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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Kenya 2019 Crime & Safety Report

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Kenya at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism. Do Not Travel to the Kenya-Somalia border and some coastal areas due to terrorism. Reconsider Travel to Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood at all times, and Mombasa’s Old Town at night, due to crime.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Kenya-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Nairobi. The greatest threats continue to be road safety and crime. Violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including home invasions, burglaries, armed carjackings, and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location. Criminals frequently use weapons during the commission of their crime. Most criminals rob victims of their possessions and release them unharmed, if they are completely cooperative. However, criminals will not hesitate to shoot a victim who is uncooperative or who may appear to hesitate before complying with their assailant. One tactic of carjackers is to tie up victims and put them in the back seat or trunk of their own car, transporting them to an ATM to withdraw cash.

The National Police Service Crime Report notes 65,820 reported offenses in 2018, compared to 59,029 in 2017, marking a 12% increase.  Street crime is a serious problem particularly in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kiambu, Meru, and other large cities. Most street crime involves multiple armed assailants. In some instances, large crowds of street criminals incite criminal activity, which has the potential to escalate into mob violence with little notice.  Do not walk/run outside of known, safe areas.  Avoid hailing taxis from the street; this often results in robbery.

Along with other crimes of opportunity, pickpockets and thieves often carry out snatch-and-grab attacks in crowded areas and from vehicles idling in traffic, relieving pedestrians or drivers of purses, cell phones or other easily accessible belongings.  Keep vehicle windows up and doors locked at all times.

Cybersecurity Issues

There are an estimated 3000 cyber-crime incidences reported in Kenya every month. According to Information Technology, Security, and Assurance Kenya, internet based crimes range from bank fraud and illegal money transfers to the compromise of personal data. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Cybersecurity Basics.

Other Areas of Concern

The current State Department Travel Advisory urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the border areas with Somalia because of threats by the terrorist group al-Shabaab. Additionally, U.S. government employees, contractors, and their dependents may not travel to the northeastern counties of Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and parts of the coast north of Malindi to the Kenya-Somalia border. Although these restrictions do not apply to travelers not associated with the U.S. government, consider these restrictions when planning travel.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Kenya is a right-side-drive country, which poses additional challenges for inexperienced drivers.  Road conditions range from relatively well maintained to very poor. Within Nairobi, drivers have to compete with pedestrians, pushcarts, boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis), tuk-tuks, and matatu mini buses, any of which may swerve or stop at a moment’s notice without signaling. All drivers must practice defensive driving. Local drivers routinely ignore traffic laws; traffic lights are limited and often ignored. Many vehicles do not meet minimal safety standards and are in poor mechanical condition with worn tires, broken and/or missing taillights, brake lights, and headlights.

Transportation accidents are commonplace largely due to poor road and vehicle conditions.  Accidents, while frequent, are usually not fatal unless pedestrians or matatus are involved.

The roads in most major cities show signs of wear, including potholes and other obstructions.  Due to challenging road conditions, U.S. government employees may not drive outside of major populated areas at night.

Road conditions are poor in most outlying or rural areas, especially after the rainy seasons when roads deteriorate rapidly, causing extensive potholes and other road hazards. Strongly consider using four-wheel-drive vehicles, especially for travel outside major cities.

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi does not permit personnel to use Uber or other ridesharing services. In addition to known private drivers, the following taxi companies are reputable and safe for use: Express Impress (0729 872 647 or 0712 794 418) and Jim Cab (0722 711 001).

Lock vehicle doors and windows at all times while traveling. The best way to avoid being a victim of a carjacking is to be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night or early morning hours, though carjackings do occur during daylight hours. If you see something or someone suspicious, be prepared to act quickly. Allow sufficient distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you while stopped in traffic. Always maintain at least a half tank of gas and ensure that others not traveling with you are aware of your travel itinerary. If you believe someone is following you, do not drive directly to your intended destination; rather, detour to a police station, well-illuminated public venue, or other guarded area and seek help.

For more information on self-driving, read OSAC’s reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices; Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights and Road Safety in Africa.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Nairobi. Terrorism remains a high priority concern. The U.S. government continues to receive information regarding potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in the Nairobi area, counties bordering Somalia, and in the coastal areas including Mombasa and Malindi. Past terrorist acts have included armed assaults, suicide operations, bomb/grenade and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in/near ports.

The porous border with Somalia remains a concern. Kenya is a participant in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and initiated military action against al-Shabaab by crossing into Somalia in 2011 and 2012. Kenyan troops within AMISOM continue to pursue al-Shabaab in southeastern Somalia. In response to the Kenyan intervention, al-Shabaab and its sympathizers have conducted retaliatory attacks against civilian and government targets in Kenya, including targeting Westerners.

Al-Shabaab frequented uses ambushes and IEDs to target Kenyan security forces in Wajir, Garissa, Lamu, and Mandera counties.

  • In February 2018, local police interdicted five al-Shabaab operatives en route to conduct attacks in central Nairobi armed with rifles, hand grenades, and a car bomb.
  • In January 2019, five al-Shabaab terrorists with rifles, hand grenades, and a suicide vest attacked the DusitD2 Hotel in central Nairobi, specifically targeting Westerners. The attack resulted in 21 deaths, including one U.S. and one British citizen.
  • Also in January 2019, a small IED exploded in Nairobi’s central business district, slightly injuring two civilians.

 

On February 4, 2019, the U.S. Embassy alerted the public to credible information indicating extremists may be targeting Westerners in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nanyuki, and coastal areas of Kenya.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Nairobi. Kenya is generally a peaceful country, though violence related to the electoral process has occurred in certain parts of the country, including during the most recent 2017 elections. In 2017, several hotly contested local electoral races lead to isolated incidents of violence. In September 2017, Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled the August presidential election and ordered a fresh presidential election in October. Protests by both sides followed the August election, and preceded and followed the October revote. Some protests, especially in parts of Nairobi and western Kenya turned violent and resulted in loss of life. Violence included the use of burning tires and boulders as roadblocks in Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, and Nairobi counties. Some human rights organizations reported up to 100 deaths resulting from violent demonstrations during the election periods, and many more injured. 

Economic disruptions often take the form of protests that block key intersections and result in widespread traffic jams. Strikes and other protest activity related to economic conditions occur regularly. Violence associated with demonstrations, ranging from rock throwing to police using deadly force, occurs around the country; it is mostly notable in western Kenya and Nairobi.

Check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling. Avoid demonstrations and political rallies of all kinds.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Tribal violence tied to land and livestock disputes occurs with some frequency in rural areas.  

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding and drought are the most common environmental hazards in Kenya. During Kenya’s rainy seasons, flooding can occur with little to no warning, disrupting transportation routes and communication. Keep a supply of water and food, as supplies can become scarce quickly during emergencies.

Critical Infrastructure

Building construction accidents are common. Building collapses stem from poor quality concrete, lack of proper foundation, and use of substandard building materials. Open-source media has estimated over 100 deaths since 2011 due to building collapses.

Power outages are frequent and can last up to several hours. Many homes are equipped with generator power to ensure continuous electricity. 

Safety and health inspections of public places is inconsistent, and response to concerns slow.  Pay particular attention to fire and safety concerns when among large groups of people in confined spaces. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Considerations for Hotel Security.

Economic Concerns

Counterfeiting and trademark infringement is widespread, and represents a major concern for local and international business. One study put the value of Kenya’s counterfeit trade at Ksh 70 billion (about U.S. $805 million). The counterfeit trade may involve organized criminal elements in Kenya and Somalia. The Government of Kenya criminalized trade in counterfeits and established the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA), based in Mombasa. The ACA did not receive funding to do its job effectively in its early years; its budget has improved more recently. The Embassy actively engages with ACA, and has supported extensive outreach efforts to law enforcement, local government officials, community leaders, and youth around the country. The American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya Private Sector Alliance, Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Kenya Association of Manufacturers are also engaged on this issue.

Drug-related Crimes

Kenya is a transit country for illegal narcotics. Drug trafficking in Kenya often involves other transnational organized criminality, to include money laundering and weapons trafficking. Over the last several years, the Drug Enforcement Agency Formal Vetted Unit has successfully initiated a U.S.-led and Kenya-supported investigations program; one of the most notable successes was a 2015 seizure of 1,032 kilograms of heroin off the Kenyan coast. In 2018, the Kenyan narcotics units seized approximately 136,000 grams of heroin in with an estimated street value of $408 million.

Kidnapping Threat

The kidnapping and extortion of Westerners is common in Nairobi, and usually takes the form of carjackers or kidnappers taking someone from their car or off the street holding a victim for several hours while exploiting ATM and credit cards. Most incidents do not result in the victim’s death, but significant injuries are commonplace.

In November 2018, kidnappers abducted a 23-year old Italian female approximately 50 kilometers west of the coastal city of Malindi; she remains missing.

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

The Kenyan Police Service response has continued to make vast improvements over the last few years. Response to the January 2019 DusitD2 Hotel attack was significantly better than to the 2013 Westgate Mall incident, where it took four days to neutralize four terrorists and one-third of the mall suffered catastrophic damage. The DusitD2 attack ended within 20 hours, with limited damage to the hotel complex.

Despite these positive steps, police often lack equipment, resources, training, and personnel to respond to calls for assistance or other emergencies. The likelihood of the police responding to an incident often depends on availability of officers and police vehicles. Police often lack resources and sufficient training in solving serious crimes and weaknesses in the judicial system contribute to slow prosecutions and large numbers of acquittals.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

The Embassy has received reports of police harassment, primarily in the form of solicitation for bribes related to traffic stops. RSO recommends not paying any bribes and reporting incidents to the Consulate’s American Citizen Services immediately. Harassment is not uncommon, but typically comes in the form of bribe requests. In the event of police detention, contact the Embassy or Consular Section immediately.

  • Embassy Nairobi Switchboard: +254-(0)-20-363-6000
  • Consular Section/American Citizen Services: +254-(0)-20-363-6451 (Monday-Thursday: 0800-1600; Friday: 0800-1200). After-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is +254-(0)-20-363-6170.
  • American Citizen Services Email: Kenya_ACS@state.gov

 

Crime Victim Assistance

Nairobi Area Control Room: +254-(0)-20-355-6771 or 999

Diplomatic Police Hotlines: +254-(0)-708-589-522; +254-(0)-731-170-666

Police Headquarters: +254-(0)-203-310-225; +254-(0)-203-341-411

Police/Security Agencies

The Kenya Police Service (KPS) is the national agency in charge of law enforcement, to include city and county police divisions. All local police station elements report to the KPS Headquarters in Nairobi.

Medical Emergencies

Kenya’s nationwide emergency number is 999.

The blood supply in Kenya is generally unsafe; the Embassy does not recommend the use of blood products. Those needing blood should use trusted sources such as family or friends. Minimal medical care is available outside city centers.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

AMREF (The Flying Doctors Service)

Wilson Airport

Langatta Road, P.O. 18617 -00500, Nairobi, Kenya

Tel: +254-(0)-20-699-2000; 699-2299; +254-(0)-722314239; +254-(0)-717-992299; +254-(0)-780299299; +254-(0)-20-6992299

For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Kenya.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Nairobi meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S Embassy is located on United Nations Avenue, Gigiri, Nairobi

The Consulate’s American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit requires an appointment for all non-emergency services. Applicants can make appointments online.

Public hours are Monday-Thursday from 8:00 AM-4:00 PM and Fridays from 8:00 AM-12:00 PM. ACS closes to the public on the last Wednesday of every month and all Kenyan and U.S. holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Nairobi 24-hr. Switchboard: +254-(0)-20-363-6000

Consular Section/American Citizen Services: +254-(0)-20-363-6451 (Monday-Thursday: 0800-1600; Friday: 0800-1200). 

After-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens: +254-(0)-20-363-6170.

American Citizen Services Email: Kenya_ACS@state.gov

Regional Security Office: +254-(0)-20-363-6301

Website:  https://ke.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

The Embassy operates a Consular Information Program to communicate with registered U.S. citizens in Kenya. To enroll and ensure that you receive alerts in an emergency, register online.

Additional Resources

Kenya Information Sheet

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