You don't face any more danger traveling in most African countries, than in other parts of the world. The myths about Africa being a dangerous and violent place are ill-founded for a vast majority of countries. The West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014 is a case in point - lots of fear and misinformation with regards to traveling to the continent. Petty theft is probably the most common crime you are likely to come across when visiting Africa.
As a tourist with cameras and cash, you just have to be careful. Violent muggings are quite rare for most African countries. Dakar, Nairobi, and Johannesburg are probably most notorious for violent crime, car-jacking, and murder. Keep up to date with current official Travel Advisories and African news so you can avoid areas where there is war, famine or obvious political instability. This article will give you a brief overview of what to watch out for and how to avoid becoming a victim of crime when traveling in Africa.
Basic Safety Tips
Regardless of your budget, when you are traveling in Africa keep in mind that you are much richer than the majority of local people around you. While most people are honest, the sight of a tourist with cash to spare and cameras dangling is too tempting for some. To avoid being fodder for con-artists, petty thieves and opportunists keep some of the following safety tips in mind when visiting Africa:
- Wear a flat money belt that fits underneath your clothes. Use this to keep your credit cards, passport, and travelers checks safe.
- Make a copy of your passport, ticket, credit card, and traveler check numbers. Put these in your main luggage so if you do get robbed of the originals, you still have all the information for insurance and replacement purposes.
- Use a fanny pack or your pockets for your day to day cash. I always think of this as a decoy. If you get robbed, then all you lose is a day's worth of spending money.
- Don't wear jewelry, flashy watches or cameras around your neck, you're just inviting trouble. Obviously, you'll want to take photos when you travel, just try and be discreet and put your cameras away or leave them in a safe place at your hotel when you're not using them.
- Safes in hotels are not always safe (ironically) so use a lockable pouch or bag to put your valuables in if your hotel has these facilities.
- Don't walk alone at night especially in major town and cities and in stick to well lit areas even if you are walking with a group. Taxis are available in every African town and its worth the extra money to be safe.
- Don't look too obviously lost even if you are. You can always walk purposefully into a shop, bank or hotel to ask for directions or consult a map.
- Watch your belongings and pockets very carefully at busy bus stations, train stations, markets and bazaars.
- If you are carjacked or held up with a weapon never resist. Give your money, belongings, whatever is demanded. Most people are hurt because they do not cooperate with demands made.
If You Are a Victim of Crime
If you get robbed, mugged or conned while traveling in Africa then you'll first want to get a police report. Most insurance companies, travel agencies, and embassies will require a police report before they replace your valuables and/or your passports and tickets. A visit to an African police station will be an experience in itself. Be polite and friendly and agree to a fee if one is asked for. Contact your credit card company directly if your credit cards are stolen. Contact your embassy if your passport is stolen.
Note: If you see a thief run off with your belongings think twice before you yell "THIEF" and give chase. Thieves are despised in many African cultures and they will be run down and dealt with on the spot by locals. You don't want to witness a mob beating a young boy to a pulp for the sake of your watch.
For this reason, you also have to be extremely careful about accusing anyone of theft especially if you are not 100 percent sure about it.
Cons and Scams
Every country will have its fair share of con artists and scams. The best way to find out about them is to talk to other travelers who have been in that country for a while. You can also check out bulletin boards on websites like Virtual Tourist where there's a special section devoted to 'warnings and dangers' for every destination.
- People posing as 'refugees', 'students', orphans and others will no doubt try and relieve you of your money. It is difficult for anyone with a heart to ignore but if you really want to help, donate to a local charity and give food rather than money if appropriate.
- Police posing as drug dealers. Obviously buying drugs in Africa is illegal so you're asking for trouble by risking it. Nevertheless, be aware that many police pose as dealers. They'll take your money for the drugs you purchase and then slap you with a hefty fine for possessing drugs a little later.
Terrorist acts have taken place in some of Africa's most popular tourist destinations namely Tanzania, Kenya, and Egypt. For more information and currents levels of danger see the Travel Warnings issued by governments to warn their citizens about safety in certain troubled countries.
Source: Lonely Planet Guide, Africa on a Shoestring