Safety and security
Petty theft and mugging is common and on the rise. Take particular care when visiting crowded public places, especially at night. There have been incidents of violent assaults in the Bole area at night and in more secluded areas, such as the Entoto Hills, during the day. 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. Incidents involving parked and unattended cars are on the increase. When parking in Addis Ababa, 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. These include 7 January (Ethiopian Christmas); 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); 27 September (The Finding of the True Cross/’Meskel’). Large crowds also gather on Ethiopian Easter; Eid (End of Ramadan); Eid Al Arafa and the Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.
There have been a small number of cases of arbitrary detention of British nationals in Ethiopia in recent years. There is 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 have in many cases failed to meet their international obligations to notify Embassies when foreign nationals have been detained. Even if requested, adequate consular access is not always granted.
On 13 February 2018, there were reports of road closures and large gatherings in towns in the Oromia region, including some close to the borders of Addis Ababa, as well as around Harar and Dire Dawa. If you’re in these areas you should exercise caution, keep away from crowds and limit road journeys as much as possible until the situation has normalised. If you encounter a roadblock you should follow the advice of local authorities at the roadblock, if they’re present. If you encounter an unmanned roadblock, turn around and don’t attempt to pass it.
Protests and demonstrations sometimes also take place in Addis Ababa and other cities. In the past, some of these have become violent. You should avoid any protests or demonstrations.
When travelling outside Addis Ababa consider travelling in a party and leave details of your travel itinerary with a reliable person. Carry a comprehensive medical pack. Telephones, including the sole mobile network, are unreliable. Wherever possible don’t leave vehicles unattended. The Entoto hills near Addis Ababa are a popular spot with tourists and expatriates but there has been a recent increase in break-ins on unattended vehicles. In January 2014 there was an attempted robbery against a lone female on the Entoto walking trail.
Health and Safety precautions like life jackets in boats or protective railings at historical sites are rarely in place in Ethiopia.
Visiting the Afar region
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’s no running water and medical facilities are 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 - such tours are normally supported by an armed police or military escort.
Demonstrations and violent clashes took place in the Amhara region in 2016. In August 2016 there were violent clashes between protestors and security forces in Gonder, Bahir Dar, and Debretabor.
On 1 April 2017, there was an explosion at the Florida International Hotel in Gondar, reportedly the result of a grenade attack. Three people are reported to have been injured. This follows 2 separate explosions at hotels in Gondar and Bahir Dar in January 2017. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.
There continues to be increased tension and periodic violence between Oromia and Somali Region, particularly in east and west Harerge zones, which border Harar and Dire Dawa. In early December 2017 there were reports of a number of deaths in several locations in east and west Harerge, including Chelenko in Meta district and Gadulo in Daru Labu district. Road travel may be disrupted. If you’re in this area exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities.
On 11 October 2017, there were protests in the towns of Ambo, Dodola, Wolisso and Shashemene. There were local reports of casualties, including some deaths in Shashemene.
This follows widespread protests across the Oromia Region in 2016, with west and south west Shewa zones, including Ambo, Wolisso, and the popular tourist destination of the Wenchi crater; as well as the west Arsi zone, including Shashemene, particularly affected. Some protests turned violent and resulted in casualties; others caused severe disruption to road travel including major roads to and from Addis Ababa. The situation has calmed, but protests may occur with little warning and could turn violent.
In October 2016, up to 100 people died during a stampede at the Irreechaa religious festival in Oromia. In October 2016, a number of farms and properties were destroyed in Gelana (Borena Zone), Yirga Chefe and Dilla (Sidama Zone). On 4 October, 2016, a US national travelling by car was killed by rocks thrown by protestors on the road from Holeta to Addis Ababa.
In December 2011, two Swedish journalists were found guilty of supporting terrorism having entered Ethiopia illegally from Somalia. Any journalist wishing to operate legitimately in Ethiopia should get the necessary accreditation.
Tensions remain along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border, which occasionally flare up into cross-border clashes.
There are cross-border tensions in the Tigray and Afar regions and the security situation has deteriorated. Take great care if you travel on the road from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, including via Asaita, due the high number of road traffic accidents.
There is banditry in the areas bordering Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya. If you’re crossing into Kenya or Sudan, keep to the main road and seek advice from local authorities about travelling in convoy.
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, particularly in the Ogaden. Foreigners have been caught up in the violence or targeted. There have been attacks on staff working for international NGOs. Avoid overnight stays unless you are in secure accommodation.
There has been violence, inter-tribal clashes and armed attacks in the Gambella region. While foreigners have not been targeted, there is a risk of being caught up in the violence. Tensions remain high in the region with the possibility of further clashes. In late January and early February 2016, ethnic tensions in Gambella city and surrounding areas resulted in a number of casualties. Federal authorities were deployed and a curfew imposed. A cross-border raid on 15 April 2016 in Jikawo, part of the Gambella region on the border with South Sudan, resulted in 208 civilians being killed. There were also been reports of clashes between different groups in the Gambella region on 21 April 2016, resulting in 17 people being killed.
On 7 November 2016 in the Surma Woreda near Mizan in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, a group of Czech and Slovak Nationals were attacked and robbed by armed men who threw rocks at their car, seriously injuring one. Their Ethiopian driver was shot and subsequently died.
Unauthorised and official roadblocks can appear with little or no warning. If you encounter a roadblock you should follow the advice of local authorities at the roadblock, if they’re present. If you encounter an unmanned roadblock, turn around and don’t attempt to pass it.
Under Ethiopian laws, drivers involved in car accidents can face severe punishments, including custodial sentences and fines.
Driving standards are poor, and traffic accidents are common and sadly often fatal. You should be very careful when travelling by car.
You should avoid driving after dark in rural areas: vehicles often have no lights and livestock may be roaming the roads.
Traffic accidents are a regular occurrence in Ethiopia and Addis Ababa specifically. If you are involved in a traffic accident you should remain with your vehicle and call the local police. You should avoid confrontation and await the arrival of the police to resolve the matter.
In December 2017 a number of protests took place in universities across Ethiopia, with some reports of violence. Protests and demonstrations sometimes also take place in Addis Ababa and other cities. In the past, some of these have become violent. You should avoid any protests or demonstrations.