Is Nairobi Safe?
Perceived issues of personal safety and security are often of concern to people wishing to travel in Kenya. This has increased in the wake of the Westgate shopping centre attack, with travellers questioning the safety of Nairobi and whether they should travel to Kenya. The answer is YES! New York, London, Madrid and Bali have also suffered terror attacks and travellers continue to visit. But Nairobi is treated differently, and it probably has a bit to do with its old nickname “Nai-robbery”. Ten years ago the name may have been true, but much has changed in the last decade and continues to change with the current “Safer Cities” initiative by the Nairobi City Council.
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Many Kenyans do live in poverty and there are reports of theft and muggings from time to time. But these are opportunistic attacks on people clearly displaying wealth and making it easy for someone to grab and run. It can be argued that this is the case anywhere around the world – you must always keep your wits about you, wherever you are. Some easy ways to avoid being mugged include:
Not wearing jewellery
Checking your change and putting all money safely away before leaving the bank, foreign exchange office or shop
Using hotel safes to store what you do not need for the day
Violent crime is much rarer, especially against tourists. Most Kenyans recognise that tourists bring money to their country, and attacks on foreigners are punished severely if they do occur. If you do find yourself in a situation however, it is best to submit to the demands of the attacker – violence is often not an assailant’s first preference, they just need money.
Harassment is not a physical danger necessarily, but it can make you feel uncomfortable and nervous. Walking alone at night is definitely to be avoided. Always go out with two or three other people and take a taxi after dark.
Scams show up as locals drawing on the compassion of sympathetic travellers. They may take on the role of a political refugee requesting money for their family or they might pretend to be a student collecting contributions for their education. Use your common sense and if you are in doubt about their story, then you are probably right.
There are also local customs to be aware of, but by observing how other people behave you can easily fit in. There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Kenya, particularly in coastal and rural areas.
Engaging the services of a tour operator will assist in avoiding most of the above-mentioned security issues. Your driver-guide will have the latest information on your destinations and know where he/she is going. They know the travel times and will ensure you have arrived at the accommodation before sunset. Moreover, most tour operators will package up the prices for national park entry fees, accommodation, and transport, limiting the amount of cash you need to carry.
Finally, don’t forget to register with your home country’s embassy or high commission in Kenya for the duration of your visit. Comprehensive travel insurance is also highly recommended.
Overall, Nairobi is just like many other large cities around the world: there are rich people, there are poor people and there are people in the middle. Most Kenyans don’t look twice at foreigners in their capital city. The worst that most tourists encounter are children in rags accompanying them for about a block asking for money – while it’s heart-wrenching, it’s hardly a reason to avoid visiting a spectacular destination that has much to offer an enthusiastic traveller.