Africa is filled with amazing topographical locations, wild animals, and rich culture, which create great experiences for tourists from different destinations across the world.
In this article, we summarize some of the tips on navigating cities and villages in the region. We hope they will help you prepare for an exciting experience on the continent.
While we are all Africans, we each have our own culture, beliefs, understanding and most importantly are also in 54 different countries. For that reason, never tell a Ugandan citizen about a South African contact you met and assume he/she might know them. He might not even know his next door neighbor leave alone an individual living many miles away separated by mountains and the sea.
Specifically, never assume that a particular person you met must belong to a famous ethnic group you have read about in the past. For example, not all Kenyans are Maasai’s or can run. In fact, many Africans hate to be referred to by their tribal connections due to the past (horrible) experiences. Kenyans might not be as sensitive to such a conversation as a Rwandan or Burundian would be. Keep away from ethnic talks not unless you have found a friendly individual willing to let you in on the history.
Also, be careful not to refer to the country you are visiting as Africa. Africans find this impolite and lacking in knowledge.
Lighting your cigar
Many African nations are implementing anti-smoking laws and while you might want to puff your favorite local or home brand, look for designated smoking zones.
Anti-smoking laws within each country come with rules and regulations which range from penalties to jail terms. Be Warned!
East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda) has some of the toughest laws on smoking and tobacco sales. In Uganda for example, if one is found contravening the law, they’re at risk of being fined up to $60 or jailed for two months. It would be unfortunate if you had to spend your hard-earned money to offset a fine that you could have avoided in the first place, or waste your tour in a local jail.
Africans are careful with how they dress in public. While you might find one or two individuals with barely minimum clothes, local people depreciate such dress-codes.
You might not get anyone saying anything to you, but the looks passed across the streets could leave you feeling awkward.
Learn the culture of the country/city/village you are visiting and dress appropriately. In a Muslim community, let’s take The Gambia for example, you might feel safer and much more in sync with the locals if you are well covered-up. Depending on where and who you will visit- pack appropriately.
Crossing roads/ traffic lights and rules
It is no news that many Africans do not observe traffic rules. As basic as this might sound to you, motorists and pedestrians alike do not take into consideration this common sense safety advice.
In Kenya, where I reside, we cross the roads in the city not necessarily because the traffic lights are green but because the road is clear, and so do vehicles sometimes. Sometimes, Traffic police contradict the traffic lights, thus making a menace in the whole system.
All in all, be careful when driving or walking around. Anything can happen!
While at it, please keep your phone to yourself when crossing the road. In Kenya, traffic police or city council officers can arrest or fine you for talking on the phone while crossing the streets. Given that there are so many people on the streets, you may not see the officers coming your way.
Above all, it is a safety precaution for you and your phone.
Accepting food and gifts
Africans are known for their generosity. They carry gifts with them when visiting friends and relatives, and the hosts give gifts to visitors. That said, if you are invited to a friend’s home or are visiting a distant relative in the village, remember to carry something. Sometimes it can be as small as a kilogram of sugar, milk or bread (this is typically Kenyan).
Most Africans feel insulted if you don’t eat something they have offered you. Even if you have to politely nibble on it, please just do it. You don’t want to disappoint a host who went a little mile to make your visit comfortable.
Learn a bit of the lingo
English is commonly and widely spoken across Africa, but some countries have fewer people speaking the language. Depending on the country you are visiting, learn a few common words used.
Some local words have found their way into English and are used commonly by locals without a second thought. In Kampala, Uganda you will find locals referring to you as Ssebo or Nyabo for men and women respectively. The phrases are used to show respect to the person being addressed. ‘Kale’ in Luganda means ok.
In Kenya, you will find ‘sawa sawa’ (ok), ‘Poa’ (good or ok), ‘nyama choma’ or just ‘choma’ for barbecue and ‘kesho’for tomorrow. ‘Braai’ in South Africa refers to barbecue, ‘robot’ is for a traffic light and ‘lekker’ to refer to something nice. ‘Howzit’ is a common greeting in this region as well.
These and more phrases are usually thrown around in conversations, so do not panic when you hear them during a chat. Just learn the lingo or ask around when necessary, as locals assume they’re part of the English language and that you should be familiar with them already.
Following insecurities across many parts of the region, security checks are a must in many countries including Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda among others.
Do not be in a hurry or rude to the security guards at entrances of many hotels, malls, and other institutions you might visit in the region- they are just doing their job. In fact, prepare yourself by emptying your pockets and unzipping your handbag. It makes the process better and faster.
If you want better services, smile and appreciate the guard. It makes them feel better, and in the process, you receive quality and faster services.
Need I mention Africans don’t put much importance on time? Things fall into place as they unfold. Thus, events start and end later than expected. Keep that in mind, and you will not be frustrated by meetings that take longer or a person who comes in later than agreed.
Also, we barely care much about space. We like being close. Thus, you are most likely to find a person seating next to you, despite the fact that there could be space elsewhere. Africans are caring and gracious and go an extra mile to show gratitude and appreciation which might be odd to some tourists
Is there anything else you feel might add to this article? Have you experienced a situation that you feel could make another tourist’s trip to Africa more enjoyable? Feel free to share your thoughts with us