Travel in Africa
One of the Last Frontiers of Global Tourism
|A sailing boat in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Lies Ouwerkerk.
The diverse continent of Africa is one of the last frontiers of global tourism. While travelers can follow a well-developed tourist trail in most other continents, travel in Africa is often perceived as an adventure in many countries. The continent has an unimaginably rich cultural heritage and fascinating ecosystem, but, with rare exceptions such as South Africa, the tourism infrastructure remains poorly developed, and travelers in many parts of Africa still need a strong sense of adventure and courage. What concerns many travelers interested in visiting Africa is the fact that those of us who do not reside on the African continent hear nothing but bad news about this vast and varied assortment of countries. We hear of the kidnappings of tourists, civil war, piracy, violence, human rights abuses, tribal conflicts, economic collapse, and terrorist attacks. Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and South Africa have all made the headlines this past year with such frightening news.
In response, many Western governments have issued travel warnings for many African countries, advising their citizens not to travel there or to certain regions. A rising crime rate against tourists is one of the major concerns, but tribal conflicts, terrorism, and civil war also pose serious risks, often in border regions with unstable neighboring countries. West Africa has the lowest number of African countries with travel warnings from Western governments. Of the region’s sixteen countries, only Mauritania, Guinea, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Nigeria, are considered dangerous or partly dangerous for foreign travelers. In other parts of Africa, Botswana, Madagascar, Namibia, and Malawi are considered fairly safe, but most other African countries have at least an elevated and sometimes very high security risk for foreign travelers.
Faced with these bleak assessments from their governments and with discouraging media reports, it is not surprising that many travelers wonder if it is worth taking the risk of visiting Africa. But travelers interested in Africa should be aware that the travel advisories and news we hear only tell part of the story. Ethnic conflict, political instability, civil unrest and violence are no doubt serious threats to travelers, but there are many places in Africa that are peaceful and relatively stable. We need to remind ourselves that a safe and successful trip depends to a large degree on being well-informed, taking safety precautions and choosing our travel destination and itinerary very carefully.
The Challenges of Tourism in Africa
Traditionally, mining, oil, and other commodities accounted for the largest percentage of foreign currency earnings in Africa. Despite its wealth in natural resources, Africa remains the least developed and poorest continent, with over half of the population living on less than US$1 a day. Over the past decade tourism has become an increasingly important sector of Africa’s economy, surpassing traditional sources of income such as mining, natural resources, and agricultural products. A growing number of African countries are beginning to recognize tourism as Africa’s best chance to overcome poverty and provide at least a basic standard of living to its citizens. Countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, and Rwanda, increasingly rely on tourism for their foreign currency earnings, and the growing tourism industry has brought economic development and stability to many impoverished areas.
Despite the many problems facing this vast continent, some countries are moving toward greater prosperity and stability, and tourism plays an important role in this development.
Tourism cannot be a panacea for Africa’s ethnic, social, and economic problems, but with the help of international aid organizations, tourism development is making significant advances. There are many programs and efforts underway all across Africa to expand the local infrastructure and promote tourism development. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the African Development Bank Group, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are providing training seminars, research, analyses, and policy advice for tourism development. These organizations also finance projects all across Africa that focus on local infrastructure projects, such as power generation, drinking water systems, road and railway construction, as well as ecotourism, environmental preservation, and sustainable development. Such projects have a significant impact on improving the lives of the local people in areas enduring widespread poverty and underdevelopment.
Considering the widespread positive impact of tourism on Africa’s development,
visiting Africa becomes much more than selecting a country to have a great vacation. Every visitor makes a small contribution to the development of the country they visit, and their travel expenses provide a much-needed source of income and local revenue in regions plagued by poverty and underdevelopment. But traveling on a continent affected by so many social and political problems is a challenge. If you are interested in visiting Africa, you need to get past the sound bites and stories that make the news headlines, and investigate on your own, where Africa, this vast and diverse continent, stands today.