SECURITY IN AFRICAN AIRPORTS
By Juliet Maruru
The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is constructed in a semi-circle with three units placed on the outer circle arc and one unit placed in what would be the centre point of the circle. These units in the outer circle arc are Terminals One and Two, which are your International departure terminals and Terminal Three which is Domestic arrivals and departures. The inner centre unit has a terminal that handles International Arrivals.
Last year, there was a lot of concern with regards to the power outages and how they affected the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Security. The power outages severely compromised the security system which includes a radar system, scanners, security cameras and lights.
This year an even bigger worry has arisen. Our country is at war with Somali Militia men and several attacks within our borders have already been perpetrated and attributed to the Al-Shabaab militia.
In view of the current concerns about terrorism and security threats from Al-Shabaab, it is easy to understand why Airport Security as an issue keeps coming up.
I asked two regular travelers to describe their personal feelings with regards to airport security based on their personal experiences. Marvin Tumbo says:
“Kenya’s Airport Security is quite decent in comparison to other African Airports but in my opinion there is one area of concern.
There is the first roadblock outside the Airport Gates, then a long drive to the departure area. To get through the first roadblock is pretty easy as the police only inspect a select number of cars. I have been in a taxi that was stopped once and the cab guy just bribed the cops and we were let in. The bribing is a common occurrence according to the various cab guys I have talked to, and it is a definite reason for concern.
At the departure area, the checks are pretty good. First, you go to the detectors where everything goes through a detector with laptops, phones and shoes checked separately. This would likely prevent anyone from carrying any threatening materials into the airport boarding area. Anything suspicious will be inspected by personnel who are on hand to ask you to open your bag and inspect it.
From here, you will be given a boarding pass but as you enter the boarding gates, there is a second inspection through metal detectors to ensure that there are no dangerous materials carried on board the plane. Here, you go through the same process and you have to remove your belt, your phone, laptop, shoes and other personal effects to ensure that nothing will be carried through.
The personnel on standby are also very strict and that goes a long way in making you feel secure. I have seen situations where they have ejected people from the plane for the slightest violations and some major ones like not having the Yellow Fever Card.
Overall, I would say our airport is quite organized and security is decent the once you are inside the airport. But I do not think it is effective as you enter because the officers manning the checkpoints outside the airport can be compromised with money.”
I asked Maxwell Odhiambo to give me a comparison of our main airports against other African airports.
Here’s what he said.
The airport terminals security system seems quite okay to me. Before you get into the airport when travelling out, there is a security check. Police men are also frequently patrolling outside. After check-in, there is only one more place where you are frisked, that is before entering the waiting room for boarding.
When you come back to the country as a Kenyan National, you don’t get checked anywhere. If, say, you had managed to carry a weapon in your carry-on luggage from another country you could easily pass with it. The only people who check your bag once in a while are the Customs Officials and that is only when you mention that you are coming from a country, where from, they suspect you might be carrying goods that they ought to tax, like Nigeria, for example. This I feel is something of concern
The only time you get checked thoroughly when coming from another country is when you arrive from Somalia. The plane actually lands in Wajir for a security check. When you land at JKIA you again undergo a very thorough security check.
In Mogadishu when you land it seems that nobody cares about security. The airport is so confusing, and if you are a foreigner you might get arrested so that you pay your way out. When you are leaving the country the flight might fail to show up without prior notice. You might as well book your flight like a bus, just when you want to board
In Hargesia someone has to pick you up when you land and the security checks are not very thorough. When entering the country you have to exchange at least $50 dollars at the airport and if you are not careful they will steal from you. Depending on who you know you can even be allowed to stay at The Cloud 9 waiting lounge. There it is survival for the fittest.
In Jo’burg, the security at the airport is air tight. If you are changing planes you have to get a transit visa, currently you get this visa from your country of origin. Police men patrol the airport right up to the waiting lounge. This is the only airport where I have seen such measures.
The only bad thing with Jo’burg is that your luggage is not always very safe. Even if you lock your bag, once it has been taken into luggage handling you can’t be assured of its safety. They somehow, always, have a way of opening your bags and getting your valuable stuff. So if you have any valuables it is advisable to carry them in your hand luggage.
Lagos is another airport where it seems that no one cares about anyone. There is some level of security but you can always pass with a bit of bribing. Lagos seems to value Africans more than whites. In fact, you can be given first priority as a black person. When leaving the country, if you have valuables that are not allowed, all you have to do is bribe customs and you get away with it
At Addis Ababa you have to declare foreign currency, although many people rarely do it. When you are getting in they also run a security check just the same way they do when you are getting out.
In Maputo security officials are not very keen, although they run the security checks when travelers are coming in and when they same are going out, the airport is also still under construction.”
Marvin and Maxwell’s accounts at some point sound like stories you would read in a novel or scenes from a very good film, but as intriguing and entertaining as they are, they should worry every traveler.
If travelling across Africa means carrying extra cash for bribes, knowing people within the airports to get access to travelers’ lounges and the off chance that one can carry anything into certain countries, what risks are we exposing citizens and travelers to?
Who is supposed to ensure security at the airports? Why are they not seeing the cracks and loopholes? Are they ignoring them deliberately or are they too busy counting planes as they land forgetting that the planes could be carrying terrorists or traffickers?
Three questions, possibly rhetorical but they need answers.