Kenya 2015 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Stolen items; Theft; Burglary; Carjacking; Kidnapping; IEDs; Financial Security; Cyber; Fraud; Political Violence; Religious Terrorism; Racial Violence/Xenophobia; Extreme heat/drought; Floods; Counterfeiting; Intellectual Property Rights Infringement; Drug Trafficking; Bribery
Africa > Kenya; Africa > Kenya > Nairobi
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Thousands of U.S. citizens visit Kenya safely each year.
Crime Rating: Critical
The greatest threats continue to be road safety and crime. Violent, and sometimes fatal, criminal attacks, including home invasions, burglaries, armed carjackings, grenade attacks, and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location, particularly in Nairobi, and other major cities (Mombasa, Kisumu). U.S. citizens, including U.S. Embassy employees, have been victims of such crimes in 2014. In virtually every instance, criminals use weapons during commission of their crime. Criminals will not hesitate to shoot a victim who is the least bit uncooperative or who may appear to hesitate before complying with their assailant. Victims of carjacking are sometimes tied up and put in the back seat or trunk of their own car. However, most victims, if they are completely cooperative, are robbed of their possessions and released unharmed.
Street crime is a serious problem and more acute in Nairobi 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-like violence with little notice.
Along with other crimes of opportunity, pickpockets, and thieves often carry out snatch-and-grab attacks in crowded areas and from idle vehicles in traffic.
Credit card skimming has been on the rise in 2014 with numerous incidents reported to the RSO and ACS with criminals targeting upscale restaurants and shopping centers.
In December 2014, Kenyan police arrested 77 Chinese nationals on suspicion of running a cybercrime center from homes in an upmarket area of the capital.
Areas of Concern
Following the September 2013 terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, the Department of State updated the Travel Warning for Kenya advising U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya. Since that attack, the Department of State updated the Travel Warning four additional times (April 4, May 15, May 17, June 19) as conditions changed. U.S. government employees, contractors, and their dependents are prohibited from traveling to the North Eastern Province, including El Wak, Wajir, Garissa, Dadaab, Mandera, and Liboi and the coast to include Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, and the coastal portion of Tana River County. Although these restrictions do not apply to travelers not associated with the U.S. government, U.S. citizens should take these restrictions into account when planning travel. There have been recent gains in the pursuit of those responsible for terrorist activities. Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution on travel.state.gov for further information and details.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road conditions range from minimally acceptable to terrible. Within Nairobi, the main roads are relatively well-maintained, but drivers have to compete with pedestrians, human-propelled carts, boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis), tuk-tuks and “matatu” mini buses, any of which may swerve or stop at a moment’s notice. Defensive driving is a must for all drivers. Traffic laws are routinely ignored by most local drivers, who possess poor driving skills and/or training. Traffic lights are mostly nonexistent and tend to be ignored. Many vehicles do not meet minimal safety standards and are in poor mechanical condition with worn tires, broken and/or missing tail lights, brake lights, and headlights.
Accidents, while frequent, are usually not fatal, unless pedestrians or matatus are involved. Catastrophic transportation accidents are commonplace largely due to poor road and vehicle conditions.
The roads in most other major cities show signs of wear, including potholes and other obstructions.
Road conditions are considered poor at best or even worse in outlying or rural areas especially after the rainy seasons when roads deteriorate rapidly, causing extensive potholes and other road hazards. There is minimal medical care available, especially outside city centers. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended, especially for travel outside major cities.
Ensure vehicle doors and windows are locked 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. If you believe you are being followed, do not drive directly to your intended destination but rather detour to a public or well-illuminated, guarded area and seek help.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Kenya is generally a peaceful and friendly country in terms of political activism, but it is common during elections, referendums, and other political votes for sporadic campaign violence to occur around the country. Although Kenya’s last national election in March 2013 was relatively peaceful, the previous election (December 2007) resulted in widespread unrest and violence.
Political Violence Rating: High
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Terrorism remains a high priority concern for Americans in Kenya. The U.S. government continues to receive information regarding potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests including in the Nairobi area and in the coastal areas including Mombasa. Terrorist acts could include suicide operations, bomb/grenade attacks, kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in/near Kenyan ports.
The porous border with Somalia has been of particular concern. Kenya initiated military action against al-Shabaab by crossing into Somalia on October 16, 2011, and, on June 2, 2012, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) whereby it formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Kenyan troops within AMISOM are pursuing 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.
In the past year and a half, there have been numerous attacks involving shootings, grenades, or other explosive devices. More than 50 of these attacks occurred in northeastern Kenya, mainly in Dadaab, Wajir, Garissa, and Mandera counties. On December 2, 2014, terrorists attacked workers at a stone quarry near Mandera, killing 38 people. On November 22, 2014, terrorists surrounded a commuter bus traveling from Mandera to Nairobi on the outskirts of Mandera, separated passengers along religious lines and executed 28 people. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for both attacks. In addition, terrorists launched an attack against a small restaurant in Wajir frequented by Kenyans – and occasionally other nationals -- from outside the region; one person was killed and several were injured. Several attacks also occurred along the Kenyan coast. There have been numerous ambushes against Kenyan Defense forces in Lamu County with dozens of casualties. In July 2014, two tourists (a Russian and a German citizen) were shot and killed in separate incidents in drive-by shootings in Mombasa; it is unclear if the motive was robbery, as no personal effects were stolen. From June 15-17, 2014, there were at least two terrorist attacks that occurred in Lamu County with death tolls estimated at over 50. One of the terrorist attacks occurred in Mpeketoni on June 15. Also in 2014, on May 3, two separate IEDs detonated in the Mombasa area. One occurred at the central stop of a local bus company in which four people were killed. The other occurred at a local resort frequented by Westerners; one person was injured. On March 23, three unknown gunmen opened fire on a church service in Mombasa’s Likoni district, killing six people and wounding 18 others. On March 17, 2014, police discovered a large and sophisticated car bomb in the Mombasa area, as reported in the local media. The intended target remains unclear. On January 2, 10 people were wounded in a grenade attack on a night club in Diani, a popular resort area on Kenya’s south coast near Mombasa.
Some 20 grenade and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have occurred in Nairobi, illustrating an increase in the number and an advance in the sophistication of these attacks. On May 16, two IEDs exploded at the Gikomba market in Nairobi, killing 10 people and injuring 70. On May 4, two IEDs exploded on two buses traveling along Thika Highway in northern Nairobi, killing four people. On April 24, two terrorists detonated an IED inside their vehicle as police escorted it to the Pangani police station in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood; the two police officers and the attackers were killed. On March 31, six people were killed in Eastleigh in a grenade attack. An attack also occurred on January 16 at a restaurant at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport; no injuries were reported. On December 14, 2013, an IED exploded on a passenger bus near the Eastleigh neighborhood, killing six people and injuring 30. Other targets have included police stations and police vehicles, nightclubs and bars, churches, a mosque, a religious gathering, a downtown building of small shops, and a bus station.
In 2014 alone, over 200 people were killed in attacks. No U.S. citizens were among the casualties. The majority of these attacks in the second half of 2014 occurred in North Eastern Province, mainly in Dadaab, Wajir, Mandera, and Garissa. Kenyan law enforcement has disrupted several terrorist plots that resulted in the discoveries of weapons caches, IEDs, and other dangerous materials, and the arrests of several individuals.
On September 21, 2013, suspected members of al-Shabaab, an al-Qai’da affiliate, attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, killing 67 Kenyan and non-Kenyan nationals and wounding hundreds more. The siege at the mall continued for several days, and five U.S. citizens were confirmed injured in the attack.
Terrorism Rating: Critical
Isolated instances of suspected political violence have occurred in some regions of the country. Strikes are fairly routine. Violence, ranging from rock throwing to police using deadly force, associated with demonstrations has occurred around the country.
Rioting occurred in Mombasa in November 2014 shortly after a local Muslim cleric was killed in a drive-by shooting resulting in random retaliatory killings. In 2014, four Muslim clerics were killed in Mombasa. In October 2013, another local Muslim cleric with alleged ties to al-Shabaab was killed in a similar drive-by shooting, prompting a day of rioting in Mombasa, that resulted in the deaths of four people and an arson attack that damaged a church. Demonstrations in Kisumu following the murder of two prominent Kenyan citizens in October 2012 turned violent, leaving at least four protestors dead. More than 160 people were killed in clashes in late 2012 between two communities in Tana River County. While this violence is not directed at foreigners, protests are unpredictable. U.S. citizens are advised to check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling to these areas. U.S. citizens should avoid demonstrations and political rallies of all kinds.
Villagers in rural areas are sometimes suspicious of strangers. There have been several incidents of violence against Kenyan and foreign adults in rural areas who are suspected of stealing children. U.S. visitors to rural areas should be aware that close contact with children, including taking their pictures or giving them candy, can be viewed with deep alarm and may provoke panic and violence. Adoptive parents traveling with their adopted child should exercise particular caution and are urged to carry complete copies of their adoption paperwork with them at all times.
Tribal violence is common. In Marsabit, more than 50 people were killed and 50,000 displaced by ethnic clashes that began in July 2013. On November 19, 2014, clashes between ethnic groups over the ownership of cattle resulted in 14 people dead in Leruko near the Buffalo Springs National Reserve in Samburu County. On November 1, 2014, 22 people were killed in Kapendo in Baringo County after armed raiders ambushed police. While this violence is not directed at foreigners, ethnic clashes are unpredictable, U.S. citizens are advised to check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling to these areas.
Flooding and drought are the most common environmental hazards in Kenya. During Kenya’s rainy seasons, flooding can occur with little/no warning that could disturb transportation routes and communication. Embassy personnel are encouraged to keep a supply of water and food in their homes, as supplies can become scarce quickly during emergencies.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
Building construction accidents are common. Two buildings collapsed in Nairobi, killing several people, in 2014. There were several other building collapses throughout the year with various numbers of casualties reported. Open source media credited over 300 deaths since 2009 to building collapses.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts
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). Anecdotally, the counterfeit trade is thought to be linked to organized criminal elements in Kenya and Somalia. To address this issue, the government of Kenya passed the Anti-Counterfeit Act in 2008, which criminalized trade in counterfeits and established the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA), based in Mombasa, to enforce the new regulations. The ACA opened in 2010 but has not received funding to do its job effectively. The Embassy is actively engaged 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, and Kenya Association of Manufacturers are also engaged on this issue.
Kenya is a transit country for illegal narcotics but has no reported incidents of narco-violence. In April 2014, Kenya registered the largest drug seizure in African history. Heroin valued at 25 billion KsH (U.S.$275 milion) was intercepted off the cost of Kenya. In July 2014, Kenyans seized additional 341 KG of heroin off the coast of Mombasa. In June 2014, the U.S. and Kenyan governments entered into a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA) focused on exchange of information and evidence aimed at curbing international level of contraband trafficking.
Kidnappings of Westerners have occurred and remain a threat. On April 23, 2014, gunmen ambushed a convoy vehicle and attempted to kidnap an international humanitarian staff member at the Dadaab refugee complex. While the kidnapping attempt was unsuccessful, one national staff member was injured in the attack. Although the majority of kidnappings occurs near the Somalia border and are related to extremists or pirates, the threat of kidnapping for ransom from criminal gangs remains a threat throughout the country.
The Kenyan Police Service is almost solely a reactive force and demonstrates moderate proactive law enforcement techniques or initiative to deter or investigate crime. 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 would depend on availability of personnel and fuel for police vehicles. The police have a poor record of investigating and solving serious crimes. Inadequate legislation results in the lack of prosecution or large numbers of acquittals. Corruption occurs at all levels, which results in an ineffective legal and justice system.
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 is typically related to bribe requests. In the event of police detention, contact the Embassy or Consular Section immediately.
• Embassy Nairobi Switchboard: +254-20-363-6000
• Consular Section/American Citizen Services: +254-020-363-6451 (M-TH:0800-1600Fri: 0800-1200)
• American Citizen Services Email: Kenya_ACS@state.gov
Crime Victim Assistance
Nairobi Area Control Room: +254-020-272-4154; +254-020-355-6771
Diplomatic Police Hotlines: +254-0708-589-522; +254-0731-170-666
Police Headquarters: +254-020-342-305; +254-020-341-411
The Kenya Police Service (KPS) is the national agency in charge of law enforcement, to include city and county police divisions. The KPS is headquartered at local police stations. All these elements report to the National Kenya Police Headquarters in Nairobi.
Kenya’s countrywide emergency number is 999. The blood supply in Kenya is generally considered unsafe, and the use of blood products is not recommended. It is advised that those needing blood utilize trusted sources such as family or friends.
Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics
There are three hospitals in Nairobi that U.S. personnel and other Western expatriates typically use. The quality of care at each is considered good, and U.S. Embassy personnel assigned to Kenya often uses their services.
Tel:+254-20-284-5000/6000/5506/7/8,+254722 204114/5/6/7; +254 733 639301/2/3/4
Aga Khan Hospital
Tel: +254-20-366-2025/3740000/3662000/3750290/3661000; +254 711 092000; +254 732 102000
Aga Khan Hospital tests their blood supply for infectious diseases, Hepatitis A, B, C and HIV.
Gertrude Garden Children’s Hospital
Tel: +254-20-376-3474/244 5350; 720 6000; +254 722898948; +254 733639444
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
AMREF (The Flying Doctors Service)
Langatta Road, P.O. 18617 -00500, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: +254-20-699-2000; 699 2299; +254 733639088; +254 722314239
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/kenya.htm
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Situational Awareness Best Practices
U.S. citizens in Kenya should be extremely vigilant with regard to their personal security, particularly in public places frequented by foreigners such as clubs, hotels, resorts, upscale shopping centers, restaurants, and places of worship. U.S. citizens should also remain alert in residential areas, at schools, and at outdoor recreational events.
Normal crime prevention methods will help lessen the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime while in Kenya. Walking alone is not advisable especially in downtown, public parks, beach areas, and other poorly illuminated areas particularly at night. Being aware of one’s surroundings has been a time-tested method for avoiding becoming a target of opportunity for crime. Carjackings, burglaries, and the home invasions are the most serious crimes in Kenya, but if measures are taken, they can generally be avoided. Resistive behavior causes more violence by the attackers.
Visitors are advised not to carry expensive valuables (jewelry, electronics, or large amounts of cash) on their person, but rather store them in their hotel safety deposit boxes or room safes. However, hotel safes can be broken into or carried out of a room. These safes may also be accessible by hotel personnel even when locked. It is important to limit the amount of ATM or credit cards you carry as well. Should a victim be carrying ATM or credit cards, a criminal may prolong the incident so they can take the victim to multiple ATMs, even keeping overnight for additional withdrawals.
Travelers should only use banks and ATMs in well-illuminated locations and never at night. Credit cards can be used in certain establishments (major hotel chains, some local restaurants) but caution is advised. One should check statements shortly after all transactions, as the Embassy often receives reports of credit card skimming.
Although there are a number of security and private guard companies throughout Kenya’s larger cities, it is advisable to research any prospective security company for quality and reliability when considering hiring their services.
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, Kenya.
The Consulate’s American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit requires an appointment for all non-emergency services. Appointments can be made online: https://evisaforms.state.gov/acs/default.asp?postcode=NRB&appcode=1. Public hours are Monday-Thursday from 8:00 AM-4:00 PM and Fridays from 8:00 AM-12:00 PM. ACS is closed to the public the last Wednesday of every month and all Kenyan and American holidays.
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy Nairobi 24 Hr. Switchboard: +254-20-363-6000
Consular Section/American Citizen Services: +254-020-363-6451 (M-TH: 0800-1600 Fri: 0800-1200)
American Citizen Services Email: Kenya_ACS@state.gov
Regional Security Office: +254-20-363-6301
The Embassy operates a warden system to communicate with registered American citizens in Nairobi. Periodic messages are sent to test the system so that it will be effective should an emergency situation arise. To register your stay in Nairobi and ensure that you receive warden messages in an emergency, please register at: https://step.state.gov/step/
OSAC Country Council Information
RSO Nairobi has an OSAC Country Council that meets on a quarterly basis. The RSO POC is Regional Security Officer, Dean Shear, +254-20-363-6301. To reach OSAC’s Africa team, please email OSACAF@state.gov.