The Black people travel movement has definitely picked up stem in the past few years. It’s beautiful to see Black people traveling all over the world. But one of the questions that has been persistent is why Black people don’t travel to Africa. And what are really asking is why African Americans are not traveling to sub-saharan African countries that aren’t South Africa.
This question has largely bubbled off in the “diaspora wars” of Twitter, where too many uniformed voices are amplified. It constantly pops up in Facebook Travel groups where people are blind to their own privilege that allows a higher level of unfettered travel. And while it might be a constant conversation in real life, it lies latent as a potential bias against African Americans. Don’t act like you’ve never seen or heard people make a judgmental remark about folks going to Miami or the DR…”Black Americans be quick to go to Dominican Republic or the land of the colonizer…Europe but aren’t coming to Africa.” An unfair statement that is worth interrogating, in order to encourage a critical dialogue.
When you look at the Black travel movement, and particularly the influencer Black travel movement, the very very beautiful pictures on Instagram, the travel businesses that some have been able to grow out of the sphere of influences. This movement that is graciously encouraging the travel to the continent as viable and desirable. Have you noticed that many of them are Africans and not simply African, but often first to second generation Africans, very often Nigerian, who grew up or went to some type of school in western countries, like the US or UK. Now in a very overly general sense immigration between West African countries, like Nigeria, and the US, is a very complex system that in a roundabout way ensures that mostly educated immigrants with an access to an established network and money make it thru – a privileged class of African immigrants. That doesn’t mean that immigrating to America or the UK isn’t a hard and complicated task or that more nuance can exist the economic status of the immigrants, but that does touch on a privilege that many of the 1st and 2nd generation offsprings hold.
So what does this have to do with the Black travel scene? Part of traveling internationally in a way that won’t gouge out your bank account, is having access to an international network, and that is one of the privileges African immigrants, particularly the ones who are influencers in the Black Travel scene, hold in comparison to African Americans. It is a network of family and friends that live all over the world. Or at minimum in their home country in Africa, they have access to network that stretches out across ECOWAS, a collective of West African countries. In comparison to the broader class of African Americans who are generally lacking in the ablility to travel specifically to sub-saharan Africa, because they do not have an established international network, which is particularly important when considering that West Africa largely lacks a tourist infrastructure.
While travel to South Africa is definitely happening, the major cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town have a tourist infrastructure that’s online and easily accessible to map out and plan your trip without knowing anyone on the ground. Ghana has a business tourist infrastructure thought lacking on the leisure travel, making it a slightly easier point of entry for a first time visitor than the rest of it’s neighboring countries. However, without a network that would give you access to someone who lives in whatever West African country, they generally are just not easy or relatively cheap places to travel to on your own.
For an American, the Caribbean and Mexico are easy trips. Short flights, no visas needed and the popular destinations tend to be very affordable. Which…West Africa is not. I found the dollar to rand conversion rate to be glory when I visited South Africa. However, my feelings were 120 ways to hurt when I went to Ghana and Togo, because while the conversion rate was still favorable the actual cost of things in general was pricey. I know people want to argue me down about this sentiment. But I encourage people to stop overlooking how various systems and people benefit them. To really analyze the sentiment of “I did this on my own.”
If you are an African American, you doesn’t know any Ghanians, you book a trip to Accra – hotels are expensive, transportation is costly because there’s not a public transportation system that’s reliable or that I would ever suggest a tourist try to navigate. A large part of that lacking infrastructure rises the cost on basic necessities. The flight from the States is already at minimum running you around $700, if we are being kind. Not to mention visa fees. Then you tack on lodging, transportation, food, data and wifi — it becomes costly quickly. You’re taking a 12 hour+ flight, you’re going to want to make the most of it by traveling around. And the lack of tourist infrastructure crippled by western imperialism (we know whats happening here) makes going from one country to another in the region nearly impossible without flying back to Europe or the Middle East, and it’s a blessing if it just routes you through East Africa to get a country in South or West Africa. Local airlines that operate flights in the region, don’t have great websites, relying on local offices where you go to buy your ticket, making it difficult to plan ahead and save much. We haven’t even addressed the idea of a no-credit, all cash society. Dolla dolla bills are needed. But almost everything here ties back to lack of infrastructure. Load shedding and hospitality businesses needing to rely on generators drives up cost. Traffic patterns can be interesting to put it lightly making it best to use a private car. Long money is needed when you don’t have family or peoples on the ground.
Then there is a safety concern. I am a person who has access to a decent network, but I know publicly saying that South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia isn’t safe, can start a riot in the comment section. So most people will defer to the closest African that they know. It’s not to say that visiting any country in Africa is unsafe, it is that when trying to find information it can be very hard to navigate the varying opinions that come with their own bias, xenophobia and geo-political history. So when I went to South Africa by myself I had locals warning me about how unsafe it is. They would never advise someone to come by themselves. But I never felt unsafe there. When I was in Ghana and thinking about going to Nigeria for a wedding, even Nigerians in Ghana were like hell no you do not go to Lagos by yourself. You’re crazy. It’s confusing and conflicting trying to understand how to even travel to Africa when everyone has something different to say about how to travel there when you defer to people from said countries. You can end up with a lot of conflicting information that doesn’t make your trip any easier. This is not unique to the continent. I lived in New York City, my family is from Brooklyn and Harlem, so I know how to navigate the city in a way that’s very cost effective and I feel comfortable and safe. I have people to take me out, to entertain me, to be with me. But I also understand how NYC can be a very daunting and expensive experience to someone with no connection to the city. We have to remember that while some place is home to us, for us it’s welcoming, warm and familiar, other people will be overwhelmed by the same things that strike us as familiar. What brings joy to our hearts, might give someone else a real deal anxiety attack.
Now visas…if you have a Caribbean or African passport, visas are mostly not a concern when traveling to Africa. Every time I see a blog post about “travel to Africa made easy,” the person is always like “Get a Caribbean passport.” Girl that ain’t no damn option if your parents ain’t from the islands! People really think they’re giving worthwhile advice to the general Black American population. You are not sis. Visas can take a good minute, you have to mail your whole passport in and websites be outdated, not in English, with arbitrary rules because of the reciprocal natural of the visa process (you think the orange buffoon calling African countries “sh*tholes” is helping us here?) Take for instant, Nigeria currently requires you to visit one of the three embassies (NYC, DC or ATL) in person to apply for your tourist visa. If you don’t have someone to guide you thru the process, I am not surprised folks are hesitant to travel to countries that require a visa issued by an embassy. Yes we can double back and point privilege at both sides that differs from someone who ONLY has a Caribbean or African passport and all the visa they need to places Americans don’t. But the point is the visa game is almost always a clusterfuck that can be a big hindrance in travel.
I have to mention, a lot of the travel companies that do trips to Africa, are either very very expensive or wholesale scams. I have experienced this first hand, making my general rule of thumb is to always seek out reviews and for countries that don’t have tourist infrastructures, you need an on the ground person who is familiar with the culture, the language the people, like they know reliable and timely! Timely can be an issue because I quickly learned “what is time?” in Accra; possibly a figment of my imagination, lol. But you need access to someone who is in the know in a very intimate way in order to navigate that space to successfully host a group of travellers. Partially because there is a big want from Black Americans to travel to Africa, that this scene is so rife with scammers. And I’m not saying it’s Africans doing the scamming, it be the Americans or the American born taking full advantage of folks. Places like Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Morocco have stronger tourist infrastructures so you will see more travel companies offering trips to those countries. I personally know that One Love Travel club does great trips (I hosted a trip with them prior). But again, vet, look for reviews and do your diligence because there’s plenty of people who go to see the safari animals and never the see the culture of the local people. If you’re paying for a travel company trip, just make sure you’re getting the experience that you want.
I understand that for a place that is home, that you are proud of and love, you want to see other people enjoy it and love it the same way we talk about going to the colonizer’s land. The same way we talk about Paris, you want to see people talk about Lome or Abidjan. The same way we go to party in Las Vegas, you want to see folks turning up in Mombasa. And particularly if Black people are going to be proud about their African heritage #WakandaForever, shouldn’t they be vacationing in the Motherland?
There’s a very specific class of people who travel throughout Africa is accessible to. It even leaves out a large swath of Africans and African immigrants themselves, who have difficulty navigating the lack of tourist infrastructure to travel outside of their home country. With the ever evolving identity of Black America, please do not sleep on who all is simply travel to “Miami or the DR” cause it might be your African cousins…no shade, no tea.
For plenty of African Americans getting a passport is a big privilege. We do not have access to an international network. People are generally going to travel to budget friendly places that they can do so with ease and comfort. So if we want to see our melanin skinfolk there, until these countries governments build the infrastructure, and not just for the tourists, but for the locals for the small businesses to flourish that enable other countries to be easy travel experiences — it’s going to take other African immigrants to be the bridge that connects the diaspora back to your homeland. Invite folks, connect them with reputable people on the ground, offer the knowledge and resources that make these trips feasible. And let go of the judgement cause I need someone to host me in Abidijan, chai I don’t speak no french sah! abeg!