Letter from Africa: How secure are Africa’s airports? – BBC News

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A member of the security services standing guard at the departures area of Mogadishu airport in Somalia - 11 February 2016Image copyright

In our series of letters from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers airport security on the continent.

The age of anxiety is upon us: We may move across any metropolis in the 21st Century with that nagging feeling of doom, wondering where next a terror attack may come.

Africans are increasingly encountering this anxious age at home and abroad – what would Brussels and Paris be without their Africans?

Insane calculations have already concluded that small family hotels in Burkina Faso or beachfronts in Ivory Coast are legitimate terror targets because once upon a time, in the days of colonies, they were a part of France – and France, as we know, has found herself in the frontline recently.

It is not just Francophone Africa that is a target – the random violence has hit universities, buses, football bars, markets, churches and mosques West and East Africa – everyday social situations where human beings thrive and interact.

These recurring incidents in African cities are a ringing alarm that all African states simply have to up their security game.

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Getty Images

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All the passengers on board the hijacked EgyptAir flight were released safely on Tuesday

In reality, every African capital may become a target, regardless of their religious affiliations.

Aeroplanes themselves, no matter how rigorous the security, can be hijacked by lone militants or pining lovers – as an Egyptian man so recently demonstrated when he took over a domestic flight to land in Cyprus.

And we know from recent history, that aeroplanes have been used as weapons of destruction.

There are several glittering new airports across Africa these days, and we long for the cost of inter-city connections to drop so we can holiday in Accra as easily as we fly to Atlanta.

Stamping out corruption

But the airport tragedy in Brussels raises questions on security for Africa’s aviation ports, not least for Nigeria and Kenya, where Islamist insurgents are a constant presence.

The Nigerian newspaper This Day reported very recently how travellers thought placing mugshots of Boko Haram militant suspects around local airports was ineffective and that the underlying problem for a secure airport was about stamping out corruption amongst airport security.

You know the story at some African airports: You are a traveller who likes to live on the edge of the clock; you are late for your flight; you get rid of the last of your change in any currency by handing it over to a man or a woman in uniform, who in turn promises to get your suitcase on the plane and to wave you through the VIP check-in with minimum fuss.

Farai Sevenzo:

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Farai Sevenzo

“An official has seen fit to question the validity of your passport and simply disappeared with it, leaving the obvious implication that you must pay something in order to see it again”

You watch your luggage go through the carousel without hindrance from man or X-ray machine; you get to the departure lounge in time to purchase a duty-free single malt. You depart.

And for thousands of travellers who would not stoop so low as to bribe their way to a convenient and easy departure, the picture may be the same – with small but serious variations.

You are on time but cannot move past the throng of travellers caught up in a bottleneck in front of three or four security personnel, who, to supplement their meagre wages, are trying to extort the change you do not have.

You may have already made it to the check-in desk, but an official has seen fit to question the validity of your passport and simply disappeared with it, leaving the obvious implication that you must pay something in order to see it again.

You eventually see your luggage being carried through by a porter because the baggage carousel is not moving, nor is the X-ray machine blinking with its usual invasive intrusions because both machines are suffering from a lack of electricity in that part of the building.

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Harun Maruf

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Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group said it carried out a bomb attack on a plane last month

You are afraid of dogs, but stand by as they sniff your case. Yet the sniffer dogs are trained for drugs, not explosives, and you may wonder which one of your fellow passengers knows this for a fact.

You hear a commotion behind you as a woman wails that her purse has been stolen and tell yourself that only a foolish thief would steal at an airport where close-circuit television catches your every move – and then notice that this particular airport is in the process of installing cameras and that the thief was lucky.

And so the anxiety rises.

Aviation security expert Adebayo Babatunde told This Day that the most potent weapon against terror was intelligence – and called for the sharing of intelligence across airports and across nations.

“We must follow international security procedures, there should be no compromises. If a bag is unattended, remove it and destroy it and governments should urgently acquire explosive detection systems,” he added.

The world this year is already smaller than it was last year – we move around in greater numbers legally and illegally.

We must rely ever more on our instincts as travellers, and must embrace suspicion.

More from Farai Sevenzo:

Letter from Africa: How secure are Africa’s airports? – BBC News