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Painful past: A guide to the continents dark tourist attractions

“Dark Tourism” is the travel or patronage of historical and cultural sites that are in some way connected to death or disaster. Dark tourism is said to help alleviate taboos and perceptions associated with morbid locations while educating travelers on their significance.

You would think no one finds entertainment in the macabre but things that give you goosebumps and threaten to go bump in the night hold a certain fascination for a lot of people. For these people planning a holiday is defined by the locations memorial sites, prisons, battlefields or places of struggle and other atrocities. Popular places for dark tourism are characteristically full of dark history, struggling times, horrific stories and harsh realities of the past.

Some of these places from around the world include: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in the centre of Hiroshima, Japan, the Auschwitz concentration camp in Krakow, Poland, Ground Zero the site in Manhattan where the World Trade Center once stood and the Ghost town of Prypiat in Ukraine that was destroyed by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

But the continent is also full of such locations and we are giving you a guide to some of Africa’s dark tourist attractions

Read: Uganda to build an ‘Idi Amin museum’ to attract tourists and preserve history

The Capture site, South Africa

The Apartheid Museum, in partnership with the Kwa Zulu Natal provincial government created the Capture site. This is the site where Nelson Mandela was ‘captured’ on his return journey to Johannesburg, 5km from Howick on 5 August 1962 on of South Africa’s most pivotal moments. ThUs began his 27-year incarceration and long walk to freedom.

The site features a sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli who is quoted by the museum saying, “The 50 columns represent the 50 years since Nelson Mandela’s capture, but they also suggest the idea of the many making the whole: of solidarity. Mandela’s incarceration cemented his status as an icon of the struggle, which in turn helped ferment the groundswell of resistance”.

Goma, DRC

This town is on the list for two reasons. The first and more mainstream attraction is as the site of a volcanic eruption in 2002. Mt Nyiragongo erupted, draining its lava lake, which then shot a 200-1000 m wide flood wave of red-hot lava down its slopes and right through Goma.

Mount Nyiragongo photo credit Wikipedia

The second is for those avid researchers of the Rwanda genocide. Towards the end of the genocide a huge refugee crisis ensued and Hutus poured into Eastern Congo in the hundreds of thousands. Goma refugee camps went on to gain notoriety of the refugee camps as new bases of terror. The camps were misused by genocidaires of the Interahamwe militia ;who had fled with civilians; to inflict the same horror the victims has sought to leave behind.

“Red Terror” Martyrs’ Memorial Museum, Ethiopia

The “Red Terror” Museum in Addis Ababa was established in 2010 as a memorial to those who died during the Red Terror under the Derg government. The museum has displays of torture instruments, skulls and bones, coffins, bloody clothes and photographs of victims.

Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Lake Natron, Tanzania

This lake is known for the manner in which it petrifies and kills animals turning them into stone figures. According to sources Lake Natron is blood red from bacteria growth and the waters are harsh with a highly alkaline PH ranging from 9 to 10.5 and temperatures that peak at 60° Celcius. Should an animal plunge into the water, the high PH will pickle its body then calcify the minerals in the solution turning them into statues.

Lake Natron from Space photo credit Wikimedia Commons

The Akodessawa Fetish Market, Togo

The Akodessawa Fetish Market or “Marche des Feticheurs” is the world’s largest voodoo market. The market features monkey heads, skulls, dead birds, crocodiles, skins and other products of dead animals used to find remedies for all types of ailments: cat skulls against memory loss, bat bones to heal rabies, owl to ward off bad luck. Travelers also visit the market to consult traditional healers and witch doctors.

Akodessawa Fetish Market photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Murambi, Nyamata and Kigali genocide memorials, Rwanda

These are three of the major centres in Rwanda that commemorate the Rwandan Genocide. These museums pay homage to the slain victims, act as centers of remembrance and serve as places in which the bereaved could bury their family and friends.

The House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) and Salaga Slave Market, Ghana

The house of slaves and its Door of No Return is a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island in the city of Dakar, Senegal. The museum is said to memorialize the final exit point of slaves from Africa. According to the sites information, conditions in the building were harrowing, with many of the imprisoned perishing before they reached the ships. Captured slaves “were imprisoned in dark, airless cells”, and “spent days shackled to the floor, their backs against the walls, unable to move.”

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Salaga served as a key market town and control of Salaga gave a monopoly over trade to the North and trade to the South. The Salaga market served as a transit point through the northern Sahel and the southernmost coast of the ‘Sahel’ serving as an important market from where slaves were transported to the coast for export.

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