Ten most corrupt countries of the world

You spend every holiday weekend annoyed that you can’t talk your way out of a speeding ticket. If only there were some way out of that predicament … aside from taking your lead foot off the gas, right? You may be out of luck on the New Jersey Turnpike, but there are plenty of places in the world where money talks, according to a new study by Transparency International. So, if you tend to disregard local laws and customs, you may want to pick one of the 10 countries below for your next vacation.

WARNING: You may need to bring a bit of fire power for some of these destinations.

1. Somalia:
Is this even a country? It has no real government to speak of, not to mention a history of piracy, mob violence, warlord brutality and kidnapping. So, chew a little khat to take the edge off.

The Good News: You can’t really break any laws where there aren’t any.

2. Myanmar: Okay, the human rights issue here is pretty severe, and the military regime is known for being among the most repressive and abusive in the world. So, don’t complain about the thread-count in your hotel.

The Good News: There’s plenty of wildlife to enjoy as a result of slow economic growth. A bleak financial outlook is good for the environment!

%Gallery-106020%3. Afghanistan: Ummmm, there’s a war going on there – you may remember that. So, you’re dealing more with warlords than conventional law enforcement officials. This takes some of the predictability out of your mischief, and it does amp the risk up a bit.

The Good News: There are several options for civilian flights. Also, fishing is fine, but you can’t use hand grenades.

4. Iraq: Again with the war … The easiest way to get there is to wear a uniform, but that will make bribing your way out of trouble far more difficult.

The Good News: Prostitutes may not be in abundance, but if you have an itch in Baghdad, you’ll probably find someone to help you scratch it.

5. Uzbekistan: The CIA describes the government as “authoritarian presidential rule.” Is there really anything else you need to know? Yes, there is: Uzbekistan has a nasty human trafficking problem.

The Good News: Uzbekistan’s currency is the Ubekistani soum – that’s what you’ll use to bribe your way out of trouble.

6. Turkmenistan: Uzbekistan’s neighbor is no prize, either. Instead of trading in skin, though, Turkmenistan prefers drugs. It’s described in the CIA World Factbook as a “transit country for Afghan narcotics bound for Russia and Western European markets.”

The Good News: If you’re in the heroin business, this is a crucial stop in your supply chain. If you’re not, well, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to care about the place.

7. Sudan: The global financial crisis of 2008 actually affected this country. Until then, money was flowing in just as fast as oil could flow out. Then, economies crumbled around the world, which dealt a nasty blow to the country.

The Good News: There’s at least one form of equal rights in Sudan: both men and women can be drafted into military service.

8. Chad: Why is Chad so corrupt? Well, this may have something to do with the human trafficking problem, which the country “is not making any significant efforts” to address. Rebel groups in the country add to the likelihood for mayhem.

The Good News: Chad ranks 190 worldwide in terms of GDP, which means your bribe dollars will go much further than in more developed nations.

9. Burundi: A dispute with Rwanda over sections of the border they share has resulted in various conflicts and a spirit of lawlessness that will make your own nefarious plans pale in comparison.

The Good News: Though landlocked, there is probably some great real estate alongside Lake Tanganyika.

10. Equatorial Guinea: Any country that has failed to try to combat human trafficking is probably a top spot for corruption, so it isn’t surprising that Equatorial Guinea made the top 10.

The Good News: Government officials and their families own most of the businesses in the country, so any broad complaints can be addressed by a handful of people.

[photo by The U.S. Army via Flickr]

Oprah’s 10 terrific reads for 2009 showcase diversity and travel

Regardless of what one thinks of Oprah, it’s hard to argue that the woman doesn’t have her thumbprint on some mighty great stuff. Her “10 Terrific Reads for 2009,” for example, is filled with suggestions that capture the flavor of travel, adventure and diversity. Many of them are about people from one country who have been brought to another by life’s circumstances or their drive to explore.

If you read these 10 books, I’d say you’ll have a thought-provoking and enlightening journey through certain parts of the world, particularly Africa. Before you head out on your next journey, pick up one of these and pass it on.

Here are the 10 books with the countries that provide the setting or settings. For a summary of each book, click each title.

  • The Bolter, Frances Osborne–Kenya (Great Britain connection)
  • Dreaming in Hindi, Katherine Russel Rich–India (U.S. connection)
  • Little Bee, Chris Cleve–Great Britain (Nigeria connection)
  • Blame, Michelle Huneven–U.S. (This one doesn’t have a cross-cultural component but is compared to Sand and Fog which is one of the best novels showing cross-cultural connections gone wrong that I’ve ever read.)
  • Losing Mum and Pup, Christopher Buckley–U.S. (Another without a cross-cultural component, but loss of parents is cross-cultural and Buckley’s dad, William F. Buckley certainly had a lot of opinions about the world.)
  • Zeitoun, Dave Eggers–U.S. (Syrian connection) I met Dave Eggers. He’s as wonderful in person as his writing reflects. Truly splendid. I’m buying this one.
  • Say You’re One of Them, Uwem Akpan–Kenya and Rwanda. Akpan is a Nigerian writer.
  • Some Things that Meant the World to Me, Joshua Mohr–U.S. Part of this novel takes place in Home Depot in San Francisco. Doesn’t the bring up an unusual mix of images?!
  • The Invisible Mountain, Carolina De Robertis–South America. The reading guide mentions Argentina.
  • Strength in What Remains:A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness, Tracy Kidder–Burundi and U.S.

The ultimate road trip: 12,500 miles across Africa on a motorcycle

Thomas Tomczyk is serious about motorcycles. He’s done three motorcycle trips across India, from the steamy southern tip all the way up to the frozen highlands of Ladakh. Now he’s starting his childhood dream–an epic trip 12,500 miles (20,000 km) across Africa.

His zigzag tour will take in 22 African nations including South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, the Saharawi Republic, and Morocco. . .

. . .before he ends up skinny, exhausted, and happy at my house in Spain, where my wife will fatten him up with her excellent paella.

Full disclosure: Thomas is a friend of mine. We covered the massive Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela together in 2001 and barely managed not to get trampled to death by hordes of naked holy men. But even if I didn’t know him, this trip is so thoroughly cool I would have reported on it anyway.

Thomas isn’t just going on vacation; he’ll be visiting innovative grassroots projects that are making life better for the average African. Through his website Africa Heart Beat he’ll be telling us about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, such as creating a job center for landmine victims in Mozambique, an AIDS theater group in Botswana, and a Muslim-Christian vocational center in Mali that’s bringing the two communities together.

“The idea of crossing Africa came to me when I was 10,” Thomas says.”A large map of the world hung above my bed in a small Warsaw apartment. I would study the geography of each continent, its road and railroad network. The most prominent continent would be Africa, placed in the middle of the map, right above where my head would rest on the pillow. The idea stayed in my mind for years. I would eventually learn to ride motorcycles in India and cover the Horn of Africa for publications in Poland and US. In January 2009 my grandmother passed away and I decided it was time to do the trek I’ve been thinking about for so long. Traveling for travel’s sake was past me, and I decided I needed to find a purpose as I travel, something that would give meaning to the journey and benefit others.”

While 20,000 km is a long way to ride, he’s done it before in India. His longest journey there was 20,000 km on a 1950s technology 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet. I’ve ridden that bike and it’s a monster– heavy and tough enough for the task. This time he’ll be probably picking up a KTM 640 LC Adventure, a lighter but rugged off-road bike from a dealer in South Africa when he flies there Thanksgiving Day.

He’ll be crossing some very remote areas but will keep in touch as much as possible with an array of communications equipment. There will be regular updates on his blog, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. On the day after Thanksgiving, when Thomas is safely in Johannesburg and on the first day of his eight-month journey I’ll be writing about some of the gear he’s bringing along and share some advice he has for covering your own journeys as you do them.

Know of a project Thomas should cover? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Top hell-holes on earth

April Fool’s Day, 2007, I wrote a post on Linfen, China. Although it was written as a joke, the premise is true. Linfen is a royal mess. Its mighty pollution problem has earned it the number 2 spot on the recent “Hells on Earth” list. The air quality in Linfen is so horrific that there is a perpetual feeling of dusk in this coal dust laden city.

Here’s the rest of the ten places that have a hellish quality. Perhaps you know of others that should have made the cut.

10. Baghdad, Iraq–No surprise here. What, with the war and all, it doesn’t matter if the place has one of the coolest names. According to the article, the city is so dangerous, it’s hard to find people out and about on the streets.

9. Dhaka, Bangladesh–And to think I almost moved here. I had a job interview that I canceled because getting to this place was a hassle. The pollution is problematic. That’s why it’s on the list. Too bad because, everyone I’ve ever met from Bangladesh has been a real gem of a person.

8. Yakutsk, Russia–When I read that this city is the coldest place on earth, that stopped me cold. We’re talking major frostbite. Temperatures can go down to -58 degrees, according to the article. If you’re a kid, it’s a day off from school, so for the younger crowd, this might be heaven.

7. Mogadishu, East Africa (Somalia)–Another one of my favorite city names. I’ve have many students from Somalia–lovely people, and they shake their heads in sorrow over what once was. No one is minding the store in this country that has been wrecked to shambles. The rebels keep running amok. This truly does not sound like a relaxing place to get away. Get away from, sure.

6. Chernobyl, Ukraine–If you want a radiation boost that could do you in, come here. Most of the city was deserted after the nuclear explosion in 1986 and it has not recovered since. There aren’t any prospects for a brighter future either.

5. Oklahoma City, The United States–But the state has such a catchy song, you might be protesting. What’s wrong with Oklahoma City? Weather, that’s what. A Kansas tornado has nothing on Oklahoma City’s. The Ask.Men folks cite 320 mph winds as the fastest. That seems like enough to turn eyelids inside out. Besides that, blizzards are also fierce. I’ve driven through here a couple times on a calm day–always in the summer, and not a gust in sight. Who knew?

4. Pyongyang, North Korea–Gadling blogger, Neil went here and found that hell must have things to like. Sure there’s some hellish, oddball qualities to Pyongyang, but he found it worth the visit. If you can handle the oppression and a tour guide who never lets you wander off on your own, this might feel more like limbo than hell.

3. Bujumbura, Republic of Burundi–If the accounts of people in Burundi feeling the least satisfied than all other people in the world is true, I’d say this is hell indeed. Look at this list for starters. They feel worse than people who live in Linfen? The reason for Burundi’s problems is the corruption.

1. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea–This place does sound like a hell hole. The murder rate, according to Ask.Men is 23 times that of London and gangs and disease–like HIV, run rampant. Swell.

My good friend over at BloggingStocks and WalletPop, Tom Barlow gave me a heads up on this one. Thanks, Tom.

The World’s Most Dangerous Destinations for 2007

BurundiHere at Gadling, we usually profile places people WANT to go. However, sometimes it’s useful to mention places to avoid. Consequently, here’s an interesting (and not altogether surprising) list of the 2007′s 12 Most Dangerous Destinations:

  • Somalia
  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Pakistan
  • Burundi
  • Sri Lanka
  • Haiti
  • Chad
  • Lebanon
  • Liberia

Of course, you probably don’t think of these places as vacation destinations, unless you’re a whacked-out Robert Young Pelton. However, employees of governments, oil and mining industries, and telecom industries are increasingly being dispatched to these locations. If you work for one of those groups, be certain to ask about insurance, hazard pay — and a bodyguard.

Interestingly, the piece argues that the world is NOT getting more dangerous right now. Rather, globalization and the attendant “shrinking” of the planet is largely responsible for making the world APPEAR more dangerous now than before. Whether or not you agree with that assertion, the article is interesting, and the gallery is frightening.