Africa is a beautiful continent and a popular destination for globetrotters seeking adventure, cultural experiences, and enlightenment. Tourists headed for African countries are usually after unparalleled views and experiences that will last a lifetime.
However, if you travel to the wrong place, the trip of your dreams could turn into a nightmare.
Some of the most dangerous places to visit in the entire world are on the African continent, and there are some African countries travelers would be wise to avoid altogether.
The United States Department of State regularly puts out travel advisory warnings, and the latest warnings and lists of places to avoid feature a fair number of African countries.
First, it’s important to understand that the State Department assigns levels from 1 to 4 when classifying the danger associated with travel to various countries. A Level 4 distinction is assigned to the most dangerous countries. Here’s a breakdown of what those levels mean:
1 – Exercise Normal Precautions
2 – Exercise Increased Caution
3 – Reconsider Travel
4 – Do Not Travel
Half of the countries listed under the “4 – Do Not Travel” designation in the first quarter of 2019 are in Africa.
Here’s a closer look at the five “Do Not Travel” countries in Africa, and why officials consider them too dangerous for travel.
Central African Republic
Reason for Level 4 Designation: Crime, Civil Unrest, Kidnapping or Hostage Taking
The State Department has designated the Central African Republic a “Do Not Travel” country for reasons related to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping risk.
Right now, violent crimes such as armed robbery, battery, and homicide are common in the country. The State Department says many areas of the Central African Republic are currently controlled by armed groups who regularly kidnap, hurt, and even kill civilians.
The State Department warns of demonstrations currently happening in the Central African Republic, and notes that even demonstrations that began peacefully have been known to escalate into violence. The crime in the middle of the country is said to be the most frequent, with armed robberies and kidnappings being commonplace.
The Department also says in the event of unrest or catastrophe, transportation and border access could be closed with little to no notice, and the U.S. government would have a difficult time assisting American citizens in need of evacuation.
Traveler Lee Abbamonte’s experiences in the Central African Republic in 2016 reflected the uneasy and chaotic state of the country. Despite being extremely well traveled, he concluded that the danger of traveling outside the capital city of Bangui is “not worth the risk.”
Reason for Level 4 Designation: Crime, Terrorism, Civil Unrest, Kidnapping, Armed Conflict
The State Department is advising travelers to avoid travel to Libya due to the high threat of crime and kidnapping for ransom. The Department says the risk is especially high for Westerners and U.S. citizens.
Terrorism is also a concern in Libya. Violent extremist activity is common in the country, with groups making threats against the United States on a regular basis.Terrorists have been known to target tourist hotspots like hotels, malls, and transportation hubs. Currently, the State Department recognizes four different terrorist groups, including ISIS, as threats to American travelers in Libya.
The general civil unrest in the country is also a concern for visiting tourists. Large cities in Libya such as Tripoli and Surman have seen frequent armed conflicts and terrorist attacks.
Risk of attack on commercial transportation might be the biggest threat in Libya. Some airports in the country are closed altogether, and flights out of others have the possibility of being cancelled without notice. The FAA has even issued a “Special Federal Aviation Regulation” prohibiting certain flights in and out of Libya.
If not for the current unstable nature of the country, Libya would still be a popular tourist destination given its ancient sites and exotic landscapes. But because of the strife, many Libyan tour companies have ceased operation.
Reason for Level 4 Designation: Crime, Terrorism, Kidnapping
The State Department is telling travelers to avoid Mali because of frequent troubles with violent crime such as kidnapping and armed robbery. Northern and central Mali are said to be the worst areas for these problems. Violent crime is also prevalent in the country during local holidays and seasonal events. Visitors should expect frequent interference and roadblocks as police try to address the problem.
The political instability of the country is also a cause for concern. A peace agreement in the northern area of the country in 2015 has been slow to take effect, with militia groups regularly turning to violence to exert their influence in the area.
Terrorism and kidnapping are also concerns in Mali, as attackers often target tourist areas including hotels, restaurants, clubs, and Western diplomatic missions.
In 2017, armed terrorists killed five people at a tourist resort near the capital of Bamako. Two years prior, in 2015, 170 people were held hostage at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako. Over 25 people were killed by terrorists in that takeover.
The United States also isn’t able to assist citizens who might find themselves in trouble in northern Mali, as security concerns prohibit government employees from entering the area.
Like in Libya, the FAA has issued a “Notice to Airmen” in Mali, telling civil aviation operators that they are at risk of being fired upon if they choose to fly at certain altitudes over Mali or land at Malian airports.
Reason for Level 4 Designation: Crime, Terrorism, Kidnapping, Piracy
Piracy has long been associated with the country of Somalia. Pirates are active off the Horn of Africa, especially in international waters.
The U.S. State Department also warns of the risk of kidnapping and murder in Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, and those moving around the country should expect to see illegal roadblocks.
Terrorism is common in Somalia as well, with terrorists continuing to plan and enact kidnappings, bombings, and other attacks in high-traffic areas like airports, seaports, government buildings, hotels, restaurants, and other venues where lots of people are gathered. Westerners, including U.S. citizens, are often targeted by terrorist groups.
Schools acting as “cultural rehabilitation” centers are also operating around Somalia, and have been known to hold people against their will.
There has also been a risk of cross-border violence along the stretch of land that divides Somalia and Kenya. Large scale attacks by insurgent group al-Shabab have been known to target aid workers and civilians.
Al-Shabab has thousands of members, and the United States has carried out dozens of airstrikes in Somalia over recent years targeting the organization.
Like in Libya and Mali, the FAA has issued a “Notice to Airmen” flying civil aircraft at lower altitudes over Somalia given the high risk of terrorist and militant activity.
Travel blogger and entrepreneur Johnny Ward tells the story of his trip to Somalia, where his flight out of the country ended up being cancelled because al-Shabab was attacking the airport he was scheduled to depart from.
Reason for Level 4 Designation: Crime, Terrorism, Civil Unrest, Kidnapping Armed Conflict
As of April 11, 2019, the State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency government employees from Sudan.
There is a national state of emergency across Sudan, which gives security forces increased power and authorizes the use of force and arrest across the country. Foreigners and nationals have been detained. Security forces are able to arrest anyone they think is upsetting the public order, including protestors.
Demonstrations, rallies, roadblocks, checkpoints, and curfews are prone to occur without warning throughout Sudan.
Much of the tension comes from the standoff between the Government of the Republic of the Sudan and opposition forces. Armed opposition forces are active along the border between Chad and Sudan. Central Darfur as well as southern regions such as the Blue Nile and South Kordofan are also at high risk for militant conflict.
In 2017, a journalist recounted his dangerous experience in Darfur, saying he was kidnapped, tortured, and thrown in jail.
Terrorist groups are also active in the country, and look to target Westerners through suicide bombings, kidnappings, and shootings.
Reason for Level 4 Designation: Crime, Kidnapping, Armed Conflict
The State Department is telling travelers to steer clear of South Sudan in part because of common violent crime. Carjackings, robberies, kidnappings, and other shootings are prevalent in the country, and the State Department says foreign nationals have even been victims of sexual assault and rape.
Conflict between various ethnic and political groups is ongoing throughout South Sudan, and travelers are at risk of being caught in the middle of it all. Like in Mali, the United States government has a limited ability to help American citizens in need in South Sudan, even though there is a U.S. embassy in the capital city of Juba.
It is especially dangerous for journalists to visit the country, as many have described being harassed while working in South Sudan. Some have even been killed.
Aid workers are another group at risk in South Sudan, with humanitarian efforts often targeted by armed groups.
Many Countries In Africa Have Level 3 Designations
A Level 3 designation from the State Department means the U.S. government urges travelers to reconsider visiting these countries in light of safety concerns.
Countries with a Level 3 designation include:
Burkina Faso: Crime, Terrorism, Kidnapping
Burundi: Crime, Armed Conflict
Chad: Crime, Terrorism, Minefields
Comoros: Civil Unrest
Democratic Rep. of the Congo: Crime, Civil Unrest, Health Risks, Kidnapping/Hostage Taking
Guinea-Bissau: Elections, Crime, Civil Unrest
Mauritania: Crime, Terrorism
Niger: Crime, Terrorism, Kidnapping
Nigeria: Crime, Terrorism, Civil Unrest, Kidnapping, Piracy
For a real-time visual of how safe the State department considers each African country, see its interactive online map.
If you do decide to visit a high-risk area, the State Department has some advice to help keep you stay safe that include taking the following precautions:
You can find a full list of steps the State Department says you should take when traveling to high-risk areas here.
Photo Credit: US Army Africa / Flickr(CC BY 2.0)
Erase sensitive photos or comments from your social media pages
Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and power of attorney
Share important documents and information with loved ones
Establish a family member to be a point-of-contact person with possible hostage takers
Leave valuables behind
Enroll in the State Department’s STEP Program