In the 60 years since since nations on the African continent started gaining political independence, I am not aware of any African state that ever officially issued a “travel advisory” against this or that country until now.
The countries have gone to war with each other, been ravaged by diseases like Ebola, and been attacked by terrorists but save for Western nations issuing travel advisories to their citizens, they always keep mum or act as if nothing has happened.
In my travels, I have experienced and heard about how officials representing some African countries in foreign lands treat fellow citizens and make their life difficult so much so that some citizens would rather their stay remained unknown to their embassies because they don’t expect any assistance.
While western states usually intervene when their citizens are abducted or arrested abroad, African states hardly raise a voice. In fact, it could be said that in many African countries, protection of ordinary citizens’ doesn’t mean much for those in power — or how else would one explain the deaths of over four million innocent people in the jungles of DRC without accountability; deaths on the oceans as citizens try to escape war, misery, injustice, persecution and targeted impoverishment in their own homelands?
And as observers of African politics have argued, the preoccupation of the state machinery on the continent isn’t the broader advancement of national interests; but the narrow protection of “regime security or survival”
The difference between protection of “national interest” and “regime survival” is that while the former focuses on protecting the life of citizens regardless of their tribe or beliefs as well as protection of territorial integrity, economic interest and values; the latter focuses on protecting those who control political power.
Now, suddenly, some countries on the continent; in East African to be specific, have started issuing “travel advisories.” It started with Rwanda. And Uganda followed suit.
On March 5, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Dr Richard Sezibera “strongly” advised Rwandans not to travel to Uganda for their own security.
This advice was again emphasized by President Paul Kagame at the national retreat on March 8, where he said that innocent Rwandans are framed, arrested and tortured in Uganda and shouldn’t travel there.
In return, Uganda’s Minister of Trade Amelia Kyambadde said in an advisory to traders that, “Goods destined to Rwanda from Uganda consider exiting into Rwanda via Mirama Hills and Kyanika Customs Border posts; goods in Uganda territory, destined for the DRC consider exiting via customs border posts shared by Uganda and DRC.”
Although Ms Kyambadde didn’t advise Ugandans not to travel to Rwanda, the actions of both countries symbolise a bigger problem.
Yes, of course, it’s highly regrettable that the two countries have arrived at this point, especially given that, at the core, there is no discernable national interest to gain for either country.
That said, the idea of warning citizens of danger when it is detected is a clear sign that officials care for their citizens and are alert to their constitutional responsibility.
After all, the primary role of any head of state in any country is to protect its citizens.
Thus, while critics may view the “advisory notice” by Rwanda and Uganda in bad light, and while indeed they represent the escalation of the conflict, it represents an awakening of how vital national interests should be protected.
Until now, many African governments have been pitifully poor at protecting their national interests abroad, including protection of their citizens. What has marked these countries’ foreign policy is how they relate with donors rather than how they protect their interests.
Why? Most African states are “rentier” states, meaning states that derive their legitimacy from approval from donors and western powers rather than from delivering services to their people and protecting vital national interests.
Now that some states have started actively protecting their citizens abroad, we could say that they are finally fulfilling their constitutional duty and it would be good practice to extend this protection to all interests, including businesses, friends, values and culture.
That isn’t to say I support continued conflict between Rwanda and Uganda; it’s to state that it’s the duty of serious states to warn their citizens against danger, where it is detected; and doing so is protecting vital national interests.