The hottest African nation in the news right now is, of course, Zimbabwe. As I write this in late December the US State Department has issued a Travel Warning against Zimbabwe. Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Department followed only days later with its own Travel Warning. And although the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office had not yet issued a blanket travel warning for Zim, it was advising against all travel to certain parts of the country, including the city center of Harare.
The wording in the US Travel Warning is not particularly scary, but it cites civil demonstrations, riots by soldiers and an overall deterioration of government services and infrastructures, including, of course, the collapse of public health systems and the recent cholera outbreak. Add to this the very scary news coverage of supposed assassination attempts, “plots of terror” and a ploy by the government to call a state of emergency, and one just may be inclined to follow the State Department’s advice to bypass Zimbabwe right now. Fortunately, the Travel Warning was issued at the end of the safari season when few hunters are traveling there. But what does this mean for anyone booking a hunt this coming safari season?
I called Sally Bown, executive secretary of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) for her on-the-ground perspective at press time. While she did not want to contradict the US State Department and admits there are severe problems, she says that the safari industry continues to operate as usual. “The stresses that we have to deal with, such as telephones not working, power outages and shortages of supplies, are not anything the client needs to handle, as it is the operator’s job to ensure the client isn’t even aware of these,” Bown says. As for security, she says that short of a revolution, hunters should have no trouble as long as they do not get involved in political activities and demonstrations in urban areas, and they stay out of areas where humanitarian efforts are underway.
Despite what we see in news broadcasts, Bown says it is safe to overnight in Harare. She has again offered to meet arriving hunters at the airport this coming season and escort them to a very nice lodge on the outskirts of the city. Otherwise, hunters arriving in Harare should immediately take an air charter or be driven to their hunting area. “Obviously, situations change,” Bown adds. “Check in with your operator before leaving for a safari this coming season,” she advises.....