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Into, Through, Out of Africa

IT’S SAID THAT there’s always something new out of Africa. In other words, Africa is always poised to spring a new surprise on the world. In the latest twist on that maxim, intelligence analysts at Kroll Security International have been working to anticipate any dangerous surprises on that continent, for the benefit of a team of charity fundraisers whose north-to-south drive through Africa is scheduled to end this month.

Last November, 25-year-old quadriplegic Colin Javens and a small crew set out to drive a specially adapted Land Rover 9,000-plus miles from Tunisia to Cape Town, South Africa, to generate funds for spinal injury research. Kroll heard about the journey and decided to offer its country and regional risk analysis services for no charge.

From its base in the United Kingdom, Kroll has been getting advisories to the crew by e-mail, cell phone, and satellite phone, explains Anthony Franks, Kroll’s managing director of information and intelligence. Franks and other Kroll staff tasked with aiding Javens are putting to use years of experience operating in Africa.

Risks anticipated by Kroll for Javens and his team on the journey through Eastern Africa—from Tunisia through Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Botswana to South Africa—have included insurgent attacks, banditry, severe weather, and humanitarian crises.

Stephen Blake, Kroll’s director of information and intelligence, and Franks explain that their approach is to have a well-prepared crisis response plan in place, which they hope to never have to use, and to monitor a broad spectrum of threats. Their day-to-day goal is to “be aware of the local situation and circumstances in which [the team is] heading and then advise accordingly,” Franks says.

Adds Blake, Kroll boils down its communications to the bare minimum: “We provide a level of reassurance to continue with the planned route or to divert,” he says.

Javens and crew are minimizing problems by sticking to the main roads, but sometimes even the main roads are little more than mud tracks through dicey areas. Despite passing through unstable countries such as Sudan, the eastern route through Africa is considered much safer than a western route, which could meander through numerous unstable republics, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Congo.

A mechanic, a medic, and support staff round out the six-person crew. But no security professionals. “With a tetraplegic and a small team, it’s more dangerous to resist [a security situation] than to go with the flow and go with the crisis response plan,” says Franks.

So far, no imminent threat has imperiled the expedition. “If [something is] critical we’ll move heaven and earth to get that information to them immediately,” says Franks. Kroll also has a staff person based in Nairobi, Kenya, and the capability of getting personnel to the crew in a crisis.

Kroll has tracked the movement of refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan to ensure that these travelers wouldn’t affect Javens’s driving route (Darfur is in the west; Javens is taking an eastern tack). Also under scrutiny has been the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which sometimes triggers significant population shifts. Kroll has watched that situation and assured the driving team that the roads through that area would be quiet.

As of the time of this writing, the crew was traveling through Kenya, where the United Nations was considering airlifting food for a starving population. The presence of a massive U.N. logistics movement on the roads would likely affect Javens and crew, and Kroll has been monitoring satellite images of the area to advise them on any possible changes to the route.

Until Javens and crew finish the journey in Cape Town this month, Franks and Blake want to make the journey as worry-free as possible. Says Blake: “They can rest assured we’ve done our homework…to help them on their way.”