Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Is Australia more cautious in its travel warnings? Part III: Sub-Saharan Africa

In two previous posts, I have looked at the comparative travel warnings of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Britain’s Foreign Office (BFO), because whilst on holiday in Japan and Vietnam I was reading (and sometimes laughing in a very silly fashion at) travel warnings and finding that DFAT was more cautious in its warnings than the BFO.

The study so far has demonstrated that, on the whole, DFAT is more cautious (stricter or more rigorous) than the BFO in its travel warnings for all but the most inherently deadly destinations. This principle holds very clearly for:
  1. nine of thirteen destinations in Asia, including Turkey and the Caucasus
  2. eight of eleven destinations in Saharan Africa and the Horn
To finish this survey before drawing conclusions, I will look at sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from the mineral-rich southern regions, sub-Saharan Africa is politically unstable due to
  • extremely poorly-skilled, largely illiterate populations
  • extreme comparative disadvantage in skill-intensive and capital-intensive industries
  • Enriched World farm subsidies that disadvantage their advantageous farming sectors and
  • political corruption
I will do sub-Saharan African destinations in the same way I did those of Asia and Saharan Africa – from east to west:


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Kenya
With Kenya, if we magnify the Nairobi insert, it is clear that DFAT’s travel warning is yet again more cautious, with more severe warnings than given by the British Foreign Office. If one looks carefully (which will require the reader to expand the map) it is clear that:
  1. the northeastern al-Shabāb hotbed gets the highest “Do Not Travel” warning from DFAT, but only “advice against all but essential travel” from the BFO)
  2. the area with a travel warning in Mandera, Wajir and Garissa Counties not only has a higher level warning from DFAT, but extends further from Somalia than in the BFO map.
  3. the main highway into Ethiopia from Isiolo has a DFAT “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” warning but nothing from the BFO


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Uganda
Uganda is less inherently dangerous than Kenya, but does suffer severe spillover effects from problems in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Again we see that DFAT provides a stricter warning than the BFO. The areas on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo – which include many of Uganda’s major tourist attractions like the “Mountains of the Moon” (Rwenzori Mountains) – are listed as “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” by DFAT but are not specially listed by the BFO. Even areas bordering South Sudan, which are given a maximal “Do Not Travel” by DFAT as far as fifty kilometres from the border.

South Sudan:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for South Sudan
In South Sudan, African’s forty-sixth and newest nation, the BFO and DFAT advisories (as for Syria, Yemen and Libya) are the same stern “Advise Against All Travel” and its equivalent “Do Not Travel” for the whole nation, including capital Jubba. Thus, there is no difference and a score of “0” for South Sudan.


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Burundi
Detouring southwards quite a bit to position us on a consistent east-to-west trajectory across sub-Saharan Africa, we come to Burundi, a nation long extremely unsafe for tourism owing to political conflicts that are seldom discussed even by African experts and are independent of jihadist violence because Islam never spread this far south and inland. An old Lonely Planet East Africa said:
“travel outside Bujumbura is not recommended”
Again, we see clearly that DFAT’s travel warning for Burundi is stricter than the BFO’s. In neither is Bujumbura separated from the rest of Burundi, but whereas DFAT says “Do Not Travel” even to Bujumbura, the BFO generally says only the second-highest “Advise Against All but Essential Travel” to most of Burundi except for Bubanza and Cibitoke.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaïre):

BFO (top) and DFAT (bottom) travel advisory map for the DRC
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Kinshasa after the name of its capital – and from 1965 to 1997 under the notorious kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbende wa za Banga known as Zaïre – has since Mobutu’s regime collapsed been consistently very dangerous for travellers. Although there were sections on Zaïre in early Lonely Planet guidebooks, the country has been omitted from every Africa-related guidebook published after Mobutu’s fall.

Poor correlations between ethnic groups and colonially enforced boundaries have made it difficult for subsequent governments to accept people living in remote areas distant from Kinshasa and which, as the old Lonely Planet East Africa pointed out vigorously, “had much more in common with Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda with western Zaïre” (probably not Lonely Planet’s exact words but one still gains an idea).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo constitutes a difficult case for comparing BFO and DFAT travel advisories because unlike any other nation so far, the gradients of warning (lowest to highest; reddest colours) are different. There is, it is true, a very clear pattern of higher levels of warning in the east of the country within the Rift Valley than in the west on the Congo Craton. However, to an extent unseen anywhere else, here, were see major and seemingly incoherent differences between the BFO and DFAT travel warnings for the Democratic Republic of the Congo that are almost completely absent in other nations we have studied:
  1. as it typical, DFAT gives a “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” for most of the DRC, whereas BFO gives “See Our Travel Advice Before Travelling” (no warning) for over half the DRC
  2. however, in southeastern DRC, BFO gives a stern “Advise Against All Travel” for the provinces of Maniema, Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami, whereas DFAT is still at “Reconsider Your Need to Travel”
  3. in the border regions with the crisis-torn Central African Republic, DFAT remains at “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” whereas BFO again gives the stern “Advise Against All Travel”
On the whole, the Democratic Republic of the Congo would have to score a “0”: the sterner general DFAT rating is compensated by higher specific BFO ratings in Maniema, Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami provinces.

Central African Republic:

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic is the fourth (and final) instance of a nation scoring “0” because both the BFO and DFAT give the highest rating of “Advise Against All Travel” or “Do Not Travel”. The country has been politically problematic for a long time, and if my recollections are correct warnings against travelling to the CAR for any purpose have been in force for a decade or more from Global Affairs Canada – indeed the hazards of travelling here have been severe without interruptions as far back as 1996.


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Chad
Chad, long regarded as the poorest nation on Earth, and affected by drought and loss of reparations from expatriate Chadians, has long been a dangerous place for foreigners as well as among the toughest nations in the world to obtain a visa for. Historically, Chad has not been as unsafe as its southern neighbour, but the spread of radical Islam into the Sahel and Sahara has meant that the whole region is now exceedingly dangerous for non-Muslims.

Again, we see a major difference between the BFO and DFAT travel warnings, with DFAT much more severe. Southern Chad, except for dangerous border regions, is listed as “Advise Against All but Essential Travel” by BFO, as is the oasis city of Faya, but all of Chad is “Do Not Travel” in DFAT except for the capital N‘Djamena.


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Angola
Detouring again southward to be in as strict an east-to-west line as possible, we come to Angola, a country which was exceedingly dangerous for travellers for several decades after the fall of the Estado Novo and a long civil war between MPLA and UNITA.

Today, Angola has quietened, and is relatively safe for travellers.

As we can see, the DFAT travel warning is again stricter than the BFO, if less so than for many other nations. The only difference in angola is that Lunda Sul Province, near the border with the DRC, gets a “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” from DFAT but “See Our Travel Advice before Travelling” from the BFO.


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Cameroon
Cameroon, regarded as relatively safe and prosperous compared to the rest of West and Central Africa, has nonetheless been badly affected by the troubles in most adjacent lands. Central Africa has been the least-visited region of the globe ever since mass tourism began, and not for a quarter of a century has any comprehensive guidebook been written as the troubles there have been general and continuous.

What’s notable about Cameroon is that, although there are three different ratings within the country, the BFO and DFAT ratings are almost exactly the same (which we have seen previously only with blanket “Avoid All Travel”/“Do Not Travel” nations). The sole exception is a small sliver of the North Region which is very hard to see on the BFO map as merely “Advise Against All but Essential Travel”.

The smallness of the differences means Cameroon would need to be scored a “0” because they are just so unimportant – I overlooked them on looking for days!


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Nigeria
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and poised to be the third most populous in the world within half a century, is often cited as a bad case of economic corruption and stagnation after oil prices fell into the basement during the 1980s and 1990s. Today, Nigeria is threatened severely by Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram, which has raised the nation to a higher profile than for some decades.

Nigeria constitutes another familiar case of stricter DFAT travel warnings vis-à-vis those given by BFO. Indeed in most of Plateau State, BFO says “see out travel advice before travelling” yet DFAT says the stern “Do Not Travel”, the only case I have noted so far of so large a difference.

Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta):

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Burkina Faso
Although Burkina Faso – which in my childhood was called “Upper Volta” – was safe for travel during the days when I avidly read Lonely Planet guidebooks, the spread of Wahhabism and numerous Muslim terror groups around the Sahara and Sahel has made the country dangerous over the last few years. Al-Qacida has carried out a number of major terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso since 2012, including in the capital Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso is distinctly rare: the DFAT travel warning is less severe than the BFO. The BFO has the highest “Avoid All Travel” for all of the border with Mali and easternmost border with Niger in Tapoa District, whereas DFAT has “Do Not Travel” only for
“All areas north of a line Tougan-Ouhigouya-Djibo-Dori”
Burkina Faso constitutes the first truly clear “-1” case in our study of comparative BFO and DFAT travel warnings, and it‘s interesting to see the explanation given that one potential cause – delayed DFAT uprating to to slower transmission of reports to Canberra vis-à-vis London – can be rejected.

Cote d‘Ivoire (formerly Ivory Coast):

BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Cote d‘Ivoire
In the 1970s and 1980s the most prosperous country in West Africa, Cote d‘Ivoire (Ivory Coast) had a major decline during the 1990s and 2000s, but the demand of china for raw materials has created a recovery since the CFA devaluation in 1994.

Being far from centres of Muslim terrorism, Cote d‘Ivoire is relatively safe, but still there is a problem of armed militias in the forested areas near the Liberian border.

As you should see, there is no difference between BFO and DFAT warnings here: the southwestern regions of Dix-Huit Montagnes, Haut-Sassandra, Moyen-Cavally and Bas-Sassandra have the second highest warning of “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” or “Advise Against All but Essential Travel”, the rest is the next lowest “Exercise a High Degree of Caution” or “See Our Travel Advice Before Travelling”.


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Mali
Once an interesting, if extremely poor, destination for travellers in West Africa, Mali is now the centre of the turmoil affecting the Sahara and Sahel. The country has been the centre of several terrorist attacks upon Western interests, notably by al-Qacida upon the Radisson Blu Hotel last November where 170 hostages were sized.

As can be seen, Mali is similar to Burkina Faso in that the BFO warnings are in part at a higher level than those of DFAT. The highest warning of “Advise Against All Travel” extends further south in Kayes and Koulikiro Regions than does the DFAT warning “Do Not Travel”. On the other hand, DFAT has the highest rating for Bamako city, whereas BFO does not.

Mali would, however, unlike Burkina Faso have to score a “0” because of the difference in rating for the capital Bamako.


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Liberia
During the period I avidly read Lonely Planet books, Liberia (plus neighbouring Sierra Leone which is now free of “orange” or “red” areas) was an extremely dangerous destination – though unlike Angola I lack recollections of what the problems were.

Today Liberia has quietened somewhat, but problems still exist in the remote, hilly border areas.

As we can see, Liberia follows the normal pattern of DFAT issuing more restrictive travel advice than the BFO. The BFO has the minimal “see our travel advice before travelling” for all of Liberia, whereas DFAT says “Reconsider Your Need To Travel” for Grand Gedah and River Gee counties in the conflict zone near the border with Cote d‘Ivoire.


BFO (left) and DFAT (right) travel advisory map for Guinea
Our last country in sub-Saharan Africa, Guinea, shows a familiar pattern – although some of the problem relates to the deadly Ebola virus – of more cautious DFAT warnings vis-à-vis the BFO. In the case of Guinea, this is taken towards an exceptional level: DFAT says “Reconsider Your Need to Travel” to all of Guinea and even “Do Not Travel” for border areas with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d‘Ivoire where military conflicts continue. The BFO says that the military presence can be dealt with easily as military checkpoints are prevalent everywhere in Guinea.

Conclusions for Sub-Saharan Africa:

With the exception of Burkina Faso, where British Foreign Office travel warnings are stricter than those provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, sub-Saharan Africa continues the pattern of Asia and Saharan Africa in that DFAT warnings are consistently stricter than those of the BFO.

Out of fifteen destinations examined in sub-Saharan Africa, DFAT’s travel advice is more cautious (severe or restrictive, higher levels of warning) in eight, viz:
  1. Kenya
  2. Uganda
  3. Burundi
  4. Angola
  5. Chad
  6. Nigeria
  7. Liberia
  8. Guinea
  9. parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali
but less cautious with Burkina Faso and parts of Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Thus, the DFAT versus BFO score for sub-Saharan Africa is +7 of a possible +15, which is less than the +9 out of +13 for Asia and +7 out of +11 for Saharan Africa and the Horn. This lower value might reflect poorer quality information due to the extreme poverty of tropical Africa, or simply fewer informants to rely upon for data.

Nonetheless, sub-Saharan Africa together with Saharan Africa and Asia adds up to a possible +21 out of +39 – over fifty percent – for higher levels of travel warning by DFAT compared to the BFO (although it is false that most localities have different DFAT and BFO advisory levels).

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