One of two land borders between Africa and Europe. Going south towards the bright light of Africa!
I am happy to be leaving Europe again. With the onslaught of ebola this year, again I have battled against western perspectives on Africa that have again been thrown towards a celebrity fever pitched tune of fear. The past seven months, my longest stint there for many years, have been a welcome rest and were blessedly sun, home and love filled, so I left reluctantly. But now I’m leaving behind the 24/7 rolling politics and news pouring out its fear and terror that poor westerners live with, and I am thankful: the perspective back there of the other is truly terrifying, bring on the warm bosom of Africa!
With the shores of Europe behind me and the sands of the Sahara ahead, again I look back at home thankful to be leaving my windmills and Canute-esque struggle against the tide behind. I am reminded of when I left on this same journey a year and a half ago the day Lee Rigby was hacked to death with a meat cleaver on the streets of London. Did anyone cancel their journey to London that day, that month, that year? Plus ça change!
Yet again I head towards a disease in Africa that has risen and foiled the might of all the world’s unions of power present on the ground from the beginning: the UN, the WHO, the IMF and the World Bank, the African and European Unions, and combined powers of the American, British and French militaries and aid industries.
Again your only option from your apparent safety back home is to turn to Sir Bob and Bono to orchestrate X Factor pop stars to sing of Christmas and snow and mistletoe and wine to black muslims living in the heat, hopefully bringing tears to your eyes so you reach guiltily in your pocket to buy our old tired tune to play over the fattened turkey and so aid Africa this festive season.
But be careful! Don’t sit back too comfortably: you may be in more danger from that turkey than travelling to Africa this Christmas!
Trading in Fear and Living the Lie
For many years, travelling and running trips across Africa, I have been trading in fear, living a lie and smiling at the irony. My friends and family have worried about my safety, my diet and my health, my prospective clients have read this and that from their governments’ high intelligence, I am told and informed and questioned about terrorism, disease, corruption, war and famine… And all the while in Africa I feel safer, I eat better, I am more healthy and see more of the sun and the stars and the moon so feel more privileged than I am at home in London.
My dear mother, an African herself born and bred, obviously worries terribly from her adopted home in England about her son wandering though that same African bush she knew so well as a child. I have to point out that when i was a child she took me back to see her family in the then guerilla war torn Rhodesia time and time again. Her brother fought in this war. People close to our family were killed. As a child I saw the physical scars on the bellies of my older cousins’ friends.
Since those days of childhood travel I have crossed the continent from south to north and east to west, on my own. Twenty eight countries and over a hundred thousand miles later I have never been in another war zone, I don’t know anyone who has been killed in conflict, I’ve never seen gunfire, I’ve never seen a pick up full of rebels or terrorists (and I hung out in the Sahara desert, or did until the foreign soldiers came followed by these pick ups, but then no one would let me go there anymore) and been present in Mali through a rebellion, a coup d’etat, Al Qaeda occupation and a French military intervention. I’ve never seen bloodshed or a bomb or a gun fired in anger.
Ebola, Terrorism and Fear
Well before the Mali crisis of 2012 I was dealing a lot with tourists’ worries about terrorism in regions where no terrorist attack had ever occured. I had a client from Tel Aviv back in 2009 worrying about a terrorist attack at the Festival In The Desert. Then there have been a number of prospective clients deciding against a holiday in West Africa and opting to go to South Africa instead. THE most dangerous city in the whole of Africa is Johannesburg, and the homicide rate in South Africa as a whole outstrips any other country by far.
Today with ebola tourist numbers to Tanzania have been decimated, although Tanzania is further from the ebola region than London.
With both ebola and Al Qaeda, to suffer from either of these diseases you have to come into contact with the actual virus. With ebola this means being in contact with someone who has the disease and with Al Qaeda being in an area that they have access to. Neither of these diseases is randomly out there.
Ebola is simple. Even though it would still be easy to avoid, for the sake of argument just don’t go to a country where it is not contained. This means Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea for now. The vast majority of the rest of the huge continent of Africa (the size of Europe, the USA, China, India, Argentina and the mighty New Zealand all put together) even somewhere like Mali, where they have had a case, is very very safe. As a tourist your chances of contracting ebola, even in Sierra Leone, are pretty much zilch.
But terrorism? Surely that’s less predicatable? I’ve been trolling the internet for some stats. Let’s go on with some numbers because they prove everything don’t they!
– Since the War on Terror began in 2001 the UK has lost 57 people to acts of terrorism within its borders, 56 of these were in the 7/7 bombings in London. The other was Lee Rigby, the British army fusileer who was killed in Woolwich in 2013. I cannot find statistics for UK citizens who have died abroad in acts of terrorism but off the top of my head I can think of about 5. Let’s double it to 10. At its most extreme, of all the UK citizens who travel abroad the chances of a UK death to terrorism abroad is less than one a year. Even at home it is less than 4 deaths a year.
– The UK records on average 80 deaths per year from Salmonella. You are twenty times more likely to die from a chicken or an egg than you are from terrorism at home, and about 100 times more likely than to die of terrorism abroad.
– From 1990-2007 the UK lost 2152 people to non-pregnant listeriosis at an average of 127 per year (see:http://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/committee/acmsflisteria.pdf).
What causes listeriosis?
“Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer. Animals can carry the bacteria and can contaminate meats and dairy products.Processed foods, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts, can be contaminated after processing.”
Shit! Wont be doing any of that!
– The total number of non military and non-natural deaths of US citizens abroad in 2007 was 671:
134 deaths as a result of automobile accidents
109 deaths by drowning
32 deaths as a result of motorcycle accidents
26 deaths as a result of air accidents
23 deaths related to drugs
12 deaths of pedestrians
11 deaths as a result of bus accidents
9 deaths as a result of terrorist action
6 deaths as a result of maritime accidents
(Taken from www.medicine.ox.ac.uk)
The total number of US citizens travelling abroad was 40,798,278
This gives a US citizen who travels abroad the odds of 1 in 60,802 of dying. His/her chances of dying from terrorism: 1 in 4,533,142.
– Within the US in 2010 there were 2,515,458 deaths at 807.3 deaths per 100,000 population. This gives a rate of 1 in 124
Reading the statistics for US deaths we can see that with travelling, as with things like murder, abuse or rape, you are far more likely to suffer at home than at the hands of a stranger. Of course statistics are misleading. Most people who travel abroad are going to be healthy, many of those who die at home will be old, already sick or have natural causes. So let’s look at the extreme.
In 2009 there were 8,855 gun related homicides in the US. As a proportion of a population of about 300 million this is 1 in 33,879 of the population dies each year from gun crime.
That is even more incredible! A US citizen has double the chance of being killed by a gun inside the US than of dying by any means if they travel abroad, and is 133 times more likely to die from gun crime at home than terrorism abroad. If the US government wants to protect its citizens it should divert funds from the war on terror to fund their population leaving the US!!
So if you are really worried about dying abroad you’d better stay at home, don’t even take a taxi to the pub, lock your door, don’t get out of bed, don’t go anywhere near your family or friends and don’t, whatever you do, eat chicken or turkey this Christmas.
Give Africa your presence not your presents this Christmas
Al Qaeda and Ebola will not kill Africa, your fear and your aid sent from afar will. Sir Bob Geldof is a hero of mine. But please don’t buy his single nor send aid to Africa this Christmas, it’s becoming inappropriate. It does more harm than good as it makes you believe a lie.
Just think well of Africa this Christmas, and come soon if you can! You’ve got more to fear from Father Christmas and Rudolph and that turkey in the oven!