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Issue Date: June 2007

Africa is not for 'sissies'

14 June 2007

South African-based information and telecommunications consulting firm, Exponant, a major player in the ICT market in Africa and the Middle East, is re-evaluating security procedures and policies for its staff operating in the region.
This follows the event when the company's Africa and Middle Eastern operations manager Phillip de Wet was caught right in the middle of the shoot-out between troops loyal to president Joseph Kabila and senator Jean Pierre Bemba's personal bodyguard in Kinshasa.
"While most of the expats operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo expected ructions after Bemba's unsuccessful run for the presidency, most of us were caught totally by surprise by the intensity of the gunfire once the two militias opened up on each other."
De Wet and a substantial number of other expats were bundled off to the Memling Hotel in Kinshasa where they stayed until Bemba's rebels withdrew into the bush. The hotel came under intense fire several times and bullets were flying around everywhere, De Wet said.
This incident gave a whole new meaning to the dictum that 'Africa is not for sissies', De Wet said.
Most expats who operate extensively in Africa and the Middle East have been exposed to gunfire of some kind. What made this incident two weeks ago different was the absolute intensity of the gunfire and the fact that a haven that used to be safe for both locals and expats - the Hotel Memling - came under fire.
Two of the refugees in the hotel were hit and a Vodacom staff member was grazed by a bullet.
De Wet's company, Exponant, is one of the largest ICT consultancies in the region and at the time of the rebellion, he was busy conducting an audit on a point of sale system the company had installed for one of the major cellular operators in the region.
De Wet said the general consensus of opinion among the movers and shakers in Kinshasa was that Bemba's departure from the DRC substantially improved the situation.
"People in the DRC are sick and tired of war which for many of the younger people in their 20's has lasted almost as long as they have been alive," De Wet said.
He said one of the imperatives for operators who want to work in Africa and the Middle East was to have a local partner who was familiar with the situation on the ground and who could advise on issues of safety and security.


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