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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Capital: Addis Ababa
Population: 67,673,031
Currency: birr (ETB)
Languages: Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromigna, Guaragigna, Somali, Arabic, other local languages, English (major foreign language taught in schools)
Religions: Muslim 45%-50%, Ethiopian Orthodox 35%-40%, animist 12%, other 3%-8%
Borders: Djibouti 349 km, Eritrea 912 km, Kenya 861 km, Somalia 1,600 km, Sudan 1,606 km

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a developing east African country comprising 11 semi-autonomous administrative regions organized loosely along major ethnic lines. Tourism facilities in Ethiopia are minimal. The capital is Addis Ababa.

A border dispute between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea erupted in May 1998 and escalated into full-scale conflict that continued until a cease-fire was reached in June 2000. In December 2000, a peace agreement was signed between the two countries to delimit and demarcate the border. The peace process is ongoing and the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains closed.

Although Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement in December 2000, American citizens should exercise caution if traveling to the northern Tigray and Afar regions (within 50km/30 miles of the Ethiopian/Eritrean border) because of land mines and unsettled conditions in the border area. There is a peacekeeping mission in the border area, but the border with Eritrea has not yet been finalized. U.S. citizens should stay clear of security operations and should not try to intercede with police on behalf of Eritreans or anyone else.

Since the mid-1990's, various opposition elements and government forces have clashed around Harar and in the Somali regional state, particularly near the border with Somalia. Cross-border travel by road from Ethiopia into Somalia is not advised. Somali groups affiliated with terrorist organizations may occasionally operate within the Somali, Oromiya, Ogaden, and Afar regions. The U.S. Embassy restricts travel of Embassy personnel to the Somali Region (Ogaden) to a case-by-case basis.

Sporadic inter-ethnic clashes remain a concern throughout the Gambella region of western Ethiopia following outbursts of violence there in December 2003 and January 2004. Unknown assailants opened fire on passenger trucks in ambush attacks on March 12, resulting in 17 deaths. The situation remains unpredictable throughout Gambella, and violence could recur without warning. Travel to this region is strongly discouraged.

Travel in Ethiopia via rail is strongly discouraged due to episodes of derailment, sabotage, and bombings as recently as February 2003.

In southern Ethiopia along the Kenyan border, banditry and incidents involving ethnic conflicts are also common. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling to any remote area of the country, including the borders with Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. Ethiopian security forces do not have a widespread presence in those regions.

Crime is a growing problem in Addis Ababa. Pick pocketing, �snatch and run,� and other petty crimes are common. Travelers should exercise caution in crowded areas such as the Mercato in Addis Ababa, Africa 's largest open-air market. Visitors should limit the amount of cash they carry and leave valuables, such as passports, jewelry, and airline tickets in a hotel safe or other secure place. Keep wallets and other valuables where they will be less susceptible to pick pockets.

Travelers should be cautious at all times when traveling on roads in Ethiopia. There are reports of highway robberies, including carjackings, by armed bandits throughout the country. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Travelers are cautioned to limit road travel outside major towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Ethiopian laws, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, or expelled. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ethiopia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. The use of the mild stimulant �khat� is legal in Ethiopia, but it is considered an illegal substance in many other countries, including the United States.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Health facilities are extremely limited in Addis Ababa and completely inadequate outside the capital. Although physicians are generally well trained, even the best hospitals in Addis Ababa suffer from inadequate facilities, antiquated equipment, and shortages of supplies (particularly medicine). Emergency assistance is limited. Travelers must carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines, as well as a doctor's note describing the medication. If the quantity of drugs exceeds that which would be expected for personal use, a permit from the Ministry of Health is required.

There is a high risk of earthquakes in Ethiopia. Buildings may collapse due to strong tremors. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Ethiopia is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

While travel on both paved and unpaved roads is generally considered safe, land mines and other anti-personnel devices can be encountered on isolated dirt roads that were targeted during various conflicts. Before undertaking any off-road travel, it is advisable to inquire of local authorities to ensure that the area has been cleared of mines. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians and livestock in the roadway, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are daily hazards on Ethiopian roads. In addition, road travel after dark outside Addis Ababa and other cities is dangerous and discouraged due to broken-down vehicles left on the roads, pedestrians using the roads, stray animals, and the possibility of armed robbery. Road lighting in cities is inadequate at best and nonexistent outside of cities.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ethiopia's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Ethiopia 's air carrier operations.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s Internet website at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

The Ethiopian government has closed air routes near the border with Eritrea and has referred to the airspace as a �no-fly zone.� The FAA currently prohibits U.S. aircraft and U.S. pilots from flying in Ethiopian airspace north of 12 degrees north latitude, the area along the country�s northern border with Eritrea. For complete information on this flight prohibition, travelers may visit the FAA's website at

Ethiopian law strictly prohibits the photographing of military installations, police/military personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, airfields, etc.). Such sites are rarely marked clearly. Travel guides, police, and Ethiopian officials can advise if a particular site may be photographed. Photographing prohibited sites may result in the confiscation of film and camera.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

August 11, 2004

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