Safety in Kenya

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road safety in kenyaSafety in Kenya is a concern for many expats moving to the country. Crime is an issue, especially in Kenya’s larger cities of Nairobi and Mombasa. However, with the necessary precautions and a bit of common sense, expats should be able to live a relatively peaceful day-to-day life in Kenya.

The greatest concern for most expats living in Kenya is safety on the roads. The behaviour of local drivers is often reckless and traffic accidents are common.

In many cases, expats who are aware of safety issues in Kenya can take the necessary actions to limit the danger and have a comfortable expat experience.

Crime in Kenya

Crime rates are high in Kenya’s major cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Expats living in Kenya will usually hire security guards for their home or opt to live in secure, gated housing complexes. Particularly dangerous areas such as the slums of Mukuru and Kibera in Nairobi are best avoided.

Car-jackings, muggings and petty theft also occur on Kenya’s city streets. Expats should be vigilant, keep valuables out of sight and avoid carrying large sums of money. It's also best to avoid walking around the city centre at night. Foreigners in Kenya are likely targets for criminals who pose as tour guides and police officers. If at all unsure, ask any official to provide their credentials.

Scammers will also engage foreigners in conversation and tell them stories about being a refugee or having sick relatives, simply to get some cash. In most cases, this is more of a nuisance than a real danger.

In another common Kenyan scam, drivers are sometimes forced to pull over after someone else points out that the front wheels are wobbling, only to be robbed of all their valuables. There have also been reports of scammers splashing oil on a car's wheels and inform the driver that something is wrong with the vehicle. They will then direct the unsuspecting driver to a nearby garage, where a friend of theirs will appear to fix the issue for a substantial fee.

Terrorism in Kenya

There is a risk of terrorism in Kenya. The main threat comes from extremists linked to Al Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia which has issued public threats against Kenya because of its military involvement in Somalia.  

Terrorist attacks in Kenya are indiscriminate and targets vary from government offices and buses to shopping centres and beaches. Places of worship have also been attacked in the past.

The most significant terrorist attack in Kenya was the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi. In November 2002, there were attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and a plane belonging to an Israeli airline in Mombasa. Throughout 2012, there were a number of small-scale grenade attacks, particularly in the Garissa region. In September 2013, there was a terror attack on an upmarket mall in Nairobi during which a significant number of expats were caught in the crossfire between Kenyan forces and Al Shabaab gunmen.

Expats are advised to avoid travelling close to the Kenya-Somalia border, the Garissa district or coastal areas north of Pate Islands where kidnappings have occurred. Most recently, in April 2015, Al-Shabaab raided a Kenyan university in Garissa in the east of the country, killing 147 people, most of whom were students. 

Road safety in Kenya

Driving in Kenya can be dangerous as road conditions and driving standards are poor. Most expats will be provided with a company car and a local driver, which is perhaps the safest option when it comes to getting around Kenya.

Those who decide to drive in Kenya should always do so defensively and be vigilant. Due to the risk of car-jackings, especially in Kenya’s bigger cities, it's essential to have windows and doors locked at all times. Be especially careful when driving outside cities, and use a 4x4 if possible as these vehicles are better equipped for dirt roads. Also avoid driving at night, as this is when most of Kenya’s road traffic accidents occur.

Avoid travelling long distances by bus at night as there have been a number of serious accidents involving intercity buses in Kenya. Opt to travel with a reputable bus company as some smaller operations use poorly maintained vehicles, which are often driven recklessly.

Travelling by matatu isn't recommended as they're notoriously badly driven and uninsured. There have also been reports of matatus occasionally being hijacked and the passengers being robbed.

Political instability in Kenya

Following the 2008 elections, Kenya faced considerable violence, which left more than 1,000 people dead and 300,000 displaced. While the situation has since become more peaceful, ethnic tensions still exist and these could result in violence flaring up again.

While expats are unlikely to be caught up in this type of civil unrest, they're advised to stay away from any political demonstrations or protests that could turn violent. Major protests usually take place during election campaigns, but the 2013 elections passed without major violent incidents.


Health hazards in Kenya

It's essential to visit a healthcare practitioner for information on which vaccinations are necessary before moving to Kenya. Malaria, cholera and dengue fever are health risks in Kenya. Expats should take the necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites by using repellent and mosquito nets at night. Expats moving to Kenya should also consider taking a course of anti-malarial tablets.

Another safety risk for expats in Kenya is the heat. It's important not to become dehydrated, to limit time in the sun and to drink filtered or bottled water, as the quality of tap water in Kenya isn't always reputable.  

HIV/AIDS is an enormous problem in Kenya. Almost seven percent of the adult population is HIV positive, so expats should avoid having unprotected sex or sharing needles to limit exposure to the virus.

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