Can the African Union travel advisories in reciprocity?

“A travel advisory” appeared in a Kenyan newspaper this week warning Africans who intend to visit the United States to be aware of continued instability and civil unrest in places like Charlotte, North Carolina, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where protests have erupted in the last few months over police killings of black people. On a closer look at it showed that it lacked the usual contents of a travel advisory.

The advisory was circulated widely on social media and reported by the Kenyan local media, but it is not a real warning from the African Union. Rather, it was the work of Tanzanian political cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa, better known as Gado, and it was meant to be a spoof on the many travel warnings Western countries have placed on African countries. Tourism in Kenya has been hit hard by travel advisories maintained against coastal regions close to Somalia. While the “travel advisory” made rounds on the internet, many of us wondered, is it true? Can it be effective?


At the recent UN General Assembly, many African heads of State while addressing the assembly pointed out this concern, that Africa is always bedeviled and classified as a dangerous place for foreign tourists. As a result, billions of dollars are lost in the tourism industry, and trade, as potential investors always listen to their governments. So however satirical the advisory was, it can actually be issued. This is termed as reciprocity in international law. In international relations and treaties, the principle of reciprocity states that favours, benefits, or penalties that are granted by one state to the citizens or legal entities of another, should be returned in kind.

For example, reciprocity has been used in the reduction of sentences/ the degree of liability, and the relaxation of travel restrictions and visa requirements. The principle of reciprocity also governs agreements on extradition. This is a general principle of “scratch my eye and I will return the favour (pain)”. Given the tough conditions on issuance of Visas to Africans, the African Union can return the painful favour. It has happened in the past but mostly by the big boys in international relations. And scholars have previously argued that international law is like a pathway: Where elephants tread, it becomes a path, but where rabbits walk, nothing happens.


Reciprocity is a principle deeply rooted in the international arena and it allows to a large extent the advance of diplomatic relations. This principle has formed the basis for the application of diplomatic privileges and immunities to the laws of the defence, and also for non-compliance mechanisms of provisions in international treaties. Politically, a historical event of application of reciprocity was the conclusion of the Basic Principles Agreement between the then U.S. president, Richard Nixon and President of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev, which took place in May 1972.

The Agreement stated that discussions and negotiations regarding outstanding issues between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would be carried out taking into account the principle of reciprocity and that the parties would try to provide satisfaction to each other with the aim of obtaining mutual benefits. Reciprocity is undoubtedly a practical concept in international relations. In that sense its equivalent action depends on an action or reaction of another State. The equivalence does not require absolute reciprocity since, in some cases, it is impossible to determine whether an action is exactly equivalent to the other. For instance, it is difficult to measure the equivalence between the promise of a State to defend another against a third State and the authorisation of the allied State where the troops will be stationed.

It must be emphasised that the theory of international relations of reciprocity is considered an instrument for achieving the development of relations of mutual trust and long-term mutual obligations, and an incentive for compliance with international standards. Likewise, it is considered a fundamental principle for the interaction of states to effectively manage crises. Reciprocity has played an important role in generating cooperation and conflict resolution between states. But it can also play a role in the dynamics of conflict and may lead to a reciprocal cycle of violence depending on the nature of the action that is regarded as reciprocal.

Reciprocity cannot in any way be interpreted as retaliation, although a State that is inexperienced in handling the application of the principle could interpret and apply it in that way. Retaliation, unlike reciprocity, is a limited reaction of a State against a certain behaviour that harms another state, which is contrary to international law, but which presumably is justified by the previous violation of that right by the other State.

Retaliation is undoubtedly a reaction against the spirit and essence of reciprocity. However of late, we are seeing retaliation as Russia is withdrawing from the plutonium Stock Piles Agreement following the US sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Given that these are the big boys whatever action they do can be closely interpreted as international law. From the African perspective, taking such a move would be good for the egos of Old men like Robert Mugabe, Teodero Obiang Ngwema but would undercut Africa in terms of trade, Foreign Domestic Investment and general image. Africa is like a chiefdom where visitors are treated well and a sign of good cooperation but as soon as they leave, the children go back to destitution with the old men returning to drinking sprees.


This article appears in our digital magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 7, Issue 1 of October 7th, 2016 under the title: Can the African Union issue travel advisories against the Americas and Europe?

To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE




  1. Diplomatic relationships are based reciprocity though when elephants are dealing with rabbits the power dynamics ultimately stifle it given that the net benefit for the rabbit (with or without the reciprocity) is apparently more.

    Now imagine how travel advisories issued by African Union pale in comparison to the 24/7 media juggernaut marketing the West to Africans.

    1. No doubt, the African situation in international relations is deplorable.
      But that not withstanding, Africa has the mandate to also issue travel advisories to her citizens. They may not even be adhered to, but they can surely be issued.

      Now the issue would be, what is the point of issuing an advisory which will not be adhered to?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *