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Kenya 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Kenya; Africa > Kenya > Nairobi

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

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.

Please review OSAC’s Kenya-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

The greatest threats continue to be road safety and crime. Violent, and sometimes fatal, criminal attacks, (home invasions, burglaries, armed carjackings, kidnappings) can occur at any time and in any location. Carjackings, burglaries, and home invasions are the most serious crimes in Kenya, but if measures are taken, they can generally be avoided. Walking alone is not advisable especially in downtown, public parks, beach areas, and other poorly illuminated areas, particularly at night.

Criminals frequently use weapons and will not hesitate to shoot a victim who is uncooperative or who may appear to hesitate before complying. Resistive behavior causes more violence by the attackers. Victims of carjacking are sometimes tied up and put in the back seat or trunk of their car. However, most victims, if they are completely cooperative, are robbed of their possessions and released unharmed.

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

Visitors are advised not to carry valuables on their person, but rather store them in 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.

Limit the amount of debit/credit cards you carry as well. Should a victim be carrying debit/credit cards, a criminal may take the victim to multiple ATMs, even holding victims 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. Check statements after all transactions, as the Embassy often receives reports of skimming.

Cybersecurity Issues

There are an estimated 3,000 cybercrime incidences reported in Kenya every month. According to Information Technology, Security, and Assurance (ISACA) Kenya chapter, Internet-based crimes range from banking fraud to illegal money transfer and personal data being compromised.

Other Areas of Concern

The current Travel Warning urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the border areas because of threats by al-Shabaab. Additionally, U.S. government employees, contractors, and their dependents are prohibited from traveling to the northeastern counties of Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and parts of the coast north of Malindi to the Kenya-Somalia border. 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 for further information and details.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Kenya, as a right-side drive country, can be challenging for inexperienced drivers. Road conditions range from relatively well maintained to very poor. Within Nairobi, 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 drivers. Traffic laws are routinely ignored by local drivers, many of whom possess poor driving skills and/or limited training. 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/missing tail, brake, and head lights.

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

The roads in most major cities show signs of wear, including potholes and other obstructions. Road conditions are considered poor in most outlying or rural areas, especially after the rainy seasons, which causes extensive potholes and other road hazards. There is minimal medical care available outside city centers. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended, especially for travel outside major cities. Due to challenging road conditions, U.S. government employees are prohibited from driving outside of major populated areas at night.

The best way to avoid being a victim of a carjacking is to be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night or during early morning hours, though carjackings do occur during daylight hours. If you see something or someone suspicious, be prepared to act quickly. Always maintain at least a half tank of gas and ensure that others are aware of your travel plans. 

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NAIROBI AS BEING A HIGH THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Terrorism remains a high priority concern for U.S. citizens in Kenya. The U.S. government continues to receive information regarding potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests, including the Nairobi area, in Mombasa, and the coastal areas. Terrorist acts could include armed assaults, 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.
  • On June 2, 2012, Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formally joining 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 2016, terrorist attacks involving shootings, grenades, or other explosive devices resulted in 122 fatalities. The bulk of these incidents occurred in the counties of Wajir, Garissa, Lamu, and Mandera.

  • On October 27, 2016 a single individual with a knife attacked a Kenyan police officer on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The officer shot and killed the attacker. The officer survived, and no Embassy personnel were involved. Attacks on security forces are generally carried out in the northeastern portion of the country; however, this incident underscores that attacks on Kenyan security forces are not limited by geographic boundaries. 


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

During elections, referendums, and other political votes, sporadic campaign violence has occurred. Although Kenya’s last national election in March 2013 was relatively peaceful, the December 2007 election resulted in widespread unrest and violence. The country witnessed violence in May and early June 2016 in the lead-up to the August 2017 national elections. Nairobi and western Kenya experienced some of the highest levels of violence associated with these demonstrations. In Nairobi, police in riot gear used tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of protestors in the Central Business District, while some used the protests as an opportunity to loot nearby businesses. Five people were killed by police in Kisumu and Siaya, where up to a dozen people were shot, during rallies there. Thousands of protestors blocked roads with burning tires and boulders in Migori county, while others blocked the main bridge into Tanzania. 

Strikes are fairly routine. Violence associated with demonstrations, ranging from rock-throwing to police using deadly force, has occurred around the country.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Tribal violence is common. In February 2016, ethnic clashes in Trans Mara resulted in several violent incidents that required police resolution. U.S. citizens are advised to check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding and drought are the most common environmental hazards. During Kenya’s rainy seasons, flooding can occur with little/no warning, disturbing transportation routes and communications. 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

Building construction accidents are common. Buildings collapse because of poor quality concrete, lack of proper foundation, and the use of substandard building stones. Open-source media credited over 100 deaths since 2011 due to building collapses.

Power outages are frequent, and many homes are equipped with generator power. 

Kenya hosted the Global Entrepreneurial Summit, the World Trade Organization, and visits by President Barack Obama and Pope Francis in 2015. In 2016, Kenya continued to host major conferences to include the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the Global Partnership for Effective Development 2nd High Level Meeting.

Economic Concerns

Counterfeiting and trademark infringement is widespread and represents a major concern for local and international businesses. One study estimated the value of Kenya’s counterfeit trade at 70 billion Shilling (Ksh) (~U.S.$805 million). 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) to enforce the new regulations. The ACA opened in 2010 but has not received funding to operate. The Embassy is actively engaged with ACA and has supported extensive outreach efforts to law enforcement, local government officials, community leaders, and youth. The American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya Private Sector Alliance, and Kenya Association of Manufacturers are also engaged on this issue.

Personal Identity Concerns

Villagers in rural areas are sometimes suspicious of strangers. There have been several incidents of violence in rural areas against Kenyan and foreign adults 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.

Drug-related Crimes

Kenya is used as a transit country for illegal narcotics. Drug trafficking is often supported via other transnational organized crimes, to include money laundering and weapons trafficking. Over the course of the past two years, the Drug Enforcement Agency Formal Vetted Unit has initiated a U.S.-led and Kenyan government-supported investigations program. One of the most notable successes was the April 2015 seizure of 1,032 kilograms of heroin off the coast.

Kidnapping Threat

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 nationwide.

Police Response

The Kenyan Police Service (KPS) response has improved in recent years. 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 can depends on availability of personnel and vehicles. Police often lack resources and training in solving serious crimes. 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. Harassment is not uncommon but is typically related to bribery. RSO recommends not paying any bribes and reporting incidents to the Consulate’s American Citizen Services immediately. 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:0800-1600 Fri: 0800-1200)
  • American Citizen Services Email


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

Police/Security Agencies

The 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.

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.

Medical Emergencies

Kenya’s countrywide emergency number is 999.

The blood supply 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 Available Medical Services

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 use their services.

Nairobi Hospital: 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

Available Air Ambulance Services

AMREF (The Flying Doctors Service)

Wilson Airport

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

Tel: +254-20-699-2000; 699 2299; +254 733639088; +254 722314239

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Nairobi Country Council currently meets twice a year and has approximately 150 members. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.  

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 (made online) for all non-emergency services.

Public hours are Mon-Thurs from 0800-1600, Fri from 0800-1200. ACS is closed to the public the last Wednesday of every month and all Kenyan and U.S. holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

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

Regional Security Office: +254-20-363-6301

Website: http://nairobi.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

The Embassy operates a warden system to communicate with registered U.S. 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 on STEP.

Additional Resources

Kenya Country Information Sheet