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Cameroon President Paul Biya, center, speaks with traders in the African Market Mall in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, Monday, March 6, 2006. Biya has warned that insurgents who demand the establishment of an independent state in the anglophone regions of Cameroon are destabilizing the country. (AP Photo/Ignace Tadesse)
Efforts by the Trump administration to relax travel rules for citizens of a group of African countries have sparked protests across the continent, as well as the United States.
The U.S. Department of State issued revised guidance for citizens traveling to Gambia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda on February 21.
These affected countries, all of which the United States has designated as “non-essential travel destinations,” “have not been subjected to recent incidents of violence or significant instability,” it said in a statement.
But this policy, which aims to increase educational, religious, and humanitarian travel to the countries, has sparked strong protests from African officials and citizens.
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New U.S. travel warnings posted by the State Department, since the initial guidance was issued in late January, have been denied by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who issued his own statement condemning the “irresponsible and baseless rumors spreading in various blogs and social media” about the visa restrictions.
Belgium, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, and Tunisia also issued statements criticizing the travel rules, and Chad became the most prominent state to issue a travel ban.
A number of U.S. airports such as Benin’s Bourguiba International Airport, Dar Es Salaam’s JKIA, Kigali’s Kigali International Airport, as well as Yaounde’s Moukoko International Airport, have raised concerns about the protection of U.S. citizens as well as disrupting flights.
The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon has reportedly told passengers preparing to fly out of the country to include a statement of proof that they hold a valid visa in their baggage.
They also reportedly have been instructed to report to the immigration office before boarding any flight to the United States.
Abdoulaye Ndiaye, a spokesman for President Paul Biya, said in a statement reported by BBC News that “they (the U.S. government) should stop their illegal interventions in Chad’s internal affairs.”
As of Friday, the U.S. embassy in Senegal has confirmed it has received at least four formal complaints about the recent executive order, which concerns citizens of Chad, the Central African Republic, Djibouti, and Equatorial Guinea.
The U.S. State Department has begun tweeting that there are no current travel restrictions for U.S. citizens in these countries, but has offered limited details.
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‘No liberalization of travel restrictions’
The U.S. State Department previously said in a statement published by PBS NewsHour that U.S. citizens should now travel on average only every 12 months — a change from the previous suggested travel every four years.
It also cited “exceptions to the current policy, including for visits made in support of humanitarian missions in partnership with nongovernmental organizations.”
A number of government officials across the continent have offered confusing statements about the new guidelines, according to Jim Dennis of the U.S. Institute of Peace, who spoke to CNN’s Get Out While You Can .
Ghana’s Accra Country Office for Foreign Affairs, for example, stated that “travel between the U.S. and the region has not been affected by these new guidelines.” Meanwhile, Foreign Minister in Cameroon, Dzemeneh Loutio, told reporters that the “policy of liberalization has been scrapped.”
Foreign Minister Thomas Endjaku issued a statement that likened the move to the Reagan era, when restrictions were placed on Cuban American travel to the United States.
The travel restrictions will not “significantly impact the travel to the United States of Americans,” he said.
But an official at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan, asking not to be named, told CNN that U.S. citizens intending to travel to these countries would have to apply for visas.