Monday, September 09, 2013

Why it is a bad idea to visit East Africa

Today I begin my malaria tablets.

I'm already shot up full of hepatitis and typhoid vaccines. Now I've come across warning that there's been a flare-up of meningococcal meningitis in the south Omo Valley of Ethiopia, my main destination where I will be shooting the southern tribes. I don't intend to French kiss them so meningitis is manageable. But the World Health Organisation also reported a recent outbreak of yellow fever, the mosquito-borne haemorrhagic disease, in the same area. They're on the ground containing it right now. Local mosquitoes French kissing me are considerably harder to avoid, so I got vaccinated two weeks ago. I had to if I wanted to come home. Australia won't let me back into the country without immunisation.

In fact, they don't even want me to go. The Australian government's "smart traveller" website says of Uganda: "Reconsider your need to travel to areas bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo." The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda, where I will be tracking the mountain gorillas, sits right on the border. The late Dian Fossey was based here. And murdered here.

From there I cross by road into Rwanda about 100km from Goma, the provincial capital seized from Congolese government forces last year by M23, the allegedly Rwanda-backed Tutsi rebels. Tutsi and Hutu militia have persisted since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. There was further fighting near Goma in July.

"Reconsider your need to travel" is the Australian government's second-highest security advice. The highest is what it says of Ethiopia: "Do Not Travel." Not actually for all of Ethiopia, but the border areas with Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya... well, all the border areas. Harar, one of my first stops, is only about 120km in a straight line from the Somali border. Actually, it's the border of Somaliland, an unrecognised breakaway state which is reasonably stable. Aksum, on the other hand, is about 50km by road from the Eritrean border. The war with Eritrea formally ended 13 years ago and the border has been permanently closed since, though there have been skirmishes as recently as 2010. This is the region where five western tourists were killed and two kidnapped by gunmen last year. This is my destination in the north.

But not to worry. Yes, I'm a westerner travelling solo, but I will hire guides.

They carry rifles.


Anonymous said...

Good luck Wayne. Stay safe. braver than me!! simon

Anonymous said...

It sounds like an amazing trip. Take care! Cheers, Wendy (hoofbeats)

poetinahat said...

Wow. There's travel, and then there's travel.

Enjoy, Wayne. And do come back!

#win said...


G. Wayne Meaney said...

It was during this trip that the terrorist attack in Nairobi's Westgate mall occurred. Shortly after I left Kampala, alerts were issued that a similar thing could happen there. And as for less dramatic but more likely incidents, I contracted dysentery in the remote Omo Valley.