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Crime in Africa: Some Cities Are Safer Than Others for Expatriates

By Kathy Keefer

Summary: In Africa, international assignees and their families often face a special security risk simply because they are foreign and, as expatriates, perceived to be wealthy. Keefer offers an overview of the safety of popular cities.

Moving to Africa - Crime Rates in Popular Cities

Investment in the African economy continues to increase with the lure of untapped natural resources (oil, gold, diamonds, minerals, biofuel sources) on the one hand, and markets hungry for western goods on the other. Popular expatriate destinations – such as Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa – offer conditions that vary significantly, so that expatriate life in some cities is easier (and safer) than in others. Exacerbating typical concerns over health, pollution, and other factors in some locations is the ever-present security risk from volatile politics that create instability and the potential for protests and demonstrations to turn violent without warning. In other locations, danger exists from the threat of terrorism (e.g., al Qaeda), ethnic violence, and rival gang activity.

Adding to the heightened sense of insecurity in some locations is the risk of crime, particularly for foreigners. Even with a stable political presence, safety may be a major concern, depending on the prevalence of local criminal elements, police inefficiency (and corruption), and other related factors. International assignees and their families often face a special security risk simply because they are foreign and, as expatriates, perceived to be wealthy.

ORC Worldwide – in conjunction with Control Risks Group – analyzes the status of local conditions in dangerous or difficult host locations. Cities in the five countries mentioned above pose an interesting contrast with regard to what expatriates should expect about local crime.

Cairo, Egypt: Safer Than Most

Although rising, crime rates in Cairo are relatively low, and violent crime is rare. The most common problem is petty street crime (pickpocketing, bag snatching).

The risk of criminal attack against westerners is low, primarily due to extensive deployment of police and special forces on the streets, along with the large number of "tourist police" in the vicinity of major hotels and historic sites. While police are helpful, they are fairly inefficient. The presence of doormen in some residential areas enhances the sense of security.

Casablanca, Morocco: A Better Police Force

The police are well-equipped, efficient, and friendly to foreigners. Petty crime (especially pickpocketing) is the greatest risk for expatriates, particularly in port and transportation centers at night. Although violent crimes are not so much of a threat, residential burglary and muggings do pose a risk, sometimes at knifepoint.

As there have been incidents of rape in deserted parts of the city, women should take common sense precautions and not venture out alone after dark. Foreigners should avoid the shantytown districts that surround the city at all times.

Johannesburg, South Africa: Highest Incidence of Rape

Although crime statistics are leveling off, Johannesburg still has one of the highest per capita crime rates in the world, with levels of violent crime exceptionally high. People tend to carry concealed firearms, which leads to an escalation in violence. Mugging, armed robbery, theft, carjacking, and "smash and grab" attacks on vehicles are among the major problems.

Anyone arriving at an airport should be wary of the growing threat of being followed, then robbed at the final destination, whether home or hotel. Women are at greater risk of attack and sexual assault, as South Africa has the highest incidence of reported rape in the world.

While most crime occurs in poorer neighborhoods, no area is immune. There is a high incidence of residential and business break-ins. To be safer, expatriates should invest in adequate home and business security, as well as avoid the crime-ridden minibus taxis and taxi stands.

Prevalent nonviolent crimes include credit card fraud and other scams. While the overburdened police are helpful, private security firms assume some police duties.

Nairobi, Kenya: Weapons Abound

Violent crime is the greatest threat to expatriates, as most crimes involve a weapon. Crime rates are especially high in densely populated areas, as well as wealthy districts. The police maintain a strong presence in the city center, but they are undermanned, poorly trained, and ill equipped. Moreover, the police force is one of the most corrupt institutions in society.

Opportunistic street crimes (mugging, scams) are prevalent, with the threat of such crime rising during periods of political crisis. Carjacking is also widespread (attackers easily resort to violence), along with theft from open windows while the car is stopped at a traffic light. Armed robbery is a problem on highways, too, mainly in rural areas and at some national parks and game preserves; however, it does occur even on some main roads, particularly at night. Residential break-ins are common.

Lagos, Nigeria: Foreigners Beware

Violent crime is rampant, and foreigners often targeted. There is a constant threat of petty crime, scams, and fraud, along with violent robbery, armed muggings, assault, burglary, and armed carjacking. Crime rates (robbery, in particular) typically rise before Christmas, when street patrols are slightly reduced.

With extreme caution necessary, especially at night, expatriates often hire an armed guard. In fact, many expatriates live in a compound with guards and perimeter fencing. Security forces are unable to combat even petty crime, and some are involved in criminal activities. In fact, the police are as likely to detain and harass foreigners as a means of extortion as to provide assistance.

A Word to the Wise

Obviously, common sense precautions are necessary in dangerous locations. But it is also advisable to heed the counsel, guidelines, and warnings provided not only by employers and security firms, but also foreign government consulates and embassies. Find out as much as you can before you arrive. By being prepared, you can ensure the safest assignment for you and your loved ones.

Kathy Keefer, a Location Evaluation Specialist for ORC Worldwide's international compensation practice, is based in Chicago.

About the Author

AS ORC WorldwideORC Worldwide is a leading international human resources consulting firm headquartered in New York. Serving the business community for 50 years, ORC consultants offer their expertise and research capability to help clients respond effectively to a wide range of human resources management issues and challenges, as well as achieve a competitive edge in the present global economy. Using the world's largest database on expatriate compensation and practices, ORC

First Published: Jan 10, 2009

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