In the latest of our ‘how safe is it to visit…’ series, we shed light on the risks involved when travelling to Senegal.
Senegal situation report
We assess Senegal to be a MODERATE security risk environment, rated three on a five tier scale (one being MINIMAL, five being EXTREME). As one of the few African states that has never experienced a coup d’état, and following multiple transitions of power between opposing parties, Senegal is perceived to be one of Africa’s most stable democracies, making it an attractive location for foreign investment. Senegal has also avoided, so far at least, a major terrorist attack in a region where such events are on the rise. Nevertheless, there are security and operational risks that travellers should be aware of when visiting Senegal, and the adoption of basic risk mitigation measures is required.
The primary risk to foreign nationals is undoubtedly posed by petty and opportunistic crime, a HIGH risk factor. This is especially the case in large urban centres such as Dakar, where business travellers, expatriates and tourists make attractive targets due to their perceived wealth. Petty criminals can be extremely brazen, often working in small teams and using sophisticated distraction techniques. Even comparatively well-secured areas of Dakar such as Ngor and Plateau (where most embassies and expatriate communities are found) are not immune to petty crime. The most common forms of petty crime include pick-pocketing and phone-snatching.
Violent crime is much less common, especially outside of Dakar, and relatively rare during daylight hours. Muggings are the most common form of violent crime; in Dakar, the Fann area and the coastal roads of La Petite Corniche and Corniche d’Ouest are hotspots for this type of criminality. As a general rule, beaches, minor roads and other poorly lit areas should be avoided after dark. There is also a significant risk of residential burglaries in Dakar. The Almadies area, popular with expatriates, has seen a rise in incidents of break-ins over the last year. Organised criminal gangs are known to conduct basic surveillance to learn the routines of their targets, often assisted by poorly paid residential security guards.
Unrest poses a MODERATE risk throughout Senegal. Protests are relatively common in urban centres but most remain localised and peaceful and are unlikely to impact foreign nationals. The risk is slightly elevated in Dakar, being the most populous city and centre of government, where protestors and the security forces sometimes clash when attempts are made to disperse crowds. There is typically an uptick in demonstrations around election periods. The risk to foreign nationals is mostly incidental, although protests are liable to cause significant travel disruption. Student protests in Saint Louis have blocked the major N2 highway in the past.
Terrorism poses a MODERATE risk throughout Senegal, with the risk highest in Dakar. The country has not yet experienced a major terrorist attack, although Senegal’s considerable involvement in regional counter-terrorism and peacekeeping efforts makes it a target. The security forces have so far proven capable of disrupting would-be terrorist cells with the assistance of foreign intelligence services. There was a significant step-up in counter-terrorism operations in Senegal in 2017, prompted by a series of attacks in nearby Cote d’Ivoire and Mali.
International hotels and schools, shopping centres, and tourist hubs in Dakar would provide attractive targets to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM). ‘Soft’ targets such as these are vulnerable to attack. The security forces are most concerned about lone-wolf style attacks using basic weaponry, as these are harder to detect and disrupt.
Road safety is an often overlooked risk in Senegal. The country’s road network is relatively well-developed by regional standards, but driving standards are erratic and many vehicles are poorly maintained. The lack of street lighting is also a significant issue in many places. During the July to October rainy season, driving can become hazardous as potholes become invisible and poor drainage leads to flooding. Public transport is unsafe, motorbike taxis and local buses should be avoided due to poor safety records and overcrowding. Hotel-booked taxis are a suitable means of transport, but a private driver with a well-maintained vehicle is the preferred mode of transport. Travel to more rural areas of the country is likely to require a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Healix advice to travellers visiting Senegal
- Maintain a low profile. Avoid overt displays of wealth such as expensive jewellery and clothing. Exercise increased levels of vigilance in public spaces, especially in crowded areas and beaches. Avoid carrying non-essential valuables, and be wary of over-friendly strangers or individuals posing excessive questions. Minimise pedestrian travel over an extended period, and avoid walking alone after dark. Only share accommodation, employer and family details with trusted individuals. In the rare event of being accosted by a criminal, try to remain calm and compliant, and do not resist. Assume that the aggressor is armed, and be prepared to hand over your personal belongings.
- Seek itinerary specific advice. Sharing a copy of your trip details with your assistance provider will allow them to offer you personalised security advice, based on numerous factors such as your profile, destination and dates of travel. They will be able to let you know about upcoming events such as planned protests or anniversaries that could trigger unrest. Your security provider should also be able to advise you of the comparatively safer areas of the location(s) you are visiting, in order to assist you when making accommodation plans.
- Use accredited providers for ground moves. Self-driving is not advised for short-term visitors to Senegal, and although hotel-booked taxis may be adequate for short intra-city journeys, an accredited driver with a well-maintained vehicle is preferable. For longer-distance journeys to rural parts of the country, consider use of a four-wheel-drive, ensuring that vehicles are in good working order and that they are adequately stocked with emergency supplies such as spare fuel, food and water, a first aid kit, and basic maintenance equipment. Be aware of the limitations of professional breakdown recovery services.
How can Healix help employers with their Duty of Care
Employers should ensure that they have a detailed understanding of the operating environment that they are sending their personnel to; usually, this means breaking down areas of exposure by geographic region and delegating responsibility to specific individuals in accordance with operational and cultural expertise. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, employers can outsource this task to an organisation such as Healix, which has dedicated intelligence and operations teams, each with a direct regional focus.
Healthcare in Senegal
The Senegalese healthcare system is split into two quite distinct capabilities: the facilities in Dakar and the lack of facilities in the rest of the country.
In Dakar there are two university hospitals and a small number of private health clinics. The handful of private hospitals are of a reasonable standard and can manage a wide range of simple medical and surgical conditions. However, although the quality of healthcare in Dakar is high by West African standards, it is not equivalent to US/EU standards. Age of equipment, infection control practices, scope of services and availability and training of medical staff are not consistent. In general, any significant medical problems in expatriate personnel would require evacuation out of country. Las Palmas/Tenerife or South Africa are the key referral destinations for expatriates requiring evacuation to a centre of medical excellence. Rarely, secondary evacuation into continental Europe may be required for complex medical cases.
Limited services outside Dakar
The healthcare services in rural Senegal are of an extremely low quality, and are unable to adequately cover the population, frequently resulting in severe overcrowding. Despite efforts to establish a ’universal healthcare system for all‘, Senegal has only 0.6 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants. In comparison, Tunisia has 6 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants and France has 32. Furthermore, these doctors are unequally distributed across the country with 70% based in Dakar, alongside 80% of the country’s pharmacists and dentists.
Outside Dakar there is only the most basic emergency medical treatment and urgent transfer to Dakar for stabilisation should be actioned as soon as possible. All expats living in Senegal should be advised to ensure that they have private insurance in order to access the few private healthcare facilities. Some doctors are fluent in English but the majority are predominantly French-speaking.
Ensure vaccinations are up-to-date
There is a very poor record of national immunisation penetration and as a result, it is important that anyone travelling to Senegal should ensure that all routine childhood vaccinations are up-to-date. Cholera, diphtheria, hepatitis A, meningococcal meningitis, polio, rabies, tetanus, tuberculosis, and typhoid are just some of the vaccine preventable diseases that currently pose a risk in Senegal. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the diseases affecting the country and should not substitute for a consultation with a trained travel medicine professional.
As in many countries around the world, there is a large measles outbreak in Senegal, and it is important to ensure that travellers have had the full course of two MMR vaccinations prior to travel.
All travellers should practise safe water consumption and food hygiene to avoid such illnesses as typhoid, cholera and traveller’s diarrhoea – only drink bottled or boiled water and eat well-cooked food. Visitors should see a health professional and discuss the option of hepatitis A vaccine – this is well tolerated and affords long-lasting protection.
Those who may be at increased risk of an infectious disease due to their work, lifestyle choice, or certain underlying health problems should check with their primary care practitioner if they need additional recommended vaccines for: hepatitis B if there is any risk of coming into contact with blood or body fluids since there is an intermediate/high prevalence of hep B infection in the local population; rabies, a significant risk in Senegal following contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with saliva of infected animals.
There is a significant risk of malaria and yellow fever in all areas of Senegal. Therefore all visitors should ensure they have had a yellow fever vaccine and that they carry the certification with them whenever they enter the country. Malaria prophylaxis medication should be taken by all travellers, but this needs to be combined with strict bite avoidance techniques, such as using regular insect repellent, wearing long-sleeves and trousers, sleeping in air-conditioned rooms and using bed-nets.
There was an outbreak of dengue fever in Senegal in late 2018 – this is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes which predominantly feed between dawn and dusk. It causes a flu-like illness, which can occasionally develop into a more serious life-threatening form of the disease. All travellers should avoid insect and tick bites day and night. There are no vaccinations for the traveller to prevent dengue, or specific treatment.
Carry copy of prescription if taking medicines
If you’re bringing prescription medicines into Senegal, carry the prescription and preferably a note from your doctor confirming that the medication has been prescribed for an existing condition – ensure you have enough medication to cover your trip and any contingencies. If you have any specific concerns about taking certain types of medication with you into Senegal, contact the local Senegalese Embassy. All travellers should always ensure they have appropriate travel health insurance with up-to-date declarations.
FIND OUT MORE
Healix International can deploy at short notice to conduct Project Risk Assessments, Site Security Audits, Evacuation Planning, Emergency Response Planning, Threat and Risk Assessments and Training, as well as offer Embedded Security Managers upon request (see Security Consultancy & Bespoke Services). If you are interested in commissioning these services, or would like to request a capability statement for your country of operations, please email us at GSOC@healix.com.