Travel alert: US, South Korea and UK alert citizens about travel to Zanzibar

TANZANIA (eTN) – Ahead of Sunday elections in the tourist island of Zanzibar, the United States had issued a travel alert warning American tourists and other travelers to be vigilant when traveling to the island during election day, as a political standoff and security tension had escalated in key areas of the island.

In its revised travel alert released by the American Embassy in Tanzanian capital city of Dar es Salaam Friday, the US State department alerted US citizens residing or traveling to Zanzibar to keep away from security-risk areas where violence is imminent.

The travel alert cautioned American citizens to maintain a high level of security awareness leading up to, during, and following the island’s re-run election period.

“Over the past weeks, there have been reports of arrests, small explosions, and isolated acts of violence in Zanzibar. US citizens should be advised that over the next several days, transportation delays and cancellations may occur, including ferry services between Zanzibar and the mainland,” the alert read in part.

It also cautioned American citizens over possible clashes between security forces and demonstrators, a situation likely to cause violence and harm to travelers caught between the crowds.

“The State Department recommends US citizens maintain a high level of security awareness leading up to, during, and following the election period. US citizens should avoid political rallies, polling centers, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind as even gatherings intended to be peaceful can become confrontational and turn violent,” the alert reads.

“Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates. Although there have been no specific incidents of violence targeting US citizens, US citizens are urged to exercise caution and stay current with media coverage of local events,” it concluded.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued as well, travel advice to British travelers and other UK citizens residing in Zanzibar, cautioning them to keep away from possible political clashes.

The UK travel advice said in its part that a re-run of election in Zanzibar due to take place this coming Sunday attracts a risk of heightened tensions, so travelers and UK citizens should take care and avoid large crowds or public demonstrations.

“Violence has occurred previously around the time of elections in Zanzibar, and the current political situation is tense. There’s a risk of heightened tension and unrest around the election period,” the advice said.

“You should take care; be aware of your surroundings; and avoid political rallies, polling stations, large crowds or public demonstrations. Make sure you have a means of communication with you at all times and monitor local media for updates,” it reads in part.

“Although most visits to Tanzania are trouble-free, violent and armed crime is increasing. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. There is an underlying threat from terrorism,” the FCO advice added.

Around 75,000 British nationals visit Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar every year.

South Korea has raised its travel alert level on Zanzibar. The Korean Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it is advising its citizens to refrain from visiting Zanzibar amid “deteriorating security” there.

Concerning the travel alert on Zanzibar, the ministry cited “unstable security situations” ahead of a presidential re-election slated for Sunday.

There is growing speculation of violence and security uncertainty on the Spice Island, as the days are getting closer to election day. There are reports of fear among the people there, as the presence of heavily-equipped police and armed forces are seen patrolling the island’s streets.

Zanzibar residents will vote on Sunday to elect the President of Zanzibar, members of Parliament, and civic or local leaders in a re-run election after nullification of the previous election held late in October last year.

Zanzibar is a unique coral island lying in the Indian Ocean a short distance from Tanzania mainland. With Pemba, and about 50 other islands, Zanzibar originally was an independent country until 1964 when it was united with Tanganyika to form Tanzania under President Julius Nyerere.

The island’s history goes back many centuries. Its heyday came in the early 19th century when the Sultan moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar.

Spice cultivation was developed; mostly the aromatic cloves and the slave trade was at its height during the 19th century. Zanzibar became the most important town in East Africa with its autonomous mandate.