#6 – Decline in Terrorism

#6 – Decline in Terrorism

desertjihadists2016 was one of the most peaceful years in Africa in decades. Both the UK and American governments reduced their travel warnings for most of the continent.

There’s more to this than a good score card on the war on terror, and of course peace is rarely reported so there are fewer news stories about this than just an analysis of what didn’t happen.

Here’s why this is my sixth most important story for Africa in 2016:

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#5 – Fake News

#5 – Fake News

#5FakeNews2016For a much longer time than Americans Africans have viewed fake news as a cancer threatening their societies. Across the continent Africans have experimented with censorship as the remedy.

Fake news and cell phone journalism is my #5 pick for the top stories in Africa in 2016, and I have to admit this is because I’m not African, since I doubt they would put it in the Top Ten. But as an American I’m hopeful we might learn something from them.

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#2 – Large Animal Decline

#2 – Large Animal Decline

animaldeclineWith last month’s reclassification of giraffe as “vulnerable,” and continent-wide surveys last year of both elephant and lion, it’s now beyond doubt that Africa’s big animal population is declining rapidly. This is the #2 story of 2016.

It’s fair to say that lion and giraffe are declining at about 20% every decade, and elephant about half that.

These numbers are at last real science. But they aren’t complete and there’s a lot more to the story.

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#1 – Elections

#1 – Elections

election-monitorsThe top story in Africa in 2016 is “The Election:” Mali, The Gambia, South Africa, The Congo and elsewhere like the U.S. The “story” isn’t simply who won or lost. The “story” is that elections aren’t working: they are not manifesting the will of the people.

Trump is the quintessential example, but I want to examine the African experience because I think it provides very important insights into exactly what’s going on.

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2016: Not Just Trump

2016: Not Just Trump

topstories2016Trump dominated the news in Africa in 2016 in so many different ways, including expectations and predictions that were much more correct than those made in America. Had Trump not been around, the top news would have been the finally substantiated science of massive declines in Africa’s big animals. Many important events like this were eclipsed by America’s election.

Return in the next several days for more in-depth discussions of these stories. Below is the summarized list:

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#10 – Prices Far Away

#10 – Prices Far Away

rich safarisFinancial realities are overwhelming African safari vendors whose Life-of-Riley is slowly coming to an end.

Right now safari vendors are falling all over themselves to offer better and better “specials.” It’s the wrong way to do the right thing, and they’re just going to end up in a deeper hole.

My last most important story in Africa for 2015 is how expensive a safari has become. By the way it isn’t just safaris. Packaged and guided programs worldwide are artificially priced too high.

The reasons for this I explain below, but what I want to get to right away is how seriously wrong African vendors are responding.

Five-for-four, four-for-three, six-for-four, two-for-three, and now even two-for-one “specials” is the way African vendors are responding right now. It won’t work.

I’ve been vested in African properties and transport, and I’ve been the “middleman” who packages multiple vendors then resells them. I know the nitty gritty of almost every cost on both sides of the coin, and I know that African investors have really got it wrong today.

The answer isn’t to offer specials, but to recalculate business models and lower profits. This is the only way to survive.

First of all recognize why this is happening. The market for safaris is softer than ever. It’s not entirely the African businessman’s fault. A lot has to do with the weak economies worldwide. Europe has always been the principle consumer of African safaris, and Europe is struggling to perform.

Asia was the new hope only a few years ago for the African safari market. Entire safari chains switched over to serve only rice with menus in Mandarin. That market has all but dried up.

But the common sense thing to do when your market goes soft is to lower prices. African vendors have rarely if ever lowered prices, and that’s their problem. They don’t know how to do it…

Packaged travel – an inclusive vacation that you buy from a single seller and that includes everything you need from transport and accommodations and meals to the guide – until very recently was the only way you could visit the African wilderness.

“Packaging” is expensive, not inherently so but historically so. It reflects a consumer as interested in service as cost. So in the early days, anyway, middlemen like EWT worked hard to provide better service, because that was the selling point.

Service can be premium priced, especially in small markets. It’s why first-class air travel is 8 times as expensive as economy, even though the seats aren’t eight times as big.

The African vendors we packaged got jealous of our high profits: “If “WorldWide Tours” can earn a third of the price, then we should be able to, too!”

By 25 years ago, the business model for African safaris had been set:

Every investor wanted a 50% minimum return on his investment within three years of writing his first check.

After those three years – after the mortgage had been paid off and the returns realized – the absolute minimum was put into maintenance and renewal. If the market declined the strategy was to lay off staff, and … get this, raise prices.

Africa is about the only place on earth where tourism net prices increased from 2007 to 2009.

While the original motivation for African investors’ high profits was copy-catting their resellers, by ten years ago the dynamic had flipped. During the robust global economies of the late 1990s, middlemen — the packagers — lowered their margins because there was so much business sound capitalist principles were in sway: volume.

African safari businessmen should have too, but they didn’t. So as soon as there was some emergence from the Great Recession, middlemen – the packagers – started increasing their profits with the same mantra: “If the vendors can make so much on a single sale, why shouldn’t we?”

The point, of course, is that neither the vendors or the resellers should have been so stupid.

This is upside down capitalism, and as crazy as it sounds it might once have been appropriate for a market that was reactive to politics and other unstable factors like weather that couldn’t be managed.

But that era is over. Travelers today will spring for an African safari in spite of a bevy of travel warnings or classical notions of unstable situations, which as the years go by proved Peter-the-Wolf fantasies. Radical weather has almost become the norm everywhere.

The reason specials won’t work is because in our business we don’t sell cars. We don’t have inventories to get rid of because whole new inventories are on their way.

Travel is a service not a thing. Specials work for things, not services. A consumer ponders and researchers purchasing a service a lot more than when purchasing a thing.

Especially with travel very few consumers buy last-minute, as they do all the time with things. I’d venture to say that 95% of travel to Africa is bought at least six months in advance, and that likely more than 50% is bought a year in advance.

So a special that will expire soon is pointless.

What it does do is seriously endanger the integrity of pricing. No one will believe any more any published price. Everyone will start bargaining and we’ll have one big casino on the veld:

I’ve watched more than one curio vendor put themselves out of business by accepting too low a price.

So to my African colleagues: accept lower profits. And to my potential clients: don’t hold your breath.

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

#9 – People Come First

#9 – People Come First

Top photo by Stephen Farrand.
Top photo by Stephen Farrand.
There’s a lot similar between poaching in Africa and robbing 7-11’s in Baltimore.

Poaching and other animal/human conflicts is my #9 most important story in Africa for 2015, because that’s exactly how I’ve always viewed poaching: a human/animal conflict.

Fanatics who give elephants souls and would save a meerkat before a Maasai are finally falling out of favor: Their hyperbolic, inflammatory arguments are fortunately being replaced by science.

But first the news.

Overall, 2015 was not good for African big game, although the Paul Allen elephant census injected some sanity into the elephant hysteria and showed us it isn’t as bad for elephants as many suggested.

For other headliners like rhino and lion, the numbers were grim. Even for the great herds and other ungulates several years of serious climate change seems to be taking its toll.

Until now I’ve taken great pleasure in telling a prospective client that despite all the news about Africa’s declining wilderness and game, that there are three times as many wild animals in Africa compared to when I started in the 1970s.

With such a span of time that may still be true, but telescoping down to just a few year increments, 2015 was definitely worse than 2014 which barely held onto 2013. In fact until around 2010, animal populations (with the exception of elephant and lion) were increasing. Now, it seems the increases have stopped or started to reverse.

What’s happening?

Charlatans would have you believe it’s poaching, and that poaching is evil incarnate.

Much of it is due to poaching. But as I’ve often written, the only evil incarnate may be with the end consumer. If you had any sympathy with Senn Penn’s interview with El Chapo, or understand the social progressive notion that crime is survival, it’s the facilitator – the user, the end consumer – who should be held culpable.

This is especially true at the periphery of wilderness in Africa. These are usually the most rural areas of the continent, yet still heavily populated with people who need food and water and other basic tools for survival.

When development slows or stops, when unexpected and radical climate change repeatedly devastates a rural area, peasants devolve into what those more fortunate than them call criminal behavior.

It’s only criminal if you can survive without doing it.

Lions are being hit very, very hard, because like all carnivores on the periphery of wilderness in developing areas, they eat meat. No bylaws govern their consumption. A cow doesn’t run as fast as a wildebeest.

Lion also suffer from increasing eminent domain. The wilderness is shrinking because Africa is developing. The first animals to suffer from shrinking territory are those that are territorial like lion.

Rhino poaching has morphed from individual kills by desperate folk to organized farms. But while there are a couple areas [only] where rhino are holding their own in the wild, on the whole they’ve been absent from the real wilderness for several decades. (They are doing well in fenced and other protected areas.)

Elephant have been decimated in central Tanzania … by poaching. (Elsewhere, they’re doing OK, thank you.) There’s probably no better example on the whole continent of human/animal conflict, because where the poaching is now (The Selous) is only 50-80 miles from a city of ten million people (Dar-es-Salaam).

Farmers in the west want to shoot wolves because they eat sheep. I wouldn’t dare suggest that a rancher in Morogoro lives a life similar to an American farmer’s, but a comparison still holds true in a relative way: both farmers argue the animal threatens their livelihood, or at least their way of life.

We are much less arrogant refuting the U.S. ranchers’ claim than the Tanzanian’s: it’s unlikely the U.S. rancher and his children will die if they are prevented from shooting wolves. It’s much less certain that the rancher in Morogoro and his family won’t die if he can’t raise his sheep. His next step is poaching.

People and animals, the whole environment are intricately connected. Ignorance may be an excuse but those of us who are not ignorant must be stewards of the less fortunate folks.

But … people come first.

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

#8 – Evolutionary Excitement

#8 – Evolutionary Excitement

by InkyBoy
by InkyBoy
My #8 most important story in Africa was the wondrous advancement in evolutionary science the continent provided us in 2015!

Paleontology — especially in Africa — is just simply growing in leaps and bounds. Not too many years ago when it was presumed we (homo sapiens sapiens) evolved in a linear way from just a few creatures that preceded us and followed the apes, enormous attention was applied to finding the gaps, or “missing links” in that line.

That’s all blown away, now. The last few decades have proved so rich with discoveries showing that there were many, perhaps many many species of “early man.” Even the Neanderthals, who were likely not on our own linear evolutionary line, probably had cousins who died out.

So as the universe of potential discovery grows, so does the depth, range and interest of scientists, and that as you can imagine leads to more and more discoveries.

Here are the high points of 2015:

Most important certainly was the announcement of the initial conclusions about Homo Naledi, a new early man species found in South Africa in 2013.

I don’t agree with all the conclusions, particularly that the cave in which the 15 individuals were found was a burial site, but there are many other equally interesting conclusions that come from this remarkable discovery.

First and foremost, the appendages (hands and feet) of the creature were very close to our own, even though the brain size suggested a very primitive and early creature that would, for example, predate both homo erectus and homo habilis.

The individuals were astoundingly complete, at least in terms of what most 2½ million year old fossils normally look like.

And from my layman point of view, the incredible transparency of the discovery, from almost the moment it was found to the invitation to scientists worldwide to analysis the data, marked a real turning point in the until to now bitter infighting common among paleontologists.

Some other important bones discovered included fingers! Million-year old fingers aren’t easy to come by, and the discovery in Olduvai parallels Naledi’s suggestion that our physical traits existed much earlier in the hominin record than previously thought.

In the category of “keeps getting older” scientists also in South Africa found a homo habilis dated to almost 3 million years old. This predates by nearly a half million years the next oldest habilis find and resurrects suggestions this is our own most immediate ancestor.

This was hotly contested, by the way, with another 2015 discovery in Georgia of another homo erectus. The scientists on this site insist this creature is in line for our most immediate ancestor.

Moving away from old bones, there were scores of new tool finds, deeper analysis of existing data and actual field science regarding the dynamics of evolution itself.

Stone tools were very many years presumed to mean the user was an early man. That’s changed as we documented less than mankind, like chimpkind, also uses them.

In 2015 scientists announced finding what they claimed were the oldest fossil stone tools on record, more than 3 million years old. I disagree with their conclusion that this find by itself pushes back “humanness,” but it remains an argument that still carries weight.

One of the hottest topics this decade is trying to figure out why we prevailed and Neanderthals didn’t. Some really clever research suggests at least one of the reasons is that we had … and enjoyed music! (And that the big guy didn’t.)

Some may fear I’m sinking into the arcane, but there was also some really fascinating research on Africa’s cichlid fishes that qualifies the value of natural selection! Cool stuff.

Some people lay on their back and peer into the heavens, wondering what’s out there. I do sometimes as well, but I much prefer peering into the distant past and wondering what marvels of the universe transformed us into what we are, today!

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

#6-7 – Pathetic Politicians

#6-7 – Pathetic Politicians

a dailiy showMy #6 and #7 most important stories of 2015 in Africa sort of go together, “Zuma the Clown” and “Trump,” two of the most unimagineable politicians in history, one in South Africa, one in the U.S.

They are inextricably linked by their unique ability to sustain their popularity by maligning their supporters, a sort of SM political love.

Trump really didn’t start hogging the stage until midyear, but ever since then Africa has been almost obsessed with him.

It started with the fascination that in America a crazy, like Marie Le Penne of France, might actually be taken seriously. More analytic observers probed “inner meanings” to suggest this showed both how open democracy was and how strong it would be finally restraining these “crazies.”

While Trump was on his ascendancy, State President Zuma on the other hand was going in the other direction. Problem is that Zuma has been falling for some time, and his hole seems bottomless.

There are few modern leaders in essentially democratic societies who have been mired in such scandal as Jacob Zuma. Normally leaders who reach the point he has – like the Toronto mayor or South Carolina governor, fall pretty quickly.

But Zuma carries with him more than his own folly. He’s a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement, one of the last of the original revolutionaries. To many patriotic South Africans, certifying his collapse would be tantamount to questioning the anti-apartheid movement.

It seems a stretch to me, but I’m not a 50-year old South Africa who felt enormous liberation in the mid 90s.

What these two buffoons have in common is that they are supported by people they dislike if not disdain. Trump has no intention of helping the poor. Zuma seems simply incapable of organizing anything constructive.

Yet it is precisely the poor from which Trump gets his main support, and from the well educated managerial class of South Africa that Zuma get his.

So what else do they have in common?

Public disdain for critics. Almost overnight the two of them have given critics a bad name even while themselves criticizing their detractors with regular sorties of foul language into normally hallowed territories like spouses and other family members.

I think what the two demonstrate is that the whole damn world is fed up with the systems in place and they are about as radical a divergence from existing systems as you can come up with.

Perhaps it’s a social, subconscious frustration that the Arab Spring fizzled out. That’s an awfully hard thesis to construct but on a macro level, I think it’s a reasonable assessment of social perceptions, today.

They lash out at the ruling elite and convince their supporters they aren’t ruling elite, because above all, they lie.

Damned world isn’t it, when that’s the only sure way to success?

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

#5 – Trumps Influence

#5 – Trumps Influence

trumpmagufuliLast week the new Tanzanian president, already nicknamed “Bulldozer,” announced he was deporting all illegal workers. It was a direct hit on neighbor Kenya, because much of Tanzania’s professional class comes from Kenya.

The #5 story in Africa for 2015 was the Tanzanian election, and it tells a horrible tale of democracy and may be foretelling the future for the U.S. and worldwide.

Magufuli’s deportation order followed all sorts of other blustering initiatives, including ranting in front of a group of high-profile African businessmen that they would be jailed if they don’t pay their taxes and executive actions slashing the national budget.

Magufuli is an object lesson in democracy. Everything he is doing at the moment is wildly popular in Tanzania: damned if it isn’t legal, or ethical or even moral. It’s … popular.

Consequences? Who knows, it’s popular! The polls say so!

We’re getting a good dose of that lesson right now during our own presidential campaign. Democracy is showing its true colors.

Tanzania’s election last fall was peaceful and certified by all sorts of outside observers as free and fair. But the choice available to the people at the time, Magufuli vs. Lowassa, was not a choice that a lot of the electorate wanted. So goes democracy.

And guess what?! It wasn’t a choice that the power elites wanted or expected!

Sound familiar? Edward Lowassa (Jeb Bush) was the establishment favorite. Instead, Magufuli (Cruz? Trump? Milton Don’tknowyet) became the nominee. Foreshadowing what might happen this summer in the U.S., Lowassa (Jeb Bush) then mounted his own rebel campaign.

Magufuli’s decisive victory stunned everyone, I think even his supporters. But then, there was no jubilation, just depression and tension.

Did the people get what they wanted? If they did, did they know what they wanted? Did they want what they knew they wanted?

End of First Book.

The Beginning of the Second Book opens with Magufuli firing up the team.

Hiding behind trucks in shady parts of Dar to unmask criminals, telling tax evaders he’s going to put them all in jail, far exceeding his executive authority with actions slashing the budget.

Now, deporting “illegals.”

Think he might suggest building a wall?

I don’t think the Second Book is going to end well, but we’ll see. But the first book is done. It shows that the democratic process is not a democratic process. What influences elections in Tanzania might be different than what influences elections in the U.S., but the result is the same.

Influence trumps rational choice.

Stay tuned. Or maybe if you’re an American, take heed. Either way. Keep the message to a sound-bite length.

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

#4 – Elephants

#4 – Elephants

eles.tarangireRecently we were besieged by conservation organizations begging for money to stop the otherwise inevitable extinction of elephants.

Fortunately, you didn’t give them anything near what they requested, and fortunately, elephants are not going extinct.

The #4 story of 2015 in Africa is “the elephant story” finally in a balanced, scientific way and much to the chagrin of numerous conservation organizations.

It was very hard for me, a staunch proponent of elephant conservation, to have to argue that other proponents of elephant conservation were screaming fire when there wasn’t any. Yet that is how I spent much of the last 18 months, getting booed.

The release last month of the Paul Allen elephant census has silenced my critics. We now have good numbers, for the first time ever, and elephants are not going extinct.

Poaching is extremely serious, perhaps definitively irreversible in central Tanzania. But practically everywhere else the population is holding its own, or increasing.

The hysteria that many organizations tried to create unsuccessfully was because of all the action that was happening in central Tanzania, which was bad. Beginning with an undercover film by the BBC of ivory dealers in Dar in 2012, to the arrest of a high profile dealer last November (that was actually an election gimmick), I argued continuously that exaggeration is just as bad as neglect.

The Allen census took a long time, but the hysteria abated when the overall numbers for Tanzania were published earlier last year. They ended once and for all the outrageous claims by several organizations that the populations had declined by 60%.

I find little solace in being proved correct, though. Exaggeration unmasked guts credibility. Fox News buying NatGeo isn’t trying to retain NatGeo’s old supporters, but organizations like the WWF and Save the Elephants now have a lot of difficult explaining ahead of them.

Elephant – like lion – are declining in certain places because of a terribly serious conflict between man and beast. Africa is developing. Africa’s wilderness has been preserved mostly for rich foreign tourists.

It’s important that we get back to the crux of the problem: how to demonstrate to local Africans an ultimate benefit from the protection of elephants while simultaneously not inhibiting the development of a modern African society.

That’s a tall order, but one that could never have been tackled in the hysterical atmosphere of the last several years. Now that’s over, let’s get on with it.

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

#3 – Justice

#3 – Justice

sastudentprotestThe #3 story in Africa is maybe the #3 story in the world: The Power of the People!

In Africa it’s happening in even the most dictatorial regimes. It was unthinkable that public demonstrations would occur in Ethiopia, but throughout December they did, led by youth and student groups.

The Ethiopian protests if removed from the excitement and fear of confrontation are somewhat arcane, almost a dispute over zoning propositions. It would have seemed more likely that such flagrant protests of an extremely dictatorial government would have been of something more substantive, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that the public – the ordinary joes and janes – throughout Africa in 2015 were successful bringing attention to issues of justice that authorities had refused to consider.

In Tanzania rangers enforcing national park regulations reacted “too harshly” to citizen intruders and in the end, four park rangers were arrested! This is so similar to police in America being arrested for excessive force. (Like in nearly every case in America, the police were finally exonerated in court.)

The fact that rangers were arrested, like police in Chicago, is simply because the people – the ordinary joes and janes – protested publicly.

Although the bulk of those I surveyed were peaceful protests, there were violent ones, too. Violence did not seem to matter in terms of the issue being acknowledged by authorities, or of the outcome.

Ultimately a society decides to act on the protests’ issues or to rebuff them, the tip toe dance between stability and freedom. In Baltimore or Johannesburg, authorities cracked down hard, rebuffing them. The outcome was not manifestly effected: protests scored a victory and authorities changed their policies.

In the U.S. we can’t argue that without harsh government crackdowns our society will self-destruct. That is what some African authorities claimed however:

In Zambia a rap artist was jailed for criticizing the president, and in Nigeria out-of-control journalists harangued a visiting Head of State. No slack was extended either side, by either side. The intransigence defined the extremes and both led to popular protests. The singularity here was that both sides claimed that altering their position would lead to an implosion of society.

Separately, African courts began intricate investigations of the limits of things like freedom of speech. When should hate speech be prohibited? African courts also experimented with youthful constitutions that gave professional judges the right to overturn jury verdicts.

These are some of the extremely novel, imaginative perhaps even self-contradicting public conflicts about justice that happened in Africa in 2015, and they reflected how important the issue is to African societies.

Justice is a complex component of a modern society, and a dynamic one. When it isn’t being aired and argued in the public arenas but confined to those in power, we tend to be in times of war and global conflict. I disagree somewhat with the Africans who believe some of these protests herald a fraying apart of their society.

Rather, I think it heralds a period of social reflection (despite some violent components, none of which were lasting). That’s a very, very good thing. Everybody should spend more time debating in aggressive free discourse.

(For my summary of the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

#2 : Climate Change

#2 : Climate Change

thiswasfarmlandThe most undeniable effect of global warming is the extremity of today’s weather, and nothing hit me harder than the Super Storm in the Serengeti last spring.

We can all recount weather events which we thought were particularly harsh or unusual. But when I took my vehicle to the top of a little hill on the plains in the Maasai Kopjes, it was truly terrifying. Click here to read the account of that awful afternoon.

While that was the most extreme of the extreme, there were similar events on all my safaris last spring, and it was happening throughout the sub-continent.

Global warming has been pummeling sub-Saharan Africa for a number of years, so climate change per se is not the story. The tragedies it’s causing and the attempts to prepare for even worse times are the stories:

You’d think that after years of being depressed, the escalation of coffee prices would be a boon to the highlands of East Africa, and it is … if they can grow it! Coffee is extremely sensitive to temperatures, especially night-time temperatures. The rise of a single degree centigrade is decimating East Africa’s highland coffee plantations.

Inevitably the disruption of the normal climate for people who already live in climate-stressed areas pushes them to a breaking point. One effect is increased conflict, as demonstrated this year in Kenya’s Northern Frontier among tribes who have always had limited resources, but who are now fighting among themselves for what’s left.

Many believe these kinds of incidents will soon combine into a massive, unorganized but global uprising.

Yet Africans are trying to do something about it, and their efforts are definitely part of the reason this is the number 2 story of 2015.

South Africa, which has lots of coal and even nuclear power plants, is investing heavily in mega solar power projects.

I’ve actually written about a number of these massive mega-projects throughout Africa. But there are also thousands of smaller, individual and truly heart-rendering initiatives as with the young entrepreneur Tom Osborn of Kenya.

As the years pass and the rain tumbles doesn’t it seem strange that some still deny climate change? How inconceivable that we would elect people like James Inhofe, and worse, give him a platform for his denial!

Most people right around the world know this is the world’s most pressing single issue. ISIS might topple Mosul, but climate change will topple the Himalayas.

(For my summary of the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)