Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tanzania: An Update on the Murder of Independent Canadian Aid Worker

As a follow-up to my earlier posting on the murder of Toronto social worker Susan Wells, 41, who died last week from an assailant wielding a machete, CBC News is reporting that Ms. Wells was on her sixth visit to Tanzania, while on a volunteer mission to help local school children by providing them educational materials.  

Correcting the information contained in my earlier posting, Ms. Wells' body was found on November 28, in a field outside the city of Arusha days after her arrival in Tanzania.

According to local police, Joseph Kimaro picked Susan up from the airport on November 25, as he was a street youth she had helped in the past. This may well have been ill-advised.

According to CBC News, Robert Levine, director at Projects Abroad, a Canadian NGO that also works in Tanzania, apparently had concern for Susan Wells' welfare, as she apparently was not affiliated with an charitable organization and was working entirely alone, which is never a good idea.

COMMENT: Although we extend our sympathies, prayers and concern to Susan's family, it does need to be mentioned from a lessons-learned standpoint that Sub-Saharan Africa can pose considerable personal risks to solo travelers working without any organizational support.

Although Ms. Wells no doubt enjoyed her charitable work in Tanzania very much, my thirty years' experience in international security operations tells me that working alone in a country such as Tanzania is fraught with major threats, even cultural conflicts, which can put well-intentioned, dedicated aid workers on a collision course with calamity.

Having served as a former director of security of the U.S. Agency for International Development and being a former security advisor for the Inter-American Development Bank, I am used to working with humanitarian organizations.

Yet, very often such workers become so committed to their work and so trusting of others that they underestimate the threat of violence and sadly become victims of violent crime.

Ms. Wells' body will be repatriated to her family in Canada; police anticipate filing formal charges against her assailant in coming days.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.