#6 No News

#6 No News

fake news in africaThe Number #6 story in Africa for 2017 was the loss of journalistic freedom and the ensuing loss of news for Africans.

A big cause was the profusion of fake news, which more traditionally had been called propaganda. Because Africans have dealt with propaganda for so long, they think incorrectly they can also deal sufficiently with fake news.

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#5 Post Trumpism

#5 Post Trumpism

TrumpRacism is the first first pedestal the demagogue plants himself on. “The salient fact is that in both England and the US electorates have turned to charlatans peddling a set of poisons as medication with the toxic allure of whiteness at the centre,” – Richard Pithouse, Rhodes University, South Africa.

The #5 story in Africa this year is the mindpower among intellectuals that has gone into formulating the post-Trumpism New World. This hope for the future resides almost exclusively in Africa; it’s an African story. It makes sense, too, because if it’s true that many of our ails are linked to racism, who would understand this better than an African?

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#4 – Year of the Tribe

#4 – Year of the Tribe

copyright, GADO
copyright, GADO

Stronger religious protections, more affirmative action and new constitutional protections of minorities is the #4 story of Africa for 2017. Sounds good until said simply: tribalism on the rebound.

The political catastrophe of South Africa and the election circuses in Kenya are the best examples. Democracy and tribalism bring out the worst of each other. Africa may be no different than the rest of the world, but understanding Africa is fundamental to untangling this mess.

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#2 – More U.S. Bombs

#2 – More U.S. Bombs

dronestrikeThe #2 of top stories in Africa for 2017 is that a lot more innocent Africans are being killed and maimed by the U.S. military than ever before.

Americans may have an impression that our military is the one arm of Trump’s government that’s not in complete dysfunction. Even putting aside a few gigantic megalithic ship crashes in the Pacific and Air Force plane crashes at an all time high, I believe that our increased military in Africa is as undisciplined and misdirected as the rest of Trump policy, so clearly the most dangerous of all.

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#1 – Trump Diplomacy

#1 – Trump Diplomacy

sleepnomoreDiplomacy with North Korea, now Pakistan and other Middle East actors has arguably always been more important for the U.S. than diplomacy with Africa. My better knowledge is with the diplomacy of Africa, and what I saw happening over the course of 2017 remains terrifying.

There’s no reason to suppose it’s much different in other parts of the world. The #1 story in Africa for 2017 is the wreck of U.S. diplomacy in Africa.

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Top Trumps for 2017

Top Trumps for 2017

trumpsworldIn hindsight even as adults we behaved like children. We never shook off the mantle of goofiness justifying our exaggeration, so that now when it’s absolutely true that “there’s never been a time like this before” it’s hard for us to accept it.

I don’t have ten top stories for Africa in 2017. I’ve just got one with five subtopics, and then just four others, because almost everything in Africa like in the whole-wide world is now overshadowed if not effected by Trump.

And remember, folks, it’s not Donald J. Trump. It’s Trumpism. It’s Zumaism. It’s Kenyattaism and Kagamism – it’s Tribalism, plain and simple, and it’s destroying the human species. Return over the next few days for the specifics, but here’s the summary:

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#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.)