Is It Safe To Visit Kenya?

Affectionately known as “Magical Kenya”, the country attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists and just as many expats working in the major cities every year. While it is magical, Kenya is a hotbed of terrorism activity and crime is notoriously high and often violent. Fortunately, for safari tourists bypassing the crime hotspots, Kenya isgenerally considered a safe and friendly country to visit.

However, a recent bomb attack at a luxury hotel in Nairobi carried out by extremists linked to Al Shabaab has marred Kenya’s reputation as a safe place to visit and international travel groups have posted extensive warnings on the potential dangers of visiting Kenya.

The main threat in Kenya comes from extremists linked to the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali group, a militant group that has been responsible for a number of terrorist attacks which have been carried out in response to Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.

Foreign officers around the world have issued stern warnings that the threat of terrorist attacks in Kenya is ‘very likely’ to continue and that tourists need to be extremely vigilante, in particular they say travel to parts in the east of the country near the Somali border must be avoided at all costs.

With regards to general crime in the city centres of Kenya, foreign visitors need to be vigilante and follow the usual precautions to avoid becoming victim of a crime or tourist scam.

IS IT SAFE TO GO ON SAFARI TO KENYA?

Kenya is extremely popular as a Big 5 safari destination. It’s national parks are world-renowned and as such, the government of Kenya makes security a high priority in the safari regions. Most visitors on a safari holiday in Kenya pass fleetingly through Nairobi and Mombasa which both have a reputation for high crime and more recently, terrorist activities.

The most popular safari destinations in Kenya include Aberdare National Park, Amboseli, Laikipia, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara, Meru, Mount Kenya, Samburu, Shimba Hills and Tsavo. Popular beach resorts in Kenya are found in Mombasa, Malindi, Kilifi, Watamu, Diani, Lamu Island and Manda Island.

Tourists generally enjoy a wonderful, safe safari tour in Kenya if the travel in the care of a reputable tour operator and abide by their guides instructions when it comes to travelling in open safari vehicles, behaving appropriately in the presence of wild animals and generally keeping out of harm’s way.

POLITICAL SITUATION IN KENYA

Kenya has one of the fastest-growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and has earned international repute for making significant political, structural and economic reforms. This has resulted in sustained economic growth, social development and political stability. However, Kenya still faces major challenges that include dire poverty, inequality, political uncertainty and a vulnerable economy.

The country is regarded as East Africa’s financial and communications hub and is a magnet for tourism. Up until late 2007, Kenya was considered one of the most stable countries in Africa but itlost ground in this regard after the election results of December 2007 were heavily disputed which led to outbreaks of violent protests. More than 600 people were killed during this time of civil unrest.

The country has a young democracy and elections are generally free and fair. However, most institutions which includes the judiciary, parliament and the electoral commission, are subservient to the president. The president has control over the appointment of high court judges and electoral commissioners, controls the federal budget and has the power to dissolve parliament. As a result, the notion of true democracy in Kenya is somewhat precarious.

Kenya is also notorious for rampant corruption in government. Parliament has instituted strict laws and regulations to fight corruption and has taken enormous strides to gain the public’s trust in public enterprise; however, the country has a way to go, as long as its head has complete control.

Elections in Kenya are contested by multiple parties but there is a ‘winner takes all mentality’ where the stronger opposition parties have little to no say in the running of government. The country is in dire need of constitutional reforms that will strengthen local government and rectify the imbalance of regional resources.

Democracy and economic growth are inextricably linked in Kenya but the country’s prospects for the future will only really take off once there is a distribution of power among ethic groups and true equality.

TERRORISM IN KENYA

Kenya is on high alert for future terrorist attacks after a devastating bomb blast at a luxury hotel in the capital city of Nairobi. Government has intensified security measures to protect its citizens and visitors with increased police presence, security checks and car searches at the main airports and in public places and hotels.

Prior to the recent terrorist attack which Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for, acts of terrorism have been sporadic and rarely targeted at foreign visitors. The last major incident was a bomb attack in 2010 in Kampala at a venue screening the World Cup soccer tournament which killed over 70 people and injured many more.

Tourists are reminded to be vigilante and stay away from crowded events, night clubs and public bars, sporting events and musical concerts. It’s highly recommended that you travel with a reputable tour operator in Kenya who’ll ensure your safety is a priority.

NO-GO AREAS FOR KENYA

Foreign tourists are advised to avoid at all costs the following no-go regions in Kenya:

KENYA BORDER CONTROLS

The government of Kenya has made it a priority to address a number of issues that make the country vulnerable to terrorism, transnational crime and irregular migration across its porous borders. The challenge is to improve coordination between immigration and border management, law enforcement and security agencies as well as improve the capacity of its immigration and border management agencies to effectively manage borders and prevent terrorism.

Initiatives include strengthening border infrastructure at key border posts and embarking on intensive training courses so immigration officials are better equipped with regards to its role in counter-terrorism, counter trafficking, integrated border management, examining documents and the protection of vulnerable groups.

Areas flanking the eastern border of Kenya should be avoided at all cost because of the risk of rebel groups and extremists operating in the region.

IS IT SAFE TO WORK IN KENYA?

It is safe to live and work in Kenya as an ex-pat if you follow the usual precautions to protect yourself and homes, and use good common sense to avoid becoming a victim of crime. Most expats working in Kenya make use of private security guards and live in secure, gated housing estates.

Car-jackings, muggings and petty theft are commonplace in the busy parts of the cities so avoid going out to restaurants and pubs in unsafe areas, particularly after dark. Keep valuables out of sight, handbags or backpacks zipped closed and don’t flash cash or expensive jewelry and camera equipment.

The area of greatest concern for foreigners working in places like Nairobi and Mombasa is the state of the roads and the high rate of fatalities caused by reckless drivers. Avoid travelling at night because the roads are not well lit and drunk drivers are a problem. Keep your car doors locked and your windows up at all times.

Tourist scams such as card skimming or swaps are a nuisance. Keep up-to-date on how illicit operators scam tourists and be vigilante, particular at restaurants and hotels.

CIVIL UNREST IN KENYA

Civil unrest in the form of protests and demonstrations flare up on occasion in Kenya, particular around the time of elections. Expats and tourists are rarely affected by this civil tension but it’s wise to stay up-to-date on current affairs and stay away from places where protests and demonstrations are happening. There’s always the risk that they turn violent.

Reputable tour operators in Kenyamake your safety a priority and will change routes to safari destinations if there’s any likelihood there’ll be unrest or conflict in an area.

CRIME IN KENYA

Like any busy city in Africa, Kenya has its fair share of criminal activity. Violent crime is common, such as kidnapping, muggings, armed carjackings and burglaries. However, tourists on the whole do not experience it because they generally stay in upmarket hotels in safe suburbs. What holiday-makers need to watch out for is petty crime such as pick-pocketing, smash & grabs out of vehicles, bag snatching and theft out of hotel rooms.

Avoid walking on your own in the busy city centres and avoid at all cost walking around or driving on your own after dark. In particular, avoid visiting public beaches and parks and downtown city areas at night.

During the day, you’re perfectly safe in Kenya visiting popular shopping malls, restaurants and heritage sites but be vigilante when it comes to using ATMs in public places and ‘flashing your cash’. Use a travel card with limited funds on it so, if it’s stolen or skimmed, you won’t lose too much money.

Remember, Kenya is a very poor country with high unemployment and high cost of living. Be vigilante when visiting local street markets; don’t flash your cash, don’t wear expensive jewelry and keep your backpack or handbag closed and close to your body.

Theft out of hotel rooms will happen if temptation is put in someone’s way. Make use of the digital safes in hotel rooms and if possible, avoid leaving behind in the room expensive equipment and money.

Kenya national toll-free emergency police response number: 999

SAFE TRANSPORT OPTIONS IN KENYA

Driving in Kenya is dangerous because of reckless driving and the poor condition of the country’s roads. It’s recommended that you travel in the care of a reputable tour operator in Kenya because they make safety a priority and drive more defensively, knowing what they know about local drivers and the state of the roads.

Most road accidents happen at night so reputable tour operators in Kenya will rarely, if ever, travel long-distances at night. If you’re traveling around Kenya on your own, opt to use a reputable bus service as some of the smaller operation don’t maintain their vehicles properly and their drivers are fairly reckless.

Public transport

Public transport in Kenya is not recommended for tourists. The main form of transport for locals are ‘matatus’ which can be anything from dilapidated Peugeots to large 20-seater mini-buses. They’re renowned as dodgy because the drivers are often reckless and the vehicles are generally not well maintained. There have also been reports of passengers being robbed and hijacked.

As an alternative to a matatus, you can opt for a shared taxi which is usually a Peugeot 505 station wagon. It takes up t0 9 passengers and only leaves when its full.

You’ll also find ‘tuk-tuks’ in the major towns and cities of Kenya, which are similar to those used in Asia. They’re only really suitable for short trips from a hotel to a shopping mall, more for the experience than anything else.

Boda-bodas are bicycle or motorcycle taxis which are a common feature in the main towns and cities of Kenya. They’re suitable for a short ride to a shopping mall or beach but make sure the driver has a helmet for you.

The municipal bus service covers the suburbs and outlying areas. They’re relatively safe but only recommended during daylight hours. Private shuttle buses such as the City Hopper run between the city centres and airport and are quite useful as a hop-on/hop-off facility if you’re exploring the city.

Private transport

Most expats opt to rent a car and hire a local driver to get around the city. Uber is available in Nairobi and is a good alternative for short city trips. You’ll also find a small selection of private taxis operating outside of the large international hotels in Nairobi. They’re more expensive but the drivers are better and the vehicles are more reliable.

LGBT RIGHTS IN KENYA

Kenya does not recognised any relationships between people of the same sex and same-sex marriage is banned under the Kenyan Constitution. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons living or visiting Kenya need to be aware they face legal challenges if arrested for same-sex public displays of affection.

Sodomy (which is associated with male homosexuality) carries a 14-year jail sentence and any sexual practices between males carries a 5-year jail sentence. There are no statutory provisions to protect the rights of the LGBT community in Kenya.

Kenya society is ultra-conservative and homosexuality is largely regarded as ‘grossly indecent’ and ‘repugnant’. The laws governing anti-homosexuality have been put in place to so-call safeguard the cultural values and morality of its citizens.

Various organisations are working to protect and improve LGBT rights in Kenya but it’s highly advisable that you avoid any public altercation and possible prosecution by abiding by the country’s legal standpoint on same-sex relationships.

TOP SAFETY TIPS FOR KENYA

Be vigilante

Take care when walking around the large towns and cities of Kenya. Pickpocketing, bag snatching and petty theft of phones and electronics is fairly common in crowded market areas. Avoid attracting unwanted attention to yourself in the large towns and cities in Kenya. Don’t flash fancy camera equipment, cash or expensive jewelry; leave your valuables at home or in a safe in your hotel.

Avoid at all costs walking around after dark, particularly if you’re on your own. Most crimes committed in the city are non-violent but it’s not worth taking the risk. At the very least, a mugging where you lose your camera, phone and possibly important documents can derail your holiday plans.

Don’t do drugs in Kenya

The possession, use and trafficking of drugs in Kenya is illegal and offenders will be fined heavily and face potential jail time. Do not offer to carry a package from an unknown of suspicious source in your luggage as you risk being used as a drug mule.

Be careful what you photograph in Kenya

You are prohibited from taking photographs of military, government buildings and border crossing points. If you’re unsure if it’s safe to take a photograph of something, ask your tour guide for permission.

Don’t drink and drive in Kenya

Drinking and driving is illegal and punishable by a heavy fine or possible jail time. The same applies to using your mobile phone while driving. Remember, if you get tipsy or very drunk on a night out on the town, you are vulnerable. Your senses are dulled and you make poor decisions. You risk being followed home, falling victim to a crime and being seriously hurt.

Do your research on common tourist scams

Whether you’re in Paris or Nairobi, you’ve got to watch out for the same old tourist scams. This includes card cloning, online fraud and overcharging. Do research on common ways tourists are ripped off in foreign countries and keep your wits about you so you don’t fall victim to whatever is popular in that country.Don’t trust people too quickly, rather rely on the advice and help of your tour guide.

Book your holiday in Kenya with a reputable tour operator

For a memorable safari tour in Kenya, always book a tour with a reputable tour operator. These tour operators make your safety a priority and will be quick to alert you to potential risks that could see you get badly hurt or put in a dangerous situation that could get you killed.

Be respectful of local cultures in Kenya

Kenya’s citizens are very conservative and as a whole, protected from modern ways and behaviour. It’s important to remember that you are a visitor and you need to respect their cultural values and beliefs. Avoid wearing skimpy clothes in public and be polite and friendly to the local people you encounter.

Be law abiding

You do not want to find yourself locked up in a Kenya jail so it’s highly recommended that you abide by the country’s laws and stay out of trouble. Kenya’s legal system is efficient and relatively uncorrupted, although it’s fairly common you’ll be asked to pay a bribe to get off a traffic fine. If arrested, you’re treated as ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in Kenya and you have a legal right to a lawyer.

Note: Beware of thieves posing as police officers. If you have a problem, ask your tour operator or the manager or receptionist at the place you’re staying at to summons the police.

HEALTH WARNINGS

MEDICAL FACILITIES IN KENYA

Public medical facilities in Kenya are inadequate and suffer from lack of resources and staff. Gaps in the healthcare system are filled by private healthcare centres and Church groups which run medical outreach programmes.

There are three national hospitals in Kenya, namely: Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, The National Spinal Injury and Referral Hospital and Kenyatta National Hospital.

The government runs dispensaries across the which are managed by enrolled and registered nurses who are supervised by the nursing officer at the respective health centre. They provide outpatient services for simple ailments such as common cold and flu, uncomplicated malaria and skin conditions. Patients who cannot be managed by the nurse are referred to the health centres.

The government healthcare centres offer a rudimentary serve with a clinical officer in charge. The main focus is on primary healthcare with a heavy focus on preventative care such as childhood vaccinations.

There are a small number of private clinics in Kenya, located in the major towns and cities. They’re managed by clinical officers and doctors and nursing staff. Affluent Kenyans and foreign workers make use of the private clinics in Nairobi and Mombasa where the medical care is good and continually improving.

Important

If you take chronic medication or prescription drugs, you need to carry your own supplies which will last you through to the end of your holiday in Kenya. Don’t rely on finding a pharmacy or medical doctor if you run out.

On the same note, pack a selection of medical products to treat minor ailments or injuries. This includes painkillers, cold & flu remedies, anti-inflammatories, anti-indigestion and the usual supply of antiseptic cream, plasters and bandages.

Travel insurance is highly recommended for Kenya. It should theft, loss and medical emergencies and evacuations. Check the small print when taking out travel insurance and some policies will not cover dangerous activities such as paragliding, scuba diving, helicopter rides and even motorbiking, cycling and hiking.

Medical insurance for Kenya is very important. You can take it out as part of your travel insurance cover or request extra cover from your existing medical aid company. In most African countries, doctors and medical facilities expect payment in cash if you’re a foreigner. Find out from your insurance company if they make payments directly to a medical provider or reimburse you when you return home.

One of the crucial things to cover is transport for an emergency evacuation. This might be an ambulance or helicopter. If you need urgent medical help when you are far from a city or town, sometimes the only option is to have you evacuated by air.

HEALTH WARNINGS FOR KENYA

Travel insurance is highly recommended for Kenya. It should cover theft, loss and medical emergencies and evacuations. Check the small print when taking out travel insurance and some policies will not cover dangerous activities such as paragliding, scuba diving, helicopter rides and even motorbiking, cycling and hiking.

Medical insurance for Kenya is very important. You can take it out as part of your travel insurance cover or request extra cover from your existing medical aid company. In most African countries, doctors and medical facilities expect payment in cash if you’re a foreigner. Find out from your insurance company if they make payments directly to a medical provider or reimburse you when you return home.

One of the crucial things to cover is transport for an emergency evacuation. This might be an ambulance or helicopter. If you need urgent medical help when you are far from a city or town, sometimes the only option is to have you evacuated by air.

Malaria

Kenya is a medium-to-high risk malaria area, depending on the season and where you are travelling to. The risk of contracting malaria is higher in the humid summer and rainy season. The risk is lower at altitudes higher than 2 000 metres. The highest risk area for malaria in Kenya is in the eastern region.

It’s highly recommended that all travellers take anti-malaria tablets for a trip to Kenya. Malaria is a life-threatening disease. If left untreated or not diagnosed early, it can lead to death. Speak to your doctor or a travel clinic for advise on anti-malaria tablets.

To prevent being bitten by an infected mosquito; sleep under a mosquito net and use a mosquito spray or coil to repel mosquitos, cover your arms and legs before the sun sets wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts and apply mosquito repellent on exposed areas of skin. Mosquitos are most active from sunset to sundown but it’s advisable to spray yourself during the day as a precaution.

The symptoms of malaria show between 10 to 14 days after being bitten. Depending on the severity, malaria symptoms range from flu-like aches and chills to abdominal pain, fever and unconsciousness. If you experience any of these symptoms once home from your holiday to Kenya, seek immediate medical attention and request a malaria blood test.

Bilharzia

Bilharzia is a disease spread by minute worms that are carried by a species of freshwater snail. The parasites penetrate human skin when someone is paddling or swimming and then migrate to the bladder or bowel. Symptoms range from a light fever and rash to blood in the stool or urine. If left untreated, the bilharzia infection can cause kidney failure and permanent bowl damage.

Avoid swimming, paddling or wading in remote freshwater lakes or dams that make be suspect or slow-moving rivers. If you are concerned you’ve been infected, visit a specialist infectious disease clinic and request a blood test.

Yellow fever

Travellers need to have a yellow fever vaccination before arriving in Kenya and must carry their certificate with them. It needs to be presented to the immigration official on arrival in Kenya.

Yellow fever is spread by infected mosquitoes. Symptoms are similar to malaria ranging from flu-like chills and fever to server hepatitis and jaundice. If left untreated or not diagnosed early, the disease is life-threatening.

HIV/AIDS

The risk of contracting HIV is extremely high but only a concern if you have unprotected sex or receive a blood transfusion in the region. Always use a condom when having sex with anyone on a holiday in Kenya who’s not known to you and a trusted partner.

For an emergency blood transfusion, contact The BloodCare Foundation (www.bloodcare.org.uk) which can provide safe, screened blood transported to any part of the world within 24 hours.

Is tap water safe to drink in Kenya

Locals say the tap water in Nairobi is safe to drink because it’s treated by the Nairobi Water & Sewerage Company and locals drink it in their homes. However, if you are concerned, it’s advisable that you opt for water that’s bottled and sealed at a trusted source. Avoid drinking water from streams, rivers and lakes as a precaution against contracting bilharzia.

Toilets

The majority of places in Kenya have western-style flushing toilets. The popular tourist hotels and safari lodges in Kenya have clean, quality toilet facilities. It’s only the more remote areas that you’ll find public ablutions that are fairly unsanitary. Avoid sitting on the seats and always wash your hands after a visit to a public toilet.

VACCINATIONS NEEDED FOR KENYA

Consult your doctor or travel clinic for advice on vaccinations for Kenya.The following are recommended by the World Health Organisation (www.who.int) for Kenya:

A varicella (chicken pox) vaccine and your yearly flu shot are also recommend preventative measures.

Proof of a yellow-fever vaccination is mandatory for travel to Kenya.

IS KENYA SAFE FOR WOMEN TRAVELLERS?

Kenya is a safe country to visit and there’s not real risk for female travellers as long as they take the usual precautions to avoid becoming a victim of crime, rape or other serious offences. Avoid wearing revealing clothes like short shirts and halter tops, mainly out of respect for the Kenyans culture. Local women generally dress conservatively, covering up their shoulders and legs.

IS KENYA SAFE FOR CHILDREN?

It’s safe to travel around Kenya with children as long as you follow the usual precautions to keep them out of harm’s way. Children are welcome at restaurants and safari lodges and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for them to go on a safari in the Kenya national parks.

However, there is an age restriction on safari tours in Kenya, in particular travelling on open safari vehicles. Children between 6 to 12 years may join a safari tour in Kenya at the discretion the professional game ranger in charge. Younger than that may only join a safari tour as part of a private safari group and at the discretion of the game ranger in charge.

TRAVEL WITH A REPUTABLE TOUR OPERATOR IN KENYA

MoAfrika Tours is a leading tour operator in South Africa that offers an outstanding selection of tours to Kenya. We have a close association with the most reputable tour operators in Kenyawho make safety a priority.