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Preparing for African travel checklist

There is so much to think about when preparing for a trip and Africa can be especially daunting as it is so unknown.  This list will help make sure you remember everything as you prepare for your safari adventure.

1. Passport

  • Your passport should be valid for at least six months after the end date of your trip.
  • As most African countries require visas for most nationalities, it is a good idea to ensure you have one blank page for each country to be visited.  So if the passport is getting full and you are planning a big overland journey, it might be a good time to renew.

2. Visas

  • Check with the embassy of the country (or countries) to be visited whether your nationality needs a visa.  In sub-Saharan Africa, visas can easily be acquired on entry, but this is not true for all nationalities.  Do not rely on your tour operator to know the rules for every nationality either – it is usually your responsibility to find out this information and, of course, apply in advance for those visas if necessary.

3. Travel Insurance

  • In Europe, many travellers forego travel insurance and take their chances.  It is simply not worth it in Africa.  The medical facilities available are usually not up to the standards in the West so having emergency evacuation cover is essential.  Protection against petty theft, lost luggage and sham tour operators are also helpful.

4. Book flights, tours, accommodation

  • The general wisdom is that eight weeks prior to travel is the optimal time to book flights.  There are plenty of online booking engines that can find cheap flights, but for a complicated itinerary there are still travel agents ready to assist.
  • Travelling in Africa is much easier on a tour, whether you join a group departure or organise a tailor-made safari.  If you prefer a tailor-made itinerary, it is good to start finding an operator at least three months in advance.  That will give you time to properly check out a few operators and make sure your itinerary is exactly what you want.
  • Check the inclusions of the tour and book accommodation for the first and/or last night if necessary.

5. Vaccinations

  • Talk to your doctor or a travel clinic about which vaccinations you need for the particular countries on your itinerary.
  • Allow at least six weeks before travel to get the vaccinations as some require a course of doses.

6. Airport transfers

  • After a long flight, haggling with a taxi driver is often the last thing you want to do.  Even if it costs a little bit more than you think you will be able to get it (not always true by the way), having someone meet you at the airport is one of life’s little joys.
  • And don’t forget to organise someone to pick you up when you return home as well!

7. Money

  • Check what ATM and credit card facilities are available in your destination.
  • Ensure you have enough cash to keep you going for the first few days – US dollars are still the currency of choice throughout most of Africa, although Pounds Stirling and Euros can be easily exchanged in cities.
  • Stash US$100 somewhere in your luggage for emergencies (running out of beer is NOT an emergency).

8. Pet care

  • Organising a house sitter is often less stressful for your animal and also protects your home security while you are away.

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9. Pack

  • Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to buy a new “safari wardrobe” for travelling in Africa.  Khaki is not a vital requirement.  Of course the specially-designed lightweight travel clothing is great if you are undertaking a long journey lugging your own bag around.
  • Pack for a Purpose is a fantastic website that has lists of equipment needed by projects all over the world.  If you have spare space in your suitcase, be sure to check the site for your destination and see what useful donations you can bring along

10. Language

  • Learning some of the local language gives you the opportunity to interact with people in your destination.  Often their English will be better than your KiSwahili, but it breaks the ice if you greet someone in their own language.

Although the focus of this checklist has been on African travel, it can be applied to most anywhere.  Getting these ten items organised will ensure you are ready and relaxed by the time you take off.

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How Safe Is Kenya? How The 2013 Elections May Impact Your Safari

With elections proposed for March 2013, security questions arise for those considering an African safari. The last election in December 2007 resulted in 800-1500 Kenyans savagely murdered and 180,000-250,000 displaced (figures vary according to different sources). Although the violence was inter-tribal, it was horrific and severely damaged the tourism industry. So as we approach the next election the question is “Will it happen again?” This article examines recent events in Kenya and the opinions of various parties about the situation. This article will not advise you whether to travel to Kenya in March or not – my intention is to illustrate the situation so you can make an informed decision.

Kenya has always had conflict around elections, but it has usually been in small pockets around the country. The post-election violence in 2007-8 was the first time it broke out throughout the nation. Those deemed responsible for inciting violence are on charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) currently, including presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta. It seems a strange situation to have a man charged with crimes against humanity being allowed to run for presidency! The other main candidate though, Raila Odinga, spent most of the 1980s in jail for his involvement in a coup attempt, and was the one who called foul on the 2007 election results, potentially prompting the violence.

There are very few Kenyans who want a repeat of that violence and Kenyan security agencies assure us they are doing everything in their power to prevent that. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) does not believe a situation like 2008 will happen again. Similarly, Andrew Limo, training coordinator for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), says they have made measures to ensure that Kenyans are protected during the election and that it runs smoothly.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Kenyan Red Cross are less optimistic. Some incidents this year have led those non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be sceptical of a peaceful election.

In early July, three musicians were arrested and charged with inciting violence through their music. If they are found guilty, they could face three years in jail. Inciting violence through music, speech or other means has become a very sensitive issue since the 2008 violence and indeed a criminal offence. Joshua Arap Sang, due for trial before the ICC for crimes against humanity, was a radio executive who allegedly incited violence in 2008 through coded messages on the radio.

Limo, from the IEBC, has advised journalists to be on the front line in preaching peace by reporting fairly. “Journalists you have big role to play in making sure that the general election is conducted peacefully by reporting fairly and objectively, by not siding with any individual or group, because our work is to inform Kenya accurately.” He also said scribes should be focused on reporting matters that will unite Kenyans.

But despite the majority of Kenyans saying they do not want a repeat of the violence, stories such as the one that emerged in late August of 52 people (mostly women and children) murdered in the coastal Tana River Region does put that sentiment into question. On 22 August, 31 women, 11 children and six men (and 60 cows) were murdered with pangas (machetes). On 10 September a further 39 were murdered in a retaliatory attack. The conflict is between the Pokomo and Orma tribes, triggered over a fight for pasture. Resource scarcity and food shortages are the primary causes for conflict in Kenya. It is the same motivation that drives Kenyans to mug tourists – they are hungry and have children to feed. The fight for arable land and water is what drove those Tana Delta killings in a conflict between crop growers and cattle herders.

The riots in Mombasa on 27 August however were not borne of resource scarcity, but rather a religious conflict, which does not bode well for election security. Analysts from international NGOs suggest this is a sign of worse to come, although the Kenyan government seems to be working quickly to suppress the troubles, charging 24 people on August 29. Muslims were protesting the killing of cleric Rogo, destroying churches, private property, and government installations. Rogo was a terrorism suspect who preached jihad and who was a divisive figure even within Islamic circles, but who had strong militant support throughout the coastal region.

As we consider whether violence will break out again in March, one thing to remember is that

in Kenya, power is worth fighting for. Corruption is rife through all levels of the public service, meaning that it is possible to become very wealthy if your friend is the president. The best jobs tend to go to fellow tribe members. That is why it becomes very important to ensure the man at the top is from your tribe, and desperate people will believe their situation will be improved if their tribesman is in power.

Fiona Herring, a post-graduate student of Refugee Studies at the University of East London, suggests that violence at the time of the elections will probably be limited to certain areas, specifically Nakuru, Naivasha, Eldoret, Mombasa and Kibera. It may be more widespread in April though, when the ICC trial is set to take place, especially if Kenyatta wins the election.

But in the post-election violence of 2008, even the white Kenyans were largely left alone and it was certainly never aimed at tourists. The impact on the tourism industry was, however, dire. Being that tourism is Kenya’s top industry, it is unlikely that tourists would become a target in any election violence as it would be so detrimental to the economy. Most crime against tourists is opportunistic, so it is doubtful that it will increase with any election conflict. However, if you are on safari, be aware that the your driver’s ethnicity may affect your movement should conflict occur. But again, even Kenyans do not want to see any election violence, let alone get caught up in it.

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