Sunday 28 August 2011

FCO "trouble abroad" figures: previously unpublished country-by-country details


On my blog for another book, The Rough Guide to First-Time Africa, I've been posting the results of my chasing up the press office of the UK foreign affairs department (the Foreign & Commonwealth Office or FCO) for further information about their recently published "British Behaviour Abroad" report.

The report, covering March 2010 to March 2011, was published at the beginning of August, and contains broad-brush information about the numbers of Britons around the world requiring consular assistance. The numbers run into tens of thousands and include drug arrests, deaths, assaults and stolen passports. Apart from the busiest countries, however, the report does not go into any detail. No countries in West Africa get any mention.

I wanted more information, not just about West Africa, but about the other countries I'm particularly interested in in Africa. The results are posted on the First-Time Africa blog, here, and in subsequent posts as I've gleaned more information.

It's worth stating here that just two British nationals were murdered in West Africa between March 2010 and March 2011 – one in Cameroon and one in Nigeria. Neither case was related to terrorism.

Friday 19 August 2011

Improved security in the Sahel: military escorts dropped in northern Niger


This story about travelling in Niger, by the Xinhua press agency, "No more convoys under military escort in order to travel in the North", is highly significant, if it's entirely true. It says the routes radiating between Agadez and Arlit in the north, between Agadez and Abalak (on the route to Tahoua and Niamey) and between Agadez and Aderbissinat (en route to Zinder and Kano, Nigeria) are all open to the free movement of vehicles, without the need to travel in convoy with a military escort.
There's enough detail about the fact that it was a "unilateral decision of the governor of the Agadez region", about the "joy on the faces" of local people and especially businesses – which had been limited to one convoy every three days and who can now operate as they like – to make it sound completely credible, even though it comes as a surprise. The note about the authorities not recommending travel at night adds to the sense of normality. Interestingly, although the article refers to "the horrors" of the Tuareg rebellions, it makes no reference to AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), merely referring to "other forms of banditry".
Presumably, travel to the south of these routes remains straightforward. What it means for the current safety of travel north of Arlit – to Assamakka and Algeria – or indeed northeast past the Ténére Tree and on to Bilma, I have no idea. I think you wouldn't get a sense of that until you were actually in Agadez.