The continent of Africa, made up of 54 fully recognised sovereign states that cover a vast range of natural ecosystems and an even vaster range of cultures, is home to 1.2 billion people. Rich in natural resources, it offers huge opportunities and is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Despite this, Africa is seldom in the news for the right reasons. Whether it’s the spread of the Ebola virus, political unrest, poverty, drought, deadly protests or terrorism; Africa can be a difficult and dangerous place to navigate and to operate in, requiring a real understanding of the extremely diverse societies, cultures and behaviours that exist in different parts of the continent.
Consider that Al-Shabaab, a jihadist fundamentalist group, and Boko Haram, a Sunni Islamist militant organisation, are responsible for most of the conflict-related deaths in Africa and they are both based on the continent. Yet business opportunities in Africa continue to boom and it’s becoming worthy of long-term investment. However, many companies are not sure how to expand into Africa because of fears of instability and safety.
As a security professional who lives in South Africa and assists individuals and organisations traveling to or considering expansion in the area, I hear the following questions often:
- Is it safe for me or my employees to travel to and within Africa?
- What should I know before embarking on such trips?
- What do I do in case of security threats or incidents, natural disasters and civil unrest?
In this blog, I hope to answer some of these questions for you.
First however, let’s address why you or your organisation should ask the questions? What sort of data drives the need? According to travel risk findings from the UK-based market research organisation Ipsos MORI’s Global Business Resilience Trends Watch 2018 and Business Travel Risks & Realities 2017 surveys, 42% of decision-makers changed corporate travel plans to Africa due to travel risk ratings in 2017, compared with 32% in 2016.
The research also found that organisations in Africa modified the itineraries of their business travellers and assignees mostly because of three reasons: security threats (63%); country risk-ratings (41%) and civil unrest (36%).
So, what do companies need to consider to help ensure they have adequate risk management policies and procedures in place for employees travelling into Africa and to not miss business opportunities?
Potential Regional Threats in Africa that Should be Taken Seriously
From my perspective, the top five potential risks when travelling to and within Africa include kidnapping, civil disobedience and unrest, collateral damage from protest actions and/or unrest, natural disasters and medical emergencies.
Regional Travel Risk Policies and Execution Plans
It is imperative that organisations have a precise and efficient travel management policy in place. A major concern for every corporate security professional is the safety of the company’s executives and staff when travelling to potentially dangerous places on company business. Ideally the security director or manager of a company should be aware of every journey undertaken by employees into Africa (among other regions.) This should enable them to provide a sign-off on safe passage and security protocols, and when necessary, put these in place.
Staff Training and Briefings on Mitigating Regional Threats
After the regional risk has been established, staff should undergo a briefing session, especially if their destination is a high-risk area. These briefings should cover basic things like: who will be meeting them at the airport on arrival, how do they get to their hotel, itinerary of business meetings, etc.; including what resources are available in-country should they run into trouble or need guidance and advice, to name just a few.
Regional Medical Response Planning
In case of a medical emergency, companies should ensure that employees have a point of contact, police number and contact details if any situation arises. For organisations with a local presence, it is best that the local office be the point of contact for this and especially for advice. Companies should also secure good global medical coverage for private medical attention or medivacs, as most public medical facilities on the African continent are ill-equipped to deal with and respond to medical emergencies quickly and proficiently.
Disaster and Emergency Response Planning
It is also important that companies have a proper response and execution plan in place in case of natural or civil disasters. Having a security service provider that can respond to security threats and carry out evacuations on the ground is as important. When hiring a service provider, be sure to employ a company that has a proven track record, with local knowledge and is reputable and experienced.
All things considered, these risks should not cause businesses to limit or abandon growth plans in Africa, as there are many specialist security solutions available on the continent that can help. Offerings such as secure travel, close protection, specialist security risk management and guarding are among the services that should be contemplated.
Rory Steyn is the CEO of Africa for NSA Global Security Consultants. He is an international security and protection expert with 35 years of experience. Mr. Steyn is a retired Lieutenant-Colonel of the South African Police and was previously appointed as a team leader of President Mandela’s Presidential Protection Unit.