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

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Kenya 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Kenya. For more in-depth information, 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.


Travel Advisory


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.

Do Not Travel to:

  • Kenya-Somalia border and some coastal areas due to terrorism.
  • Areas of Turkana County due to crime.


Reconsider Travel to:

  • Nairobi neighborhoods of Eastleigh and Kibera at all times due to crime and kidnapping. Be especially careful when traveling after dark anywhere in Kenya due to crime.


Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.


Overall Crime and Safety Situation


Crime Threats


The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nairobi as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.


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.


Street crime is a serious problem, particularly in Nairobi, 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.


Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, Taking Credit, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.


Cybersecurity Issues


There are an estimated 3,000 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. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?


Transportation-Safety Situation


Road Safety and Road Conditions


Cars drive on the left side of the road, with drivers on the right side of the car; this poses additional challenges for inexperienced international 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 and the limited number of functioning traffic lights. 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 now permits personnel to use Uber services, provided the app correctly identifies the vehicle and driver before the passenger enters the vehicle. There have been instances where criminals will see someone waiting by the side of the road and falsely identify themselves as their Uber driver, when in reality they are intending to kidnap and rob the unsuspecting victim. In addition to Uber and known private drivers, Express Impress (0729 872 647 or 0712 794 418) and Jim Cab (0722 711 001) are reputable and safe for use.


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 carjacking can also occur during daylight hours. If you see something or someone suspicious, prepare 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, a well-illuminated public venue, or other guarded area and seek help.


Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.


Terrorism Threat


The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nairobi as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. 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 frequently uses ambushes and IEDs to target Kenyan security forces in Wajir, Garissa, Lamu, and Mandera counties.


·         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. A week after, a small IED exploded in Nairobi’s central business district, slightly injuring two civilians.

·         On July 21, 2019, four al-Shabaab terrorists armed with AK-47 rifles attacked a hospital construction site on the Elwak-Kutulo road in Mandera.

·         On December 6, 2019, al-Shabaab assailants attacked a Mandera-bound public transport bus between Kotulo and Wargadud in Tarbaj, Wajir county, shooting and killing eight police officers, two teachers and a doctor.

·         On January 2, 2020, four people died when al-Shabaab militants opened fire at a convoy of 3 passenger buses that were being escorted by police, traveling from Mombasa to Lamu in the Nyongoro area of Lamu County.

·         On January 5, 2020, al-Shabaab terrorists attacked a Kenya Defense Force military base in Manda Bay, resulting in the death of one U.S. service member and two Department of Defense contractors.

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.


Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence


The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nairobi as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.


Civil Unrest


Kenya is generally a peaceful country, though violence related to the electoral process has occurred in certain parts of the country, including during the 2017 elections when human rights organizations reported up to 100 deaths.


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.


Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.


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 Concerns


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 use generator power to ensure continuous electricity.


Safety and health inspections of public places are inconsistent, and response to concerns is slow. Pay particular attention to fire and safety concerns when among large groups of people in confined spaces.


Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft


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 also engage on this issue.


Personal Identity Concerns


Female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) occurs in Kenya. It is a federal crime to perform FGM/C in the United States on any minor younger than 18 years old, punishable by fines and up to five years in prison. It is also a criminal offense to knowingly take a minor younger than 18 years old outside of the United States for the purpose of performing FGM/C (so-called “vacation cutting”). Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.


Kenyan penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which courts interpret to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity, and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. A separate statute specifically criminalizes sex between men and specifies a maximum penalty of 21 years’ imprisonment. Police have detained persons (particularly suspected sex workers) under these laws. Authorities have permitted LGBTI advocacy organizations, such as the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, to register and conduct activities. However, societal discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.


Although Kenyan law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, the Government of Kenya has not consistently enforced these provisions and implementation has been slow. There is only limited accessibility to government or private buildings, medical facilities, restaurants, or other public or private facilities. Public transportation and taxis do not accommodate wheelchairs; passengers most often hail these vehicles from the side of busy roads. Footpaths along the side of roads are generally unpaved, bumpy, dirt paths, and road crossings often lack markings. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.


Drug-related Crime


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 and 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. In April 2019, kidnappers took two Cuban doctors from near a hospital in Mandera; they remain missing.


Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.


Other Issues


Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.


Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.


Police Response


The Kenyan Police Service response has continued to make vast recent improvements. 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.


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.


Kenya’s nationwide emergency number is 999. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.


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.


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


Medical Emergencies


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.


Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.


The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.


If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Government of Kenya to ensure that the medication is legal in Kenya. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription.


The Government of Kenya requires proof of yellow fever vaccination for travelers who are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever. The following diseases are prevalent: Malaria; Dengue; Schistosomiasis; Traveler’s Diarrhea; Cholera; Tuberculosis; Measles; Rabies; Hepatitis A; Hepatitis B; and HIV. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Kenya.


Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.


OSAC Country Council Information


Nairobi has an active OSAC Country Council. To reach OSAC’s Africa team, email OSACAFstate.gov.


U.S. Embassy Contact Information


United Nations Avenue, Gigiri, Nairobi

Hours of Operation: 0800-1600 Monday to Thursday; 0800-1200 on Friday

Website: https://ke.usembassy.gov 


Embassy Operator: +254-(0)-20-363-6000

Emergency calls after normal business hours: +254-(0)-20-363-6170

American Citizen Services Section: +254-(0)-20-363-6451

State Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444


Helpful Information


Before you travel, consider the following resources:




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