Ethiopia travel information: Safety and security
Summary - removal of information on the Irrecha Festival celebration on the weekend of 5th October 2019
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Advice current as at 4:00 am 15 Oct 2019.
Addis Ababa and other major urban areas are comparatively safe compared to many African cities. Nonetheless, petty theft and mugging is on the rise. Be vigilant if approached by strangers seeking assistance - criminal gangs are known to use distraction techniques including begging or feigning illness. Take particular care when visiting crowded public places, especially at night.
There has been an increase in the level of reported crime against both expatriates and nationals in the Bole and Yeka hills areas of Addis Ababa. These have included robberies at knife point and the choking unconscious of victims by their attackers. You should familiarise yourself with the geography if travelling in these areas and exercise caution. If threatened, hand over your valuables without resistance. Don’t travel alone in these areas if possible.
Keep valuables like cameras and passports out of sight. Be aware of the risk of pick-pocketing, and bag and jewellery snatching including from vehicles stopped at traffic lights in Addis Ababa. Keep car doors locked whilst in your vehicle, and when parking leave your car in a well-lit and guarded area. Consider fitting anti-shatter film to all windows on your vehicle.
Large crowds are common on key national and religious dates. For 2018, these include 7 January (Ethiopian Christmas); 18/19 January (Epiphany/’Timket’); 2 March (Victory of Adawa); 5 May (Ethiopian Patriots’ Victory Day); 28 May (Downfall of the Derg); 11/12 September (Ethiopian New Year); 26/27 September (The Finding of the True Cross/’Meskel’). Large crowds also gather on Ethiopian (Orthodox) Easter; Eid Al Fitr; Eid Al Arafa and the Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. Various parts of the country also have local festivals which can lead to large gatherings, often centered around Saints days.
There have been a small number of cases of arbitrary detention of British nationals in Ethiopia in recent years. There’s a risk that this could reoccur – particularly where tensions are heightened (for example around major events, or in locations that might be deemed sensitive for security reasons). You should carry copies of your passport and the contact details of the British Embassy, Addis Ababa at all times. This may help if you’re questioned or detained. However, you should be aware that the Ethiopian authorities will not necessarily notify embassies when foreign nationals are detained. Even if requested, adequate consular access is not always granted.
Health and safety
Health and safety precautions like life jackets in boats or protective railings at historical sites are rarely in place in Ethiopia.
Driving standards and vehicle maintenance are often poor, and traffic accidents are a regular occurrence in Ethiopia, especially in Addis Ababa and on the Addis Ababa-Djibouti road. In Addis Ababa, British Embassy staff are advised to use only the metered yellow taxis as these generally have higher standards of maintenance than the blue and white taxis.
Under Ethiopian law, drivers involved in car accidents can face severe punishments, including custodial sentences and fines. You should be very careful when travelling by car. If you’re involved in a traffic accident you should remain in your vehicle and call the local police. You should avoid confrontation and await their arrival to resolve the matter.
In the past some localised demonstrations have led to temporary closures of roads. However, not all reports on social media channels of such disruptions are accurate. If you’re unsure, you should contact local authorities or reputable tour operators in the areas you’re travelling to. If you encounter a roadblock you should follow the advice of local authorities at the road block if they are present. If you encounter an unmanned roadblock, turn around and don’t attempt to pass it.
When travelling outside Addis Ababa, you should avoid driving after dark in rural areas: vehicles often have no lights and livestock may be roaming on the roads. Medical facilities outside the capital are extremely limited so carry a comprehensive medical pack. You should also consider communications – whilst mobile telephone services are increasingly widespread, connectivity cannot be guaranteed, and there have been multiple examples of mobile internet being closed down with no notice. You may wish to consider travelling in a party and leaving details of your travel itinerary with a reliable person.
Local travel - Afar Region
The FCO advise against all but essential travel within 10km of the border with Eritrea, with the exception of the border crossing at Burre (Debay Sima).
If you’re planning to visit the Danakil desert area, you should be aware of the risk of excessive heat and the difficult terrain in some areas, notably around the volcano of Erta Ale. Facilities are basic in Danakil; there is no running water and medical options are very limited.
Tourism in the area has previously been targeted by armed groups in 2007, 2012 and 2017. You should only travel to this area with a recognised tour company and when booking check that your group will be supported by an armed police or military escort.
Local travel - Amhara Region
The FCO advise against all travel within 10km of the border with Sudan, except for the principal road to the Metema crossing point. We also advise against all but essential travel to the woredas (districts) of Tsegede, Mirab Armacho and Tach Armacho where political disputes have in the past turned violent. Amhara Region’s major tourist sites of Lalibela, Bahir Dar, Gonder town and the Simien Mountains are not within these areas.
Tensions remain high following the assassination on the regional President of Amhara on 22 June. Though the situation has remained calm, you should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, monitor local news and follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.
We are aware of violent clashes around Chilga Woreda, Central Gondar Zone, in late September and reports of fatalities, including of civilians. While attacks are mostly related to inter-ethnic disputes and foreigners have not been targeted, attacks can occur at any time with significant risk of being caught up in violence. Travellers should monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.
Local travel - Gambella Region
The FCO advise against all travel to the Jore woreda of the Agnuak zone and the four woredas (districts) (Akobo, Wantawo, Jikawo and Lare) of the Nuer zone, and against all but essential travel to the rest of Gambella Region.
Incidents of large-scale violence, inter-communal clashes and armed attacks occur regularly in the Gambella region. While foreigners have not been targeted, there’s a significant risk of being caught up in violence.
Local travel - Oromia Region
The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the Kenyan border with the exception of major towns and crossing points.
There continue to be increased tensions and periodic violence close to the western part of the Guji zone near the border with the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region. You are advised to exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to West and Qellem Wollega zones, with the exception of the main Addis Ababa to Gambella road, which passes through these areas. There have been repeated instances of violence in these areas.
There have been protests and demonstrations in a range of towns across the Oromia region. These were at their height in 2016 but have continued more sporadically since that time. Towns in the Wellega and Shewa zones, and West Arsi zone, including Ambo, Wolissa, Nekemte and Shashmene, have been particularly affected. But demonstrations have also been witnessed elsewhere including in the Bale zone to the south-east. Some protests have turned violent and resulted in casualties; others caused severe disruption to road travel including major roads to and from Addis Ababa.
In some instances international investors have been threatened, although the British Embassy is not aware of foreign tourists having been targeted. You should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, and should follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.
Local travel – Ethiopian Somali Regional State
The FCO advise against all travel to the Nogob (previously Fik), Jarar (previously Degehabur), Shabelle (previously Gode), Korahe and Dollo (previously Warder) zones of the Somali Region and to within 100km of the Kenyan and Somali borders in the Afder and Liben zones. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to all other areas of the Somali Regional State, with the exception of the main road and railway to Djibouti through Fafan zone.
There is local instability, lawlessness, military activity and a general risk of banditry in the Somali Region. Since the mid-1990s, insurgent groups, some affiliated with terrorist organisations, have clashed with government forces. Foreigners have been caught up in the violence or targeted. There have also been attacks on staff working for international NGOs.
Local travel - Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region
The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the borders with South Sudan and Kenya.
There have been some instances of civil unrest in towns in the Sidama zone, including Hawassa, and clashes along stretches of the internal border with the Oromia region, especially in the Gedeo Zone. Whilst such disturbances have been less frequent than in several other areas of Ethiopia, a number have turned violent at short notice. You should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, and should follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.
Some tensions remain in parts of Southern Nations Region following the announcements on a referendum about the creation of a Sidama Region. There are extra security forces on the streets of Hawassa city, and many shops and businesses have closed as of 19 July. If you’re in the area you should exercise extra caution and follow the advice of local authorities.
Local travel – Tigray Region
The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the Eritrea border with the exception of the main Axum-Adigrat road; established tourist sites adjacent to it such as Debre Damo and Yeha; the border crossings at Zalambessa (Setrha) and Rama (Adi Kuala); and main roads to these border crossings. You should take local advice and not walk away from roads or towns unaccompanied. The border is unmarked and there is a high possibility that landmines are still in place on the Eritrean side.
Local travel – Benishangul-Gumuz Region
The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the border with Sudan.
There have been occasional instances of civil unrest in and around Assosa. You should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, and should follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.
Quick Facts Tourist Information for:Ethiopia
Drive on the: right
Visitors/Tourists: 523,000 in 2011
Amharic (official language) 33%
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