Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Is Australia more cautious in its travel warnings? Part II: Saharan Africa and the Horn

In my previous post, I looked at how I had come to study travel warnings for inherently risky destinations during my recent holiday in Japan and Vietnam, and how I discovered that for most potentially risky destinations, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT, pronounced “dee-fat” in a manner I find a little funny given my excessive body fat) is severer in its advice to not travel than is the British Foreign Office (BFO) for inherently risky destinations in Asia.

Having done Asian destinations, I will now turn to Africa. Africa’s poor development has produced a large number of nations that are inherently risky. Consequently, I will split Africa into
  1. “Desert” Africa, including the Saharan nations and the countries of the Horn of Africa – which have much in common with Eurasia in history
  2. “Tropical” Africa, which never acquired Eurasian domesticated animals and which I will do in the next installment
“Desert” African nations will be done in the same order as Asia – from east to west, starting in the Horn of Africa.

Somalia:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Somalia
In Somalia, which has never been safe for travel since Lonely Planet began publishing (so I have no guidebooks) there is very little difference between BFO and DFAT because the country (which now is effectively at least three nations in Somaliland, Puntland and southern Somalia) is still in a constant state of war with terrorist groups like al-Shabāb (“The Boys” or “The Youth”) extending their work into neighbouring nations. The only difference is that the British Foreign Office allows for essential travel to Somaliland’s largest cities of Hargeisa and Berbera, whereas the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says even those cities are too dangerous to even remain in if present as an Australian.

Ethiopia:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Ethiopia
Ethiopia – before 2010 relatively safe for tourism and possesses much scenery (the Simien Mountains reach over for and a half thousand metres and had extensive ice age glaciers totalling as much as 1,000 km3 of ice) and culture (unique churches and monasteries) to attract visitors – has been severely affected by the conflicts in Somalia and Sudan.

The BFO and DFAT maps of travel advisory are basically similar, with the highest warning of “avoid all travel” or “do not travel” for extensive areas near the borders with Somalia, Eritrea, South Sudan and Sudan. However, with the less dangerous remainder of Ethiopia, we see significant differences:
  1. DFAT says Australians must reconsider their need to visit all of Ethiopia, whereas the BFO gives the equivalent advisory against all bar “essential” travel only to a few fairly small areas west of Addis Ababa and near Sudan
  2. DFAT has a “do not travel” warning for all areas bordering Somaliland, whereas BFO gives no warning at all for these border areas
Thus, Ethiopia is another “+1” country where DFAT gives stricter warnings than does the BFO – the eleventh such nation of fourteen we have seen so far.

Djibouti:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Djibouti
Djibouti, a small city state on the floor of the Rift Valley,has been affected by the trouble in Somalia and Eritrea, though not to the same extent as Ethiopia.

Again, we see that Australia’s DFAT warns more severely about travel to Djibouti than does the United Kingdom’s BFO – this being the twelfth of fifteen examined nations where this has been observed. Moreover, the difference is largely the same as with Ethiopia – that border regions with Somaliland are given the highest warning by DFAT but no special warning by the British Foreign Office.

Eritrea:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Eritrea
Eritrea, although in the politically very volatile Saharan and Sahelian zone, has been affected more by internal political conflict than by Islamic radicalism. Eritrea has become a case study of authoritarianism and political corruption since its independence from Addis Ababa in 1993. After an election that year elected Isaias Afewerki as President, there has been no subsequent general election in twenty-three years since. Afewerki has imposed severe restrictions upon travel in Eritrea – foreigners must have permits to travel outside Asmara and consular access is often refused to detained foreigners – and unmarked minefields are a major problem in border areas.

Eritrea is unusual in that in one area the DFAT warning is less strict than the British Foreign Office: in Cansera and Gash-Barka Regions there are areas listed as “Advise against All Travel” by the BFO where DFAT says only “Reconsider Your Need to Travel”.

However, Eritrea will have to be scored as a “0” overall because for the majority of the country DFAT lists Eritrea as “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” whereas BFO just says “see our travel advice before travelling”.

Sudan:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Sudan
Sudan has long been unsafe for travel due to civil war (actually a Muslim jihad against the Christian and animist south which has now seceded as South Sudan, which I will not discuss in this part) and the presence of terrorists. Present ratings are actually a lowering of long-time advice to “Avoid All Travel” or “not to travel and if in Sudan depart” (from Global Affairs Canada). Again, DFAT warnings are more restrictive than those of the BFO: in Sinnar, Northern Kordofan and White Nile States DFAT gives a stern “Do Not Travel” but BFO has recently lowered its rating to “See Our Travel Advice before Travelling”. There is an exception for areas of Red Sea State near the Eritrea border where BFO has a specific “Advise Against All Travel” warning seen above, but still Sudan would have to get a “1” given that two counters to this occur.

Egypt:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Egypt
Egypt, the driest country in the world and frequently the centre of news regarding ramsacking of churches and tourist sites, was once a major tourist destination. (In my old Teach Yourself Arabic there is even an article titled ‘The-Tourism in Egypt’ as a text for the seventeenth lesson). However, as can be seen, Egypt today is a dangerous place, especially in those regions near Israel.

Yet again, DFAT provides a more cautious or stricter travel warning than does the BFO. The BFO says it is safe for tourists to visit regions in and east of the Nile Valley, whereas DFAT says that none of Egypt is safe for tourist travel.

Libya:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Libya
Libya, though long the richest country in Africa by per capita income due to its oil, has been torn apart in recent years due to the death of longtime dictator Colonel Gaddafi, who had long been an enemy of the US due to his support for anti-American militants and supposed orchestration of Pan Am Flight 103’s bombing in 1988 and the bombing of La Bell discothèque in West Berlin two years previously. However, in the 2000s Libya did allow limited foreign tourism and was safe to visit before the 2011 revolution and death of Colonel Gaddafi.

Since 2011, Libya has become a Muslim terrorist stronghold and completely unsafe to visit. Like Syria and Yemen, every part of Libya has the highest warning from both BFO and DFAT, so there is no difference between the two organisations and a score of “0”.

Tunisia:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Tunisia
Once a popular tourist destination for northern Europeans seeking beach weather – and even the site of the 1967 Chess Interzonal –Tunisia has fallen off the tourist radar as the “Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria” (actually of course a virtual dictatorship under Boumédiènne and Chadli Bendjedid) succumbed to civil war in the 1990s. Tunisia remains unstable and threatened by terrorism even today.

Yet again we see the highest level of alert extending more widely from DFAT than from BFO. In the DFAT map, the highest warning of “Do Not Travel” covers all of the southernmost Tataouine Governorate and extends well into Kébili and Médenine Governorates to the north. In contrast, the BFO only advises against all travel to the southern half of Tataouine Governorate.

Algeria:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Algeria
Algeria, whose 1990s civil war was a beginning for the modern wave of Muslim terrorism that has severely affected the whole Saharan region, has long been a very dangerous area for the traveller. This is especially true of the remote southern regions where Muslim terrorist groups are dominant.

As can be seen, once more DFAT is more cautious (severe in warning) than is the BFO. DFAT says “reconsider your need to travel” to all of Algeria, whereas BFO says to see advice before travelling outside of the remote Saharan regions.

Niger:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Niger
Niger – included here because it is almost entirely within the Sahara – faces essentially the same political threats from Muslim terrorism found throughout the Sahara today. In addition, we see a very familiar pattern in the BFO and DFAT travel warnings for Niger: the highest level in the DFAT map extends to all of Niger except for the western “panhandle” south of the capital Niamey, but the BFO allows for “essential” travel to many areas of southeastern Niger.

Mauritania:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisories for Mauritania
Mauritania, infamous as one of the few modern nations where slavery is still legally practiced, and more entirely within the Sahara than any other nation, is notable in that for the first time we see a nation where DFAT is less restrictive than the BFO. This is seen in the governorates of Assaba and Hodh el Gharbi where the BFO advises against all travel but DFAT mainly gives a lower “reconsider your need to travel” warning. Although the town of Zouérat does get a higher warning from DFAT, on the whole Mauritania is the first nation we have observed where DFAT provides a less severe warning against travel than the BFO and this has a score of “-1”.

Conclusions for Saharan Africa and the Horn:

With the exception of Mauritania, where in some areas DFAT’s advice is less severe than that of the BFO, all nations in Saharan Africa follow the same pattern we saw for inherently dangerous Asian destinations in the previous blog post. The overall score for Asia was +9 out of a possible +13; for Saharan Africa and the Horn the overall score is +7 out of a possible +11.

This result suggests we have the same result for the Sahara and the Horn of Africa as observed for Asian nations. In both regions, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is more severe (restrictive or cautious) in its travel warnings than is the British Foreign Office.

In the third installment, I will look at sub-Saharan Africa to give a final assessment of inherently dangerous destinations and see if my perception Australia gave higher levels of warning than other “developed” nations is consistently correct – which it seems to be based on evidence so far.

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