Safety and Security
U.S. citizens are strongly advised to review their personal safety and security posture, to remain vigilant, and to be cautious when frequenting prominent public places and landmarks. While Ethiopia is generally stable, domestic insurgent groups, extremists from Somalia, and the heavy military presence along the border with Eritrea pose risks to safety and security.
A number of al-Qaida operatives and other extremists are believed to be operating in and around Africa. Since the July 11, 2010, terrorist bombings in Kampala, Uganda, for which the Somalia-based, U.S. government-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility, there have been increased threats against public areas across East Africa. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against US interests in multiple regions, including Africa. In February 2012, leaders of al-Shabaab and al-Qaida announced a merger of the two groups.
U.S. citizens should strongly consider the risk of attending or being near large public gatherings, or venues where westerners gather on a routine or predictable basis, and which have no visible security presence. Such gatherings or venues can provide vulnerable targets for extremist or terrorist groups. U.S. citizens should avoid, if possible, using public transportation, including mini-buses, and should vary their travel times and routes to the extent possible. You are advised to avoid unattended baggage or packages left in any location, including in taxis.
There are periodic attacks on civilians as well as security forces in the Somali region of Ethiopia. In 2011, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces initiated an offensive against al-Shabab in Somalia, together with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which has been in Mogadishu since 2007, resulting in an increase in the threat level in Ethiopia and neighboring countries.
In southern Ethiopia, along the Kenyan border, banditry and incidents involving ethnic conflicts are also common. You should exercise caution when traveling to any remote area of the country, including the borders with Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, and South Sudan, and avoid travel outside of the major towns in these border areas.
U.S. citizens are advised that, due to serious safety and security concerns, U.S. government personnel and their families are presently restricted from traveling to the following areas:
Ethiopia/Eritrea Border (Northern Ethiopia): Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement in December 2000 that ended their border war. However, the border remains an active issue of contention between the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The border area is a militarized zone where the possibility of armed conflict between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces continues. U.S. government personnel are restricted from travel north of the Shire (Inda Silassie)-Axum-Adigrat road in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Personnel are further restricted from travel north of the road from Dessie through Semera to the Galafi border crossing with Djibouti, including the Danakil Depression and the Erta Ale volcano. In January 2012, a group of foreign tourists were attacked near the Erta Ale volcano in the Afar region near the Eritrean border, approximately 100 miles southeast of Adigrat in the Danakil Depression. The attack resulted in five deaths, three wounded, and four people kidnapped. The victims were European and Ethiopian citizens. The two Europeans who were kidnapped were subsequently released. On February 15, 2012, Ethiopia, which blamed Eritrea for the attack, retaliated by striking military camps in Eritrea where the attackers were allegedly trained. This episode illustrates the continuing volatility of the border area.
Somali Region (Eastern Ethiopia): Travel to Ethiopia's Somali regional state is restricted for U.S. government employees, although essential travel to the region is permitted on a case-by-case basis. Since the mid-1990's, members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) have conducted attacks on civilian targets in parts of the Somali regional state, particularly in the Ogaden zones. Expatriateshave been killed in these attacks. In 2010, the Government of Ethiopia initiated peace talks with the ONLF, which are ongoing. Despite these talks, there have been isolated incidents of violence continues. In May 2011, gunmen affiliated with the ONLF attacked a vehicle belonging to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), killing the vehicle’s driver, wounding one other, and kidnapping two other WFP employees. The kidnapped employees were later released.
Gambella Region (Western Ethiopia): Sporadic inter-ethnic clashes are a concern throughout the Gambella region of western Ethiopia. While the security situation in the town of Gambella is generally calm, it remains unpredictable throughout the rest of the region. Intensified conflict between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has increased refugee flows into Western Ethiopia. Travel to the border areas in the Beneshangul (Asosa) region is restricted to major towns.
Important Note: The Government of Ethiopia rarely informs the Embassy of arrested or detained U.S. citizens, even those detained at the airport by immigration or customs authorities. In some instances, U.S. citizens have been detained for weeks or even months without Embassy notification. If you are arrested or detained in Ethiopia, you have the right to request that Ethiopian authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your detention or arrest in accordance with the 1951 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations between the United States and Ethiopia . If you are detained or arrested in Ethiopia you should use whatever means of communication available to alert the U.S. Embassy of your situation.