Expat Safety in Africa – Top 6 Travel Tips from AS Solution


November 1, 2013 - By Christian West

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Forward thinking will prevent a lot of predictable trouble for travellers in Africa. Here’s some of the advice we give to executive clients. Whether you’re a seasoned road warrior or a first-timer, these tips will go a long way to keep you safe and enjoy your time in Africa.

Arriving at the airport

You get off your 12-hour flight, struggle through immigrations and customs, and then meet a sea of unfamiliar faces waiting to pick up friends, family and customers. Many are holding poorly written signs, one of which is supposed to have your name on it. No.

Take a lesson from how we work with our clients and follow these simple guidelines. If the transportation company won’t do as you request, find another one.

Tips for the expat traveller:

  • Never let the driver advertise your name on a sign. Someone less scrupulous can copy this onto a new sign, distract or detain the legitimate driver, then pick you up and rob you. It happens.
  • Have the driver use your hotel or company name on the sign – or a fictitious company name that you made up for the occasion.
  • Set up a simple security question/password that the driver must know the answer to before you leave with him. It can be anything that’s not obvious – the name of your first dog, the 25th pope or the 26th US president.

Traffic

Statistically, by far the most dangerous thing an expat traveller can do in Kenya – and indeed in most any developing country – is to get into a vehicle and go somewhere. And that’s exactly what practically all travellers need to do every day.

Of the estimated 1.17 million annual deaths due to traffic accidents worldwide, 75% occur in developing countries. Add to that the fact that developing countries account for only 32% of vehicles worldwide, and it becomes clear that traffic is more dangerous in places like Kenya than in the US or UK.

Tips for the expat traveller:

  • Don’t use taxis: Unless a colleague or friend recommends them, avoid taxis. And never get one off the street. Beyond the fact that the cars themselves are rarely paragons of physical safety, travelling by taxi makes you vulnerable to drivers that neither you nor your local contacts know or can follow up on.
  • Hire a car and driver: Instead of a taxi, ask your hotel or local contacts to arrange for a car and driver that can pick you up and take you where you need to go. Yes, you’ll pay a little more – but still very little compared to other countries – and you’ll have much more peace of mind.
  • Tell the driver what you think: If your gut tells you the driver isn’t driving as safely as he ought to (going too fast, talking on his cell phone, etc.) – go ahead and point it out. It’s your right – and your gut is often right.
  • In case of an accident, leave the scene and get to a police station: I know it goes against everything you’ve learned before, but if you are involved in an accident, leave the scene and get to the nearest police stations ASAP. Accidents draw a crowd that can turn into an angry mob – with you sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of it. Better to sort things out in the relative safety of a local police station.

Smash and grab

You’re sitting in the safety and comfort of an air-conditioned car in the middle of heavy traffic, checking your smartphone or napping. Cars and motorbikes are everywhere – and so are pedestrians hawking their wares or just milling about. Suddenly, one of the car windows explodes (smash), an arm reaches into the car and pulls away your briefcase or laptop (grab). It’s over in seconds, and they guy is long gone.

Tips for the expat traveller:

  • Don’t leave valuables out in plain view – even inside a locked car that you’re driving in.
  • Leave the car’s passenger and rear windows open at the top – just 3 or 4 mm, or less than a quarter of an inch. This won’t affect the air-con much, but it will mean the window glass is framed on 3 sides rather than 4. This makes the car glass much harder to smash through the first time, and gives your driver time to react. It also let’s you keep an ear on your surroundings.

Carjackings

There is a man with a gun pointed at you or your driver and he wants you to get out and hand over your car.

Tips for the expat traveller:

  • This is not the time to play hero.
  • Keep your hands in plain view and tell the guy what you are going to do next.
  • Don’t make sudden movements that the carjacker might construe as threats.
  • Get out of the car and let him take it and whatever is inside it.
  • Let him know if there are young children in the car. He might be focused on the driver only, and not be aware of other passengers. If you are being carjacked and you have a young child or baby in a child seat in the back seat: keeping your hands visible, and without getting out of the car, climb back between the 2 front seats, unstrap the child and take him or her out of one of the back passenger doors. If you get out of the driver’s seat as you usually would, the carjackers may just get in the car and drive off before you have a chance to get your child out, taking your child with them.
  • You are better off not driving off with the guy – so make this your plan if possible. Avoid being moved on to another location. Whenever possible assess the risk, make a choice and do whatever it takes not to go.

Pickpockets

They’re pros, and they know how to take advantage of any vulnerability. Don’t make things easy for them.

Tips for the expat traveller:

  • Keep your wallet and phone buried in a front pocket.
  • Don’t use your cell phone on the street. If you are walking in an unfamiliar part of town, have your phone on silent/vibrate only.
  • Be aware of where your wallet and phone are – without constantly feeling for them. By patting your valuables in your pockets, you are telling pickpockets, who are on the lookout for a victim, exactly where to find them.
  • If carrying a bag: put the strap around your shoulder, not your neck, and keep the bag in front of you.
  • Keep the bag on the opposite side of oncoming traffic, making it harder to snatch for someone on a motorbike.

Leaving hotel for airport

All your bags are packed, you’re ready to go. There’s a right way and a wrong way to wait for your car and driver.

Tips for the expat traveller:

  • Don’t stand in front of your hotel with all of your bags. This broadcasts your plans and allows criminals who rob travellers for a living to make plans of their own.
  • Leave your bags inside the hotel if you need to go outside to check if your car has arrived. Better yet, stay in the lobby and have someone from the hotel do the checking.

Christian West

Founder and CEO

Christian has been active in the executive protection industry since the late 1980s, when he worked for Danish musicians who relocated to Hollywood. Upon returning to Denmark, he founded his own EP company, which he quickly grew into Scandinavia’s largest, before it was acquired by Securitas.

Christian founded AS Solution in 2003, and again in 2009 followed his international clients to the US, where he is now based. An active member of ASIS and a leader in the corporate executive protection industry, Christian has personally planned and led high-profile engagements in over 76 countries for a wide variety of corporate and high net worth individual clients, including the international roadshow for the biggest IPO in history.