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New Regulations have Compounded the Usual Difficulties for Africans Organizing the Trip to Mecca

For West African Muslims, this year’s Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia has been more difficult than ever. COVID-19 restrictions, rising prices and unexpected delays mean some will lose everything they paid for the trip. Every able-bodied Muslim is expected to complete the Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetime. This year, the kingdom has capped international visitor numbers for the five-day Hajj to 850,000 pilgrims. This is significantly less than the nearly 1.9 million overseas pilgrims who attended in 2019 before the pandemic. Saudi Arabia has also introduced new rules: only those under 65, who have never undertaken the Hajj before, are vaccinated against COVID-19, and who don’t have a chronic disease, are allowed to come. An even bigger obstacle has been the the surge in prices to attend the Hajj. In many West African nations, the cost of attendance is set by by national Hajj agencies, which aim to keep prices down so that Muslims in their country can afford to make the pilgrimage. But the current global rise in jet fuel prices has led to a surge in plane fares. On top of this, many West African nations have seen their currencies fall dramatically against the US dollar, making this year’s Hajj substantially more expensive than in previous years. In Nigeria and Senegal, for example, the cost of the Hajj trip rose by some 60%, while it rose by 100% in Ghana. In Cameroon, however, the price of the Hajj pilgrimage ended up rising only by 16% compared to 2019. The government decided to give a large government subsidy to the National Hajj Commission following the uproar that ensued when the initial price was announced.