Africa's most visited countries are those with poor human rights scores, no travel advisories, hidden insecurity

South Africa ranked 122nd on Global Peace Index, between Niger and Eritrea.

THE Kenyan coast has been left in near tatters due to travel advisories from the US and British governments. 

Both governments strongly advise against travel to the coastal areas due to ongoing terror threats - they neglect to mention the context, that the threats are directed at Kenyans, their motivation to force Kenyan defence forces out of  neighbouring Somalia. The advisories are blamed by some for high rates of unemployment, which ironically are thought to have helped swell militant ranks as youth are being paid to join the Somali militant group, Al-Shabaab.  

The advisories are an attempt to keep citizens safe - but there are some countries notably absent from the lists, whose house is certainly not in order and yet they avoid international condemnation and tourist scrutiny. 

Countries like Morocco and Tunisia are widely considered harmless and have a long-established relationship with international tourist bureaus.

Little or no attention is placed on Morocco’s human rights abuses in Western Sahara, for example.

Similarly, Tunisia’s five star hotels are a façade against its flawed international accountability - despite transitions to democracy since the 2011 Arab Spring- which recently culminated in a conviction of a blogger, who received a three year jail sentence for “insulting military high command.”  

Yet, the tourists keep coming undisturbed.

Morocco’s tourist arrivals equaled 10 million in the 2014 Tourism Highlights published by UNWTO, making it the most visited country in Africa. In second place was South Africa, with 9.5 million recorded tourists. In fourth place was Tunisia, with 6.2 million international visitors. 

Johannesburg and Cape Town lead African rankings for best living standards – they are rich and developed, with great infrastructure, availability of all services and produce, all while being relatively affordable. These are industrialised, nearly-western-style cities and therefore considered safe destinations.

Still going to Egypt anyway

However, the Global Peace Index published by Forbes, places South Africa as the 122nd safest place to live, between Niger and Eritrea and below Angola, Liberia or Republic of Congo. As a whole, critics argue that South Africa is not a safe country with some of the world’s highest crime and road accident rates.

In South Africa as a whole, incidents of murder increased from 15,609 murders in 2011/12 to 16,259 murders in 2012/13 - increasing from a total average of 43 murders per day to 45 murders per day. 

Egypt’s figures for the number of tourists are in the range of just over 9.17 million in 2013, placing it in third place on the continent. It is unusual for Egypt to be third as its typical figures before the Arab Spring were way above 10 million, a clear Africa leader then in attracting international visitors. The figure declined sharply in 2013, by 18%, due to renewed political tension in the country. 

What is more surprising, however, is that still today so many people are willing to come to Egypt despite its clear disrespect for human rights, liberties and freedom of expression.

2014 saw NGOs in Egypt experience a severe crackdown, with use of the Mubarak-era Law on Associations (Law 84 of 2002), to send a strong message that the government will not tolerate any dissent. 

Human rights organisations faced threats of closure and criminal prosecution, forcing many activists to scale down their work or leave the country. In September, the government also amended the Penal Code to prohibit the funding of acts harmful to Egypt’s national interest, territorial integrity or public peace.

Despite this, the British government only advises against travel to the region of Egypt called Sinai, with a danger level equal to that of travelling to Somalia. Yet at the south of it lies Sharm-El Sheikh, Egypt’s main tourist destination. 

An interesting figure comes from Algeria, which ranks fifth in the UNWTO international tourism ranking of Africa. A country to which one can only travel provided an invitation from someone inside the country makes it decisively tricky and time consuming to bother.

However, most of Algeria’s “tourism”, if not caused by French passport holder Algerians, is business related. With the vast deposits of oil and gas even the most difficult visa arrangements do not discourage profit-hungry businessmen.

Algeria tough for women

But Algeria is no fun place to wander around carelessly, especially for women.

According to Amnesty International females in Algeria face discrimination in law and customary practices alike, despite legislative reforms that are consistently “pending”. The country still has a number of particularly gender-biased rules, one of which is a provision that men who rape girls under the age of 18 may be set free and granted immunity provided they marry their victims.

Zimbabwe also features in top ten most visited countries in Africa. Because of its natural beauty the country attracts 1.8 million tourists annually and this figure is on the rise.

But Zimbabwe also features high on the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch list of states with the most human rights abuses. 

The two organisations state that the Mugabe’s government violates the right to food and shelter, most famously during the Operation Murambatsvina when an estimated 750,000 people were displaced, as well as the rights to free assembly and free movement. There are a number of violations with regard to media, most notably the state’s actions in contradiction to any political opposition and any organisations not working alongside the status quo.

Police frequently abuses protesters, most recently during last year’s Valentines Day when a number of activists were brutally violated and most human rights organisations are harassed by authorities.

Swaziland trumps Tanzania

Interestingly, Swaziland seems to attract more international tourists than Tanzania. This tiny country of just over 1 million inhabitants, is one of world’s seven remaining absolute monarchies. Like Brunei, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE and the Vatican City, Swaziland’s system of governance is based on the monarch who exercises absolute power over the land.

In theory, this means everything could happen in Swaziland. There are limited international laws that can give someone a hand if they fall into disregard of King Mswati III. This, however, does not seem to bother newcomers.

The African tourism market is growing steadily, but the continents’ most visited countries are distinctively those with poor human rights scores. The safest African countries, such as Botswana or Zambia, are still lagging behind despite immense natural beauty and world famous attractions (Okavango Delta in the former and Victoria Falls in the latter).

It might come as a surprise that those two countries stand as more peaceful than USA, UK and France, according to the Global Peace Index. The Gambia and Benin are ranked less violent than Cambodia – a destination renowned for its safety and calmness of its citizens.

There is no reason why North Africa ought to be dominating the tourism trade and why South Africa is the only ten-million-per-year destination south of the Equator. There is a lot more beauty on the continent and in order to see it one does not need to conform to the impunity, violence and repression inflicted by its leaders.

After all, those who uphold democratic norms and regulations ought to be rewarded – in the name of the same values as the yearly Mo Ibrahim Foundation award for good governance and leadership of African presidents – recently awarded to Namibia’s president Hifikepunye Pohamba. 

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