The Central African Republic is one of the most lawless and corrupt countries on the continent and known mostly today as the presumed home of LRA fugitive, Joseph Kony. Turns out he has some interesting company.
The reason Kony is probably in the CAR, routed from Uganda and being hunted down by a posse of 100 green berets recently sent by Obama, is that the CAR is ungovernable and unmanageable, in part because so much of it is remote, thick jungle. The other part of the reason is because its leaders are thugs.
What a wonderful place to raise a family and run a business, right?
Wrong. Unless… you’re a hunting company.
Hunting companies are extremely small, highly lucrative businesses. Compared, for example, to the overhead of a photography safari company, today, a hunting company of similar size may require a tenth of the capital investment, have about the same operating costs, and yet provide a return ten times or more of a photography safari company with the same amount of assets and staff.
The product sale price, which is ten times or more that of a photography safari company, is justified because of the company’s … “guts.”
Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.
This is mostly because the service and “plant” (actual tents, food, equipment, and even staff) is of much lower quality than in a photography safari company. In the old days this was reversed, but today a hunting camp is just above OK and maybe even not OK.
Flush toilets, for example, are unusual. Solar lighting or lighting of any kind other than kerosene lanterns is unlikely. Simple spring beds replace four-poster rosewood sculptures. Frankly, I prefer this kind of camp, but I’m old and nostalgic and something of a penny-pincher.
But the food is only so-so because the cooks aren’t well trained. The staff is pulled from a line of relatives in need of work, both African help-staff (always black) and so-called poorly named professional hunters (which are almost always white).
And while the principals may know how to shoot, the younger hunters generally portray hardened biceps and much less, have little upstairs, and generally can’t get any other kind of work. Their resumes are short descriptions of Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.
And sometimes, simple stupidity.
Such is the story of the erstwhile Swedish hunting company, Central African Wildlife Adventures. (Oh, did I fail to mention that their websites are on par with an eighth grader’s weekend project?)
This brilliant enterprise decided to set up business just about the time that Kony was fleeing north from Uganda, incapable of resting his fugitive soul anywhere in Africa with a teaspoon of stability, so we deduce he’s set up camp in the CAR.
We don’t know specifically what shenanigans the company produced to get its plot of land in the CAR, but we do know that the bribes were apparently not good enough. Because last month the principal and general manager were arrested for the slaughter and murder of somewhere between 13 and 18 people in a situation that reeks of Joseph Kony’s calling card.
According to the 24-year old general manager, David Simpson, who has languished in a CAR prison just long enough to get another cub scout badge of courage and whose brother reported him as being “upbeat” about the situation, he was flying the company’s small plane when he noticed the massacre site below him and so did what every good cub scout is taught to do: report it to the trusted authorities.
Listen, David Simpson, there are no trusted authorities in the CAR. What were you expecting? That they would send you a letter of commendation?
Full disclosure: I am no hunter. But in my long career I have known and worked with good hunters, a very rare breed, rarer than the bongo which companies like CAWA offer to assist making extinct.
But in the main, and especially today, hunting companies are not only bad businesses but directed by if not bad people pretty dumb ones. Bribing is second nature and those who play the game in places like the CAR generally get called out.
The media is filled with sympathetic reports, and I’m a bit surprised by the amount of sarcasm I feel. It would otherwise go without saying that Simpson and the company owner are not guilty of this, and that only the basest and most corrupt justice on earth would dare pursue this case against them.
But read between the lines of the current volume of sympathetic media and you’ll learn that the British Foreign Office is not quite as involved as it was when British tourists were kidnapped by Somalis, or is currently now involved in the great Chinese scandal of the century. And not for want of class, I don’t think.
I prefer to believe that the British Foreign Office, like me, realizes that someone so stupid as to invite their arrest in the CAR is quite likely to do something equally stupid once sprung.
That doesn’t mean Simpson et al should be abandoned. But we’ve got to overlay some reasonable perspective on this story. Not every African country is so barbarous and primitive as the Central African Republic.
And I think I could count on one hand the number of colleagues in African tourism that would have done something so stupid as report a Kony massacre site in the CAR to CAR officials. David Simpson and CAWA owner, Erik Mararv, are apparently two. I won’t name the other three. There’s always hope.
Play with the pyre and you generally get burned.