Holiday Horror

Holiday Horror

MLKDay14Today is one of the most important holidays for political America, Martin Luther King Day. It’s impossible to overstate its importance this year.

The current xenophobic administration is poised to make illegal 800,000 young people Friday at midnight. Starting in the wee hours Saturday morning, the embodiment of “I Have a Dream,” King’s famous speech, today America’s “Dreamers” face being deported to places they have never seen.

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#3 – The Dictator Knows

#3 – The Dictator Knows

lossmoralauthorityThe West’s loss of moral authority has created a vacuum. The rise of far-right movements and the election of President Donald Trump has buoyed the anti-democratic forces in Africa. I didn’t write that. Editors at Nairobi’s Daily Nation did. My #3 Top Story in Africa for 2017 is the rise of the dictator in Africa.

I’m not convinced that Trumpism in the U.S. is directly responsible for the growing authoritarian regimes in Africa. Trumpism could be a world-wide not just an American phenomenon. But if so then Trump’s Trumpism is the most powerful of the lot, and the America for so many years that so arduously promoted freedoms and democracy is no more. The dictator knows.

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Military Yeast

Military Yeast

georgianationalguardznzThis morning I listened to all sorts of estimates of how many soldiers we have in Africa. We’ll never know: It’s classified. But I would be surprised if there were fewer than 50,000 soldiers, private contractors, and even National Guard troops. This is a lot more than being reported in conjunction with the current tragedy in Niger.

Two weeks ago four American soldiers were killed in Niger. The delay in the discussion was not a machination of the Pentagon, which made the announcement the day after it happened. But no one wanted to talk about it until the president didn’t.

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Long Vs. Short

Long Vs. Short

bashirandtrumpTrump is expected to lift sanctions on The Sudan today, in place for 20 years and indeed a complex policy with a checkered history. Trump’s move is bereft of any ideology intended simply to get government out of business. There’s oil there, you know.

Whether this ideology-free policy, business first, policy will have any value except to increase the bottom line of ExxonMobil is unlikely. Appropriately, the lifting will be announced by Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s former CEO.

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OnSafari: Arusha NP

OnSafari: Arusha NP

OnSafariANP.896After several days to recoup from the long flights, at no better a place than Ndarakwai Ranch in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, we headed into nearby Arusha National Park.

Evan Lavallee expressed typical ten-year old sentiment when he told the manager at Ndarakwai that he’d like to stay longer! The Lavallee’s had fed the bushbaby at dinner, seen a large variety of game on the drives around the 11,000-acre ranch and walked to the edge of a butte for a view of nearly 100 sq miles of West Kili veld.

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OnSafari: Kenya or Tanzania?

OnSafari: Kenya or Tanzania?

Original photo by Bill Banzhaf.
Original photo by Bill Banzhaf.
Conditions in tourism can change as fast as political and economic conditions. The question for many potential safari travelers is where should I go? If wildlife is the primary goal, then the choice is between Kenya or Tanzania.

I’ve just completed my 40th year of guiding in sub-Saharan Africa. In March I guided veteran travelers on a 30-day Kenya/Tanzania trip, and I just ended with a wonderful family from San Diego on an 18-day Kenya/Tanzania. Most Americans take 10-12 days for safari.

So my gigs this year gave me an excellent chance to answer the question, Kenya or Tanzania? – not just from my own experience, but that of my clients.

There’s no right answer for everyone. So let’s start with the things which are the same:

Until two years ago, there was little doubt that Tanzania’s security for tourists was better than Kenya’s, but that’s no longer the case. Multiple tourist incidents in Zanzibar and virtually none in Kenya for more than 18 months has for right now leveled the security in both countries.
      Kenya’s upcoming national elections and the increasingly unstable situation in Zanzibar are the two single-most situations that could potentially change the current good security situations in both countries.
      But recent terrorism in popular destinations like Paris and Brussels has forced travelers to recognize that insecurity is, unfortunately, a growing component of traveling virtually anywhere. Viewed in this context, both Tanzania and Kenya appear to me a better bet when planning a future vacation than many, many other parts of world, including those like Europe which previously were considered completely safe.

Both countries offer a wide range of tourist products. There’s no significant difference in prices for the same sort of accommodations and activities.
      Kenya’s economy is performing better than Tanzania’s. Normally when a country’s economy underperforms (such as today in Britain) it creates a buy for tourism: vendor costs decline relative to world prices. This has happened in Tanzania, but unfortunately the government’s reaction in part was to significantly increase tourist taxes erasing what would have otherwise been an advantage in costs.

Both countries have all the great wild beasts that attract folks to a safari. Tanzania has an edge with elephants and other herbivores, Kenya with cats, but they are subtle and unlikely to be noticed on an ordinary safari. Tanzania is a bigger place with more wildlife overall, but you’re not going to travel everywhere and Kenya’s density of wildlife in places like the Mara is higher than Tanzania’s.
      Kenya has a greater number of species, in part because of its Great Northern Frontier, the last real wilderness before Africa’s great deserts. There are several big animals like the reticulated giraffe and a number of smaller animals like unusual duikers found in northern Kenya that don’t exist in Tanzania. This unique ecosystem – somewhat like America’s southwest – also gives Kenya an edge with birds.
      But Tanzania’s sheer quantity of game is greater than Kenya’s. So while Kenya has more kinds of animals and birds, Tanzania has more animals and birds. But Kenya’s quantity of animals wows most travelers anyway, and few travelers have the biological training to appreciate Kenya’s greater number of species.

Many differences are subtle and often radically adjusted by season. Traveling during the northern hemisphere’s summer flips, for example, where the great migration is normally found from Tanzania to Kenya.
      But even that can be quickly altered by unusual weather, which is quickly becoming the new norm.
      So please recognize I’m making generalizations that might not apply to your own dates and needs:

As opposed to “wildlife” there is much more pristine, undeveloped “wilderness” in Tanzania that you can include on a typical safari than in Kenya. That often doesn’t correlate with animal viewing, by the way, because it often means that wild animals are more easily spooked. It’s also the reason that there’s greater poaching in Tanzania, because the areas are more difficult to police.
      Kenya’s stunningly rapid economic development compared to Tanzania’s has pressured its wilderness in a way not seen yet in Tanzania. Kenyans are very sensitive to this, by the way, and I also think Kenyans as a whole are much more conservation oriented than Tanzanians.
      But for the “great open country” often associated with a safari, Tanzania is the choice.

Both countries offer exceptional beach resorts, and note that half of all travelers to both countries never see an animal! They go strictly for the wonderful beaches and resorts.
      Tanzania’s early man sites like Olduvai Gorge have no comparable venues as easy to visit in Kenya. Both countries offer adventure climbing, but Kilimanjaro in Tanzania attracts 5-7 times more people than Kenya’s comparable hiking.
      Beyond that, though, Kenya offers much more than Tanzania, starting with the innumerable attractions of Nairobi. Nairobi is a real cosmopolitan city, replete with entertainment, museums and historical attractions available nowhere in Tanzania.

Airports, roads, wifi, security stations, immigration and customs, taxis, charter air flights, stores and shops, medical care, access to daily essentials like toothpaste and sunblock – all are much better in Kenya than Tanzania. It’s a simple reflection of one country developing much more quickly than the other.
      One important caveat to this is the traffic congestion of Nairobi. If properly designed, you can avoid this, but most of the time you can’t. Tanzania’s second main airport, Kilimanjaro, allows incoming visitors to avoid the similar congestion of Dar-es-Salaam. Nairobi has no such alternative. (Mombasa is actually a larger airport than Kilimanjaro, but it serves almost exclusively the beaches, like Zanzibar in Tanzania.)

There are outstanding accommodations in both countries. With proper care a safari in Tanzania can enjoy just as complete and comfortable accommodations as in Kenya. In general, though, Kenyan accommodations through all market levels are superior to Tanzania’s.

There is a great difference between Tanzania and Kenya in this regards. Kenyans are friendlier, kinder, less officious, better educated and trained, and much more willing to help a foreign visitor. Bribing remains terrible in Tanzania and seems under control in Kenya. The likelihood of you being asked on entry, for example, for a bribe is much greater in Tanzania than Kenya.

You can see from the above that Kenya is in a much better long-term position for attracting visitors if it can conserve its pressured wildernesses. Tanzania is still the place for a wild and wooly wilderness experience, something increasingly precious in today’s rapidly developing world.

No one right answer fits everyone and these generalities easily fall apart through different seasons and types of experiences. Never rely just on your friends’ recommendations, although that’s important. Single or even twice-enjoyed experiences often miss the nuances of season and market level. It’s the reason reviews on such places as TripAdvisor can be so misleading.

Never judge a book by its cover, or a safari company or property by its website alone.

Many decisions you should not make alone. Consider an experienced travel professional that can prove his actual experience and who can command your trust, just as you would when purchasing a home or making any other type of investment.

In the end ridiculously few first-time safari travelers are anything but totally satisfied with their safari, usually considering it among the best vacations of their lives!

New Travel Warning

New Travel Warning

APTOPIX_Waco_Shooting-06698-2966In light of yesterday’s events in Texas, the Kenyan Department of State warns Kenyan citizens of the risks of travel to the United States.

Kenyan citizens living in the United States, and those considering travel to America, should be aware of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.

Although thousands of Kenyans live and visit the U.S. each year without incident, caution and keen awareness of one’s personal security situation is vitally important. Terrorist acts can include suicide operations like the University of Oklahoma disaster, car bombings as in Times Square, New York; thousands of kidnappings, and attacks on civil aviation.

Militias in the U.S. like the affiliates in Waco, Texas, yesterday, duke it out like Shia and Suni all over the country.

Just this year alone, there have been more violent attacks involving shootings, grenades, or other explosive devices in the United States, killing tens of thousands of people and causing injury to hundreds more, clearly defining America as the most violent nation on earth.

Much involves the ease with which anyone in America can obtain a very destructive weapon. There is no other country in the world which allows such free enterprise in deadly force.

As Kenyans know well, at least two of the 6 attackers of the Westgate Mall attack came from Minneapolis.

The American FBI working with local police forces have disrupted several other terrorist plots throughout the country, which may have prevented additional deaths and injury from terrorist attacks. Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, some of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.

Ethnic clashes sometimes occur in various parts of America, primarily in America’s south like Ferguson, Missouri, and many parts of Florida which is otherwise considered an important tourist destination; as in Waco.

Keep in mind regarding Texas, that there was no ebola in Kenya recently, but there were several cases in Dallas.

The violent clashes in America are often fueled by disagreements over land or ownership of what militia’s call “turf.” While this violence is not directed at foreigners, ethnic clashes and protests are unpredictable and may affect non-Americans. Kenyan citizens are advised to check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling to these areas.

Violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including armed carjackings, grenade attacks, home invasions and burglaries, and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location, particularly in large cities like Chicago which has the highest crime rate in the country, much higher than cities of similar size in other parts of the world.

Kenyan citizens in the U.S. should be extremely vigilant with regard to their personal security, particularly in crowded public places such as clubs, hotels, resorts, shopping centers, restaurants, bus stations, and places of worship. Remain alert in residential areas, at schools, and at outdoor recreational events. Use commonsense precautions at all times, to include the following practices: avoid crowded transportation venues; visit only legitimate businesses and tourist areas only during daylight hours; use well-marked taxis and be sure to lock vehicle doors and keep windows up; lock all lodging doors and windows; carry minimal amounts of cash and credit cards; do not wear jewelry which attracts undue attention; know emergency phone numbers; do not resist or antagonize armed criminals; and always be aware of your surroundings. These measures can help prevent a “wrong place, wrong time” scenario in the event of an attack as well as ensuring that your travel to America is safe and enjoyable.

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There is, of course, no Kenyan “Department of State.” The spoof above was taken directly from the most recent travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State to U.S. citizens contemplating travel to Kenya: click here.

How Not To End Kenyan Terrorism

How Not To End Kenyan Terrorism

dadaabKenya’s insistence on closing the Dadaab refugee camp will increase terrorism. Tourists and business investors should remain vigilant.

Dadaab is now the largest single refugee camp in the world. There are nearly a half million people in a “camp” operated and maintained by the United Nations.

Imagine if Grand Rapids, New Haven, McAllen or Toledo – each an American city with about a half million population – were a “camp.”

Here’s an equally frightening way to look at it: compared to America’s and Kenya’s total populations, a refugee camp of similar size in America would be 3½ million, the size of Seattle, Minneapolis or San Diego.

The cost of maintaining Dadaab is paid by the United Nations, which in turn gets its funds for this specific project mostly from the U.S. and Britain. It isn’t just putting up tents. There are schools, churches, entertainment centers, telecommunication and power (electricity) facilities, security vehicles and buildings, waste treatment facilities, and potable water facilities in what is essentially a desert.

The cost is staggering, but Kenya insists the cost to its own security is even greater. It wants the UN to close Dadaab and repatriate the half million people – almost exclusively Somalis – to Somalia.

Somalia is doing better than ever. There are fewer violent attacks in Somalia than in Iraq or Afghanistan. Kenya’s argument is that the situation in Somalia is now peaceful enough to close the camp.

Needless to say, there are many who disagree, including probably all of the refugees in the camp. The fact is that life in a UN operated refugee camp is considerably safer, usually healthier, and often with better education opportunities than in many of the towns and villages in northeast Kenya where the camp is located.

It would be one thing if Kenya were making this decision separate from its overall policy towards Somalis in the country. There are more than 4,000,000 ethnic Somalis in Kenya who are legitimate Kenyans, many who have resided here for several generations or more.

Since the Somali invasion by Kenya in October, 2011, Somalis in Kenya have been terribly mistreated. In fact, according to a Kenyan government report four years Somalis have always been discriminated against! The invasion made it worse.

Consider this: a refugee from anywhere, a Libyan fleeing to Italy, or a Guatemalan fleeing to the U.S. or a Somali fleeing to Kenya, these are people who don’t want to fight. They are escaping conflict. They give up whatever and however little they have … for peace and security.

Closing Dadaab will infuriate and radicalize the youth currently living in the camp. Many Somalis in Kenya already have been. The “mastermind” of the Garissa bombing is a youth who grew up in Kenya and graduated from a Kenyan law school with honors.

The rationale Kenya gives to closing Dadaab is that terrorists are bred in the camp who regularly harm Kenya, yet there is to date no evidence of this, and it is simply counter-intuitive to the nature of a refugee.

The truth is that one of the greatest causes of the terrorism Kenya is its treatment of ethnic Somalis living in the country.

The handful of infiltrators that manage to infect every refugee camp in the world is real but so small it’s ludicrous to suppose they wouldn’t infect small towns and villages in Kenya the same way if Dadaab didn’t exist.

In other words, closing Dadaab will not impede this dynamic an iota.

What it will do is increase hostility, mistrust and fire the conflict even further. It’s one of the worst decisions Kenya has ever made.

Jim’s award winning novel, Chasm Gorge, set in Kenya, tells the story of a kidnapping by terrorists of the son of the man who wants to become the President of the United States. The book is available online in e-editions, soft and hard cover, from Amazon, B&N and bookstores around the world.