like the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. But it’s extremely important to understand the caveat that I’m speaking of reality, not of perception. No, Egypt is not yet perceived as safe a destination by tourists as before the reveolution, even though it may, in fact, be.

But given the numbers trend, it may not be too long before that par, too, is reached.

Is it Safe to Travel Now?

Is it Safe to Travel Now?

Is it safe to travel to Africa, now? Here’s the answer, and it’s not what you really wanted to ask.

I’m on my way to Africa, and just before I left I got besieged by emails and phone calls asking, “Is it safe for us to go to Africa, now?”

It’s an inadequate question, because it’s not what any of those asking really meant. Because the answer to that is a straight-forward “YES”. What people really mean is, “With all the planning and money I’ve spent on this, and with the great importance of getting home as planned but equally of enjoying this as a respite from my daily life, is the trip going to be disrupted?”

Or, more simply, “Is it wise to travel to Africa, now?”

That’s the real question, a very important one, and one that I’ll try to answer below with hints as to how you can insure you’re trip is wise, now and in the future. But first, bear with me as we get rid of the superfluous question, “Is it safe?”

Eight Americans were killed and 21 injured in Egypt in the most recent incident there to tourists: a bus crash near Aswan in December.

There were likely more than a half million tourists in Egypt during the recent disturbances, during the highest tourist period of the year. There was not one visiting tourist reported injured much less killed.

Those are the facts. It’s important not just to remember them, not just to discard them as obvious, but to embrace them so that you can really get to the important question you’re asking.

Sp bear with me a little bit more:

Every year from 1992 through 2007 tourists were attacked and killed in Egypt, a total of 252 tourists murdered plus more than 500 others seriously injured for life. The Egyptian government cracked down so heavily after 71 were killed in 1997 (including 61 gunned down while sightseeing in Luxor), deploying police at virtually every tourist crossing, that there were no tourist killings or injuries for nearly six years from 1998 through 2003.

But in 2004, 34 tourists were murdered and more than 120 injured; in 2005, 90 tourists were killed and more than 200 injured, and in 2006; 23 tourists were murdered and more than 40 seriously injured.

A total of 252 tourists were killed by militants in Egypt between 1992 and 2007, plus more than 500 seriously injured.

(I’ve found slightly different figures from different sources. The above was compiled by a tourism company from Reuters reports.)

The total deaths represent 30 separate incidents. Every one got worldwide attention. Every one was front page news and headlined nightly news casts in America. In more than half of these incidents, Americans were among those dead.

And during this long period, tourism exploded. (Pun, seriously intended.)

In the 18 years from 1993 to 2010 between 70 and 90 million tourists visited Egypt. The last official numbers were for the first half of 2010, which was 6.9 million. There was a decline during the mid 1990s, but otherwise, it’s been a steady rise.

The odds of being killed as a tourist in Egypt during this latest 18-year period for which we have statistics (about a quarter of a life time) is about 1 in a quarter million.

According to about.com, the chances of an American dying are significantly greater from heart disease, a car or motorcycle crash, cancer, stroke, falling or slipping, armed robbery, as a pedestrian in an accident, drowning, even suicide, plus a thousand other causes.

And not just by a little. The least likely of the list above is a car accident. Our odds are 1 in 1020 of being killed in a car accident during our life time. That is roughly 1000 times more likely than being as a tourist in Egypt.

As an American you’re 100,000 times more likely to be killed falling in an accident than as a tourist in Egypt.

The odds of being killed in Egypt as a tourist are higher than being a tourist at the Grand Ole Opry. They are higher than being a tourist in most of Europe, but not necessarily on London’s tube and metropolitan transport system during periods of IRA bombings, or in many sections of the New York subway from random acts of violence. In 1995, there was a greater percentage of tourists killed in Florida than Egypt during a “rash of attacks” the caused tourism to plummet in Florida and provoked the state to withdraw its international advertising for tourism.

Similar statistics exist for “serious injury.”

So it’s just not even remotely possible to imagine a “NO” answer to the pure question is it safe now to travel to Africa (Egypt being the denominator).

What people really mean, “Is it wise.”

We’re in a much better position to tackle that question once we grasp the folly of concern for personal safety. That isn’t an issue.

The issue is that this is a vacation. A vacation is an earned reward, intended to relieve you of all the daily responsibilities of not being on vacation, a time to relax and have fun. And hopefully, to learn something, too. That’s what a good vacation is all about.

Can you travel to Africa – or Egypt, now – and have a good vacation? Is it wise?

That’s a much harder question. There are no statistics for this. It depends upon how much actual disruption your threshold for a decent vacation has. Did you, for example, check on the on-time performance of your air carriers to make sure that the chances of your flights being significantly delayed aren’t serious?

Did you, for example, consult the weather carefully, to know exactly how hot and humid it was going to be? Did you read enough accounts of other tourists to know if they were harassed in stores or regularly pickpocketed? Did you closely review the menus on your Nile cruise? Are you absolutely sure that your guide isn’t little more than a scam artist to bring you to his cousin’s perfume shop?

Did you check to see how difficult it would be to replace lost medications? Did you know about schistosomiasis? How contagious is elephantitis? Do the windows in your room open?

Frankly, I hope you didn’t check any of this, because all you should do is find the right tour group or company that you can trust to manifest idiosyncracies of the sort the questions above suggest.

But what tour company – what airline – for that matter, what State Department division is going to give you an honest forward appraisal of the political and social status quo?

Probably none. And that’s not because anyone is trying to fool you. It’s because if you’ve bought your travel correctly, you’ve bought it from an expert that knows a lot more about the situation than you could ever know. Increased knowledge normally mitigates presumptions of “disruption”.

A life long resident of New York not only feels safer, but really is safer, using the subway than a first-time visitor from Tokyo.

“What stuns me,” writes the heavily read travel blogger, Anouk Zijlma, on January 28 as the streets of Cairo were ablaze, the internet had been disabled and the Egyptian army was rolling tanks into Tahrir Square, “is that the US State Department has not yet issued an official travel warning or even a travel alert” for Egypt.

Ms. Zijlma went on to point out as many of us have how State Department warnings were levied wholesale on countries like Kenya which have been peaceful for years. Clearly, State Department warnings are political pawns in a complicated global game, and it’s just too bad that you as the traveler are rolled up into that.

Since most travel insurance that repays you if you cancel for “terrorism” or other types of civil disruption is triggered by State Department travel warnings, this effectively means that component of the insurance is worthless.

For me personally, there is hardly anything as valuable as travel, and the more foreign the travel is, the more valuable it is. Naturally, the more foreign it is the greater the risk exists at any time of disruption to the point of it being “unwise.”

So my standard ought not be yours. And to know your standard fairly is not something that I should be expected to automatically understand.

Ultimately, you must decide. You must be the one to undertake due diligence regarding your own components of wise traveling.

OK, so let’s say you do that. Then, what.

Well, I’d venture to say that in today’s quickly changing world, a foreign trip most anywhere is rife with the risks of being considered “unwise”, but that’s just not a reason for you not to plan it. What you should do is plan it simultaneously with an abort plan.

Insurance. And not just the ordinary insurance, since that doesn’t work.

“Cancellation for any reason” insurance.

It’s going to cost you around 10% of what you want to cover yourself for, and if you ultimately invoke the trigger you’re going to lose about a quarter of what you paid. But this wonderful insurance, offered by a number of insurance companies
let’s you decide at the last minute usually, if it’s “wise” to go.

There’s no other solution. Basically what I’m saying is that no answer from any expert will be satisfying enough if you don’t have this option available.

No one should take a “vacation” filled with so much anxiety that the wonders of the trip are lost. If you decide to commit to a foreign vacation, you’ve already been convinced that whatever you don’t at that point know isn’t worrisome enough to warrant missing the benefits of the trip. In sum, it’s worth the risk.

But you pay long before you go.

Yes, it’s perfectly safe to travel to Egypt, now. In fact, based on the statistics, it’s safer to travel during a revolution than after a period of prolonged stability! But is it wise?

Only you can answer that. And you’ll never know how you really feel without having that special insurance in your pocket.

It’s a very wise decision.