Pakistan warns against travel to the UK.
From Here 2 Timbuktu imports child labour concept from Africa to great effect
I have just come back from a wonderful Womad music festival where I have my From Here 2
Timbuktu pitch. One question came up again and again from people interested in a trip with
me to West Africa: security in the light of government warnings.
Having been going to West Africa every year for the past seven years, and feeling more at
home, safer and happier there than I do anywhere else in the world, I sometimes feel like a
lone voice on the beach pushing against the tsunami of western government rubbish coming
The other revelation I had at Womad was the benefit of the great African tradition of child
labour. My friends' kids took over the selling of my African wares. They doubled my takings
from the previous year, people signed up to my raffle which was funding sending Kum in
Cameroon to college next year, and they charmed the Womad public into taking more notice
of my trips, which is the main point of the pitch. But the greatest joy we all got from my
experiment with child labour was seeing the fun, the learning, the charm, the polite social
interaction and the responsibility displayed by the kids.
With the recent riots in the UK, our youth rampaging the streets of our cities looting,
torching and wrecking communities, for some reason, my mind keeps going back to
WOMAD, and these two images - people's fear of security elsewere and the benefit to the
community of children being involved in the real world, learning the ways of the adult world
they are about to join. And as ever I find Africa has a lot to teach the western world in its time
What the English riots showed was the common thread between security, education and
community. Take one of these things out and things get wobbly, take out two and, as WB
Yeats said, "things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."
The UK needs to take a serious look at all three.
But I ramble, on to the title of the piece! A reliable source - well not that reliable, I saw it on
her skype, - has informed me that Pakistan has warned against all travel to the UK. I can't
find proof of this, but the South African Government has definitely warned its citizens against
travel to England.
Anyone living in the UK will feel that this advice is over the top, unless you were unlucky
enough to live in the streets and communities effected, for the rest of us it was on tv, in the
papers, on people's lips but not in our lives. A visitor would have to have had seriously bad
luck to encounter anything, like the Malaysian kid Asyraf Haziq wo was mugged while being
supposedly helped by thugs.
So is the advice not to go to the UK warranted? Should Cornwall suffer because of rioting in
Well it's what we are doing to the rest of the world.
Today - or tonight - you would be safer wondering the streets of Baghdad than Manchester or
But would the events in the UK seriously stop you from going on holiday there? Perhaps if
you were taking a summer holiday to Hackney maybe, but Torquay I hear is very safe!
And if I were to venture to London tonight, if I was going to accidentally enter an area where
trouble is likely to flare, I reckon I'd (now) be warned off by the police.
We accept this logic in our own world. But the foreign world we assume is different, and our
governments love to play on that.
For 3 years now Mali has been written off by western governments travel advice because of a
supposed Al Qaeda issue in the remote Algerian border region of the Mali desert. This group
has only ever been able to operate in the remote border regions of the desert, the problem has
never infiltrated into the country proper because it can't, it has no force. And yet Timbuktu,
over 1000 miles from where this group are holed up - that's the length of Britain - is
supposedly dangerous to go to, despite nothing ever having happend there - no kidnappings,
no riots, no murders of foreigners, nothing... oh I lie, a double agent Malian army general
who had his hands in every pie of contraband was assassinated there. So now you and I
should stay clear.
A favourite issue of mine is why isnt htis band of supposed Al Qaeda militants taken out?
This band of bandits, between 2-300 and lightly armed, are no where near any settlements. I
could take you to where they are tomorrow. If I can take you there, then so can the US and
French military who are in place, we are told, to train the Malian military in "counter
terrorism" (nothing to do with the uranium mines in Niger or the oil fields throughout the
Sahara of course). And so could the Malian military, and the vast forces of the Algerian
military who are VERY close by, and the Nigerian military.
One big question: why aren't they taken out?
No one has ever been able to satisfactorily answer this for me. If we are in a war on terror,
and if these guys are, we are told, in third place as bad people who want to do us harm,behind
Al Qaeda in Afganistan/Pakistan and Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsular (I'd add the Bradford
UK posse in there - you know the ones who blew up the underground, again in the safe haven
of London - but apparently they don't count because they don't all wear towels on their heads
and they speak good English, and they are a safer form of home grown terrorist), you'd have
thought their elimination would make an easy success story in a war that has had very few.
I'd suggest the answer to why nothing is done is not far away from the reason Osama Bin
Laden took so long to find and was only popped off once he'd lost his efficacy as a
bogeyman, the Arab Spring had already made clear that the Al Qaeda ideology was waning as
a force in the muslim world anyway, and we'd grown tired of Afganistan and bloody poppies
What we're not tired of is oil and uranium! And the Sahara has plenty of both.
The point I'm making is that in coming on a trip to Mali with me, or anywhere else that I go
for that matter, you are taking a similar risk to going to Torquay now if you are French, or
going to London in 2 months time ( now may not be wise) if you are American. I'd say you
are taking less of a risk going to Mali, especially when it comes to security against your
person. Crime is pretty non-existent in West Africa, and youth riots...unheard of.
To a Malian it is absurb that Timbuktu is warned against because over a 1000 miles away a
group of bandits given the mantle of "terrorists" are oled up in a mountain drinking tea. To an
American it is absurd for a foreigner not to not go to New York because of fear of a repeat of
9/11. To a Brit it is absurd not to come to Uk because of a few nigts of carnage. Ashraf Haziq
can see te absudity of misplaced anxiety - fres from ospital wit metal in is mouth to bind
togeter his broken jaw, e has refused to pandar to his moter's fears about his safety in
England! Even e can see tat e was very unlucky, and he refuses to let pot luck dictate is life.
In Africa, the people who really care about your security are your hosts - the communities
you are travelling through, the guides and the travel company and the people taking care of
you. The army and police are there to check people's documents, they don't police the place -
the community polices itself.
In all my travels in Africa I have had one incident where I could say I was in danger. I knew
hundreds of miles before I got to the place tat tere was a possibility of insecurity. It was my
local contacts, my hosts, my instincts which saved my bacon.
In Africa you are that most valued and respected of people - a guest! If somewhere is no go
bacause of conflict or danger, you'll be warned back way before you get anywhere near the
I'd say the same about most places in the world. I know when I have been to America I have
felt very looked after by extraordinary hospitality. But I can honestly say that I feel safer
travelling around in Africa than I would travelling around the UK or Europe or America. In
these places I'm not fearful, but I'd have less faith in the community to protect me if push
came to shove. Because we've lost the concept of community. If I was attacked on the
London Underground I would not expect to be rescued by my fellow passengers. If I was
mugged in a market place in Mali everyone would come to my aid and the thief would be
hoping to get to the police station before the people sort him out themselves. I once caught
someone trying to pick pocket me. He backed off, he didn't run he just begged me with his
eyes not to shout. He was scared of the community.
On day 3 and day 4 of the problems in the UK, the looters backed down because the
community took things upon itself as the police had failed them.
As I always say, the biggest risk you take in coming to Mali would be at the airport from
which you leave.