What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


So I have slowly been getting an increasing number of questions about safety and the impending 'danger' I will be facing.  I just thought I'd make a few comments on some of this.  Yes, it is West Africa.  Yes, Sierra Leone has had an absolutely brutal civil war recently.  But it is over and has been for eight years now.  The country is progressing quite well by developing country standards.  Violent crime is not a particular issue and I am not overly concerned about anything of the sort.  There is of course property crime, such as burglaries, muggings, pick-pockets, etc.  But we can find all this right here in the US.  The south Bronx?  Even right here in teh Hudson Valley, Newburgh, NY is a disaster.

However, if proof you desire, proof we have!!!  Not only did the UN greatly scale down its peacekeeping presence over the last several years, and the 2007 elections were generally viewed as fair by international observers, but we also have the Global Peace Index which tracks global safety by country.  Sierra Leone is ranked number 53 int his study, ahead of China (80), Brazil ((83), and.... yes, you guessed it... the United States at 85th!!  For the most part Sierra Leone is ranked in good standing throughout the study.  It certainly has a few laggards though.  With violent crime Sierra Leone is in the third out of five tiers, but it shares this with that "last on the list" American and German tourist destination... Italy!?!  ;)  In relation to the 'perceived' criminal threat in society it is again in the third tier, along with much of southern Europe, Spain, and Great Britain.  Of the other indicators, political instability and ease of access to small arms are the only ones really that are not in the first or second tiers.  And to put that in context, for access to small arms it is the same as the United States (though that doesn't say much).  You can download the full report here, or click here for a more fun interactive experience...

There is another indicator that bring us a bit more to some of the negative realities the country faces, but is more about possibilities than realities.  The Failed States Index for 2010 shows Sierra Leone as between the 29th and 32nd least stable country in the world.  The main issues faced are those common throughout the developing world: population pressures, economic decline, lack of public services, and uneven development.  All of these can put pressure on petty crime and property crime and should in no way be diminished by my playful tone in this post.  People in Sierra Leone are struggling, hence their Human Development Index of 180 out of 182, but in recovering from the war this has not translated directly into oppressive crime statistics like you see in many other less stable or economically depressed countries.  

Would you steal from him??
Basically, I see it as this, it is not going to be the worst or best place I've ever been, though it will certainly be the poorest.  It is most likely going to be closer to the worst though, but if you are savvy, pay attention to what you are doing and your things, there will not be a problem.  And what is the difference between having to do that there or any other place in the world?  Yes, I will be a target as a white person, but I am certainly not going to be looking like a high roller - what with my backpack, straggly clothes, Vibram 'barefoot' shoes, and general disinterest in and/or lack of the means to be the cleanest guy around.  In Freetown, in the bad sections, yeah, it wouldn't be smart to wonder around at night like I had money and no worries.  I will need to watch me things and back as I would anywhere.  But I could just as easily be an interesting novelty as I could be a target.  I straggly dirty looking white guy from New York?  These things sometimes endear people to you and their own curiosities take over.  Maybe... just maybe... I'll just be so damn friendly and interesting that everyone will want to be my friend!!!  LOL!!!!


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