Dangers in Gaborone, real and perceived

(written on October 26, 2010)

Before I came here, a few people told me over and over again that Botswana was extremely, almost ridiculously safe. I didn’t exactly feel the same way, after arriving. But a couple of things have happened recently that have altered my views further – a friend who was pickpocketed in broad daylight in the mall, and another friend (a Motswana at UB) who was mugged by four men – beaten up and dropped off a short bridge, after having his wallet and phone stolen.

But then, these may be exceptions to the rule. Other expats will tell you that life is definitely safer here than say, downtown Philadelphia. And the kind of crime is typically lesser than in South Africa – fewer people are robbed at gunpoint, and mass killings are a rarity. But smash and grab crime is fairly common – in the evening as well as during the day, and people often don’t escape situation unscathed.

But it seems that the biggest danger in Gaborone, and in Botswana overall, is motor vehicle accidents. The amount of extremely hazardous driving, particularly drunk driving, is extortionate. There have been efforts by the president to crack down on drinking but they don’t seem to have helped the situation very much, largely due to the way that they are being implemented: rather than being ticketed for poor conduct, and/or receiving a receipt for payment afterwards, bad drivers are forced to either pay the fine upfront or to spend some time in jail – a common recipe for corruption, where a cop can offer to let the driver go free in exchange for a bribe. After all, there is no evidence of the misstep, no proof.

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