Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

For this next post in our ‘Is it safe to …?’ series, we asked a range of experts if it is safe to go to Kenya.

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Thailand from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

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Craig Webb, Security and Political Risk Analyst at Healix International

Website: http://www.healix-international.com/
Twitter: @healix_security

 

Craig is a London-based Security and Political Risk Analyst at Healix International and HX Global. His professional work focuses on the Middle East and North Africa region, though he also contributes to a number of global risk management products and service offerings. Healix International and HX Global are leading providers of global travel risk management and international medical, security and travel assistance services.

How safe is it to visit Kenya?

Overall, we deem Kenya to be a moderate security risk country comprised of several diverse security risk environments, each containing a variety of threats and potential risks. When considering the safety of travel to Kenya, or any moderate security risk country, travellers should carefully consider their aims, objectives and acceptable risk exposure before travel. This is especially important in a country such as Kenya, where the risk appetite of an oil and gas company’s exploration team in the volatile Somali border regions differs significantly from that of a tourist visiting the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The majority of travellers will find that they intend to visit relatively benign security risk environments where the implementation of basic security precautions will ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

It is safe to travel to Kenya, but spending some time researching potential destinations and associated risks before travel is highly recommended. Timing is an important component of this research; what events are upcoming and what does this mean for your trip? Is there precedent for violence, unrest or any other form of disruption that could have an impact on your visit – if so, what precautions can you take to reduce your exposure to this threat and if dealing with relative unknowns, what generic measures can you implement to reduce the impact of an unavoidable incident? Simmering decades-old land disputes and hostility surrounding the recently annulled presidential election results are two key examples to be considered, each triggering periodic bouts of unrest and associated security risks.

What are the biggest risks?

Crime

In the majority of cases, travellers will be visiting comparatively safer areas of the country, including major cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa along with other tourist hotspots such as game reserves and national parks. In these areas, the primary risks facing travellers are petty and violent crime. Within this category, most incidents tend to be opportunistic in nature and target ‘obvious’ tourists or those that look uncomfortable or unfamiliar in their environment. For this reason, most mugging and pickpocketing occurs in touristic areas such as public beaches and the Old Town in Mombasa or Nairobi’s Central Business District. Though statistically less common, there is also a heightened risk of such crimes in lower income areas located away from central thoroughfares and common sense dictates that additional care should be taken if visiting these areas.

Social Unrest

Social unrest can pose significant incidental risks to travellers and incidents can occur with little or no prior warning. Persistent antagonisms surrounding land ownership, ethnic/religious tensions and electoral disputes have all triggered unrest in recent years, affecting a broad geographic area. The risks posed by demonstrations are generally low-level, with most incidents passing off peacefully and without incident. However, violent demonstrators have clashed with heavy-handed police on several occasions in recent years, most recently in August following the release of preliminary presidential election results. Most violence occurred in lower-income areas of major cities such as Nairobi’s Kibera and Mathare areas, along with other known opposition strongholds including Kisumu and Siaya. There is a potential for more widespread violence surrounding future polls following the annulment of election results on 1st September.

Terrorism

Outside of the restive Somali border regions, the risk posed by terrorist activity remains moderate but credible. There is a residual threat posed by the Somalia-based al-Shabaab militant group, which retains an expressed intent to conduct attacks within Kenya. The group primarily acts in retaliation for ongoing Kenyan involvement in counter-terrorism operations throughout Somalia, though the presence of high-profile Western targets is another draw. However, in recent years, the security forces have reduced the threat posed by this group; a thwarted al-Shabaab attack at the Garden City Shopping Centre in October 2015 is symptomatic of heightened security capability.

Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) affiliates have also been active on an infrequent basis in recent years; in September 2016, the group claimed responsibility for an attack launched by three robed women at a police station in Mombasa. The attackers tricked their way into a police station, stabbed a police officer and set fire to the building; security officials subsequently shot and killed all three perpetrators. Although foreign travellers are rarely affected, militant organisations operating in Kenya will operate on an opportunistic basis and foreign travellers, particularly Westerners, are both an attractive ideological target and a means to inflict economic damage by compromising the country’s tourism industry.

What are the overlooked risks?

Whilst not ostensibly a security risk, operational considerations such as traffic and congestion should not be overlooked, particularly in Nairobi. The Uhuru Highway, which bisects the city north to south, is generally gridlocked during rush hour and often heavily congested during other hours of the day. As a result, opportunistic criminals have capitalised on the slow-moving and often stationary traffic and have been known to steal valuables through open windows and even threaten motorists with weapons whilst they are stationary and vulnerable. As a related side note, in recent years, criminals have devised a host of alternative plans to bring cars to a halt to facilitate carjacking and other forms of robbery, including throwing eggs at windscreens. Meanwhile, the risk of carjacking increases notably after dark when criminals often target stationary vehicles in traffic or stopped at junctions, traffic lights or residential gates.

How should people mitigate this?

Effective mitigation procedures are dependent on the destination choice, objectives and risk appetite of the traveller. However, in the majority of cases, basic security precautions focussed on minimising risk exposure will significantly reduce the likelihood and potential impact of a security incident. The list of sample advice below is not exhaustive and travel advice should be provided on a bespoke, itinerary-specific basis for best results:

  • Road moves (Crime): Conduct all journeys over three hundred feet or so in a locked vehicle with a reliable and trusted local driver/provider. Keep the windows closed and be alert to suspicious activity whenever stationary. Congestion during rush hours can provide an environment conducive to opportunistic crime; keep valuables in footwells and be alert to suspicious activity on the road.
  • Reduce risk exposure (Terrorism): Travel to possible terrorist targets – including hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping centres, tourist attractions, transport hubs, religious institutions, government offices, military facilities, Western embassies, foreign commercial interests and public transport – can continue but you should minimise time spent in the foyer, entrance or other easily accessible areas. These areas typically experience high volumes of casualties during attacks. When you enter a shopping centre or public building, identify the nearest emergency exit.
  • Stay up to speed (Social Unrest): Monitor local news and social media sites to stay up to speed on developments that may result in civil unrest. Where possible, liaise with local contacts and avoid unnecessary time spent at known flashpoints such as government buildings and university campuses.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Kenya have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employers should ensure that they have a detailed understanding of the operating environment that they are sending their staff to; usually, this means breaking down areas of exposure by geographic region and delegating responsibility to specific individuals in accordance with operational and cultural expertise. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, employers can outsource this task to an organisation such as Healix, which has dedicated intelligence and operational teams, each with a direct regional focus.

Building on from this, employers should ensure that their employees are briefed on the predominant security risks associated with their operating environment before travel, and advised how best to mitigate these risks. Where necessary, this should encompass a detailed travel security briefing and location-specific security training. Ensure that employees have a robust means of communication in order to communicate with their designated point of contact throughout the trip and that there is a robust travel risk management program in place covering all eventualities.


Olivier Milland at Allan & Associates

Email: omilland@allan-assoc.com
Website: www.allan-assoc.com
Twitter: @A2Globalrisk

 

Olivier is a security and political risk analyst focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa with several years of working in various Africa-focused positions, including in communications, media and think tanks. Olivier’s interests range from Islamist militancy in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea and the Gulf of Aden, and non-state armed groups in central Africa.


How safe is it to visit Kenya?

Travelling to Kenya presents different types of security and safety risks to foreign visitors. These include Islamist militancy in border areas, risk of over-spilling armed conflicts in neighbouring countries, such as South Sudan. Foreign visitors also face a risk of violent crime in urban areas as well as in some rural areas where violent competition for land has specifically targeted foreigners over the past year.

Currently, the political situation in Kenya is extremely tense, which is likely to compound the risks of violent protests in many parts of the country. The situation escalated after the supreme court over-ruled the results of August’s presidential election. Given Kenya’s recent history of election-related violence, foreign visitors should consider their need to travel there over the next month, as there is a real threat of fighting between political supporters amid an uncertain political outlook. Although this year’s campaign has yet to reach the same levels of violence as the previous two general elections, in 2007 and 2013, the supreme court’s annulment of the result is likely to have increased the risk again.

What are the biggest risks?

Crime – including violent crime such as armed robbery – is the most common risks facing visitors, followed by Kenya’s poor road-safety record. A2Global rates Kenya’s road safety risk as 8.02 out of 10 despite many improvements to road infrastructure in recent years.

However, given the current political climate in the country, the risks of being caught between violent protesters and security forces is elevated and growing, particularly in strongholds of either the ruling Jubilee Party of the opposition coalition, Nasa. These risks can vary tremendously from one area to another, including within cities like Nairobi.

There is also a high-impact low-probability risk of Islamist terrorist attacks, most likely perpetrated by Somali Islamist militant group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, in urban areas including in Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa. This risk is much higher in Kenyan counties bordering Somalia, including Lamu County where the group has staged over eight attacks this year, killing dozens of people and destroying communications infrastructure.

What are the overlooked risks?

A lack of cultural sensitivity among foreign visitors can sometimes upset local residents. This includes drinking or smoking in public, or dressing inappropriately in some social spheres. For instance, most Kenyans are conservative, regardless of their religious beliefs, and failing to dress in a smart or proper manner is often frowned upon or overtly criticised. Ignoring or failing to address such grievances is likely to attract some unwanted, and on occasion hostile, attention from strangers.

Banditry in rural areas, particularly where farmers and herders compete over land, is another risk. This year alone, two foreign nationals have been shot dead by gunmen in protected nature reserves amid conflict over grazing land. As many foreign tourists travel to Kenya for its vast nature reserves, it is possible that this risk has been overlooked.

How should people mitigate this?

The first step to mitigate security risks in Kenya is improving knowledge of the local context, not only about Kenya at large, but about the specific community, for instance where visitors will stay. This includes gathering information about the specific neighbourhoods to avoid within cities, as well as areas that have been recently affected by violence. In addition, visitors should systematically enquire about technical facilities at the accommodation they choose to stay in. For instance, ensure that the hotel accepts credit cards to mitigate the risk of having to spend more time on the street looking for ATMs or banks, which could catch the attention of criminals.

A second approach is to increase your situational awareness, particularly in crowded areas, in order to identify any potential threat, including extortion or attempted robbery, from suspicious individuals nearby. The same applies when choosing mode of transportation. Visitors should use licensed rental vehicles with trusted drivers as much as is practical, and prices should always be agreed before setting off on a journey to mitigate the risk of disagreements afterwards. Finally, surrounding yourself with many trusted locals is also likely to deter any criminals.

Some additional pointers to consider are:

  • Visitors should avoid trying to explore the area around their hotel or accommodation on foot, particularly after dark, unless accompanied by a local guide who knows the city or area well.
  • Even if riding in a professionally-driven vehicle, travellers should wear their seatbelts and be prepared to request that the driver moderates his speed if they believe him to be driving too fast for the road conditions. High-speed roads can give way to dirt tracks with very little warning.
  • Visitors should also carry with them the phone number of their embassy or high commission in Nairobi, as well as any useful contacts, such as their residence and next of kin.  A mobile phone is a useful security precaution, although expensive models should be used discretely in public places.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Kenya have in place? What should employees ask for?

Businesses looking to send their staff to Kenya for extended periods should consider contracting an in-house security manager or external risk management consultancy to design rigorous threat assessments, security briefings, and contingency plans, for instance for emergency evacuations. In addition, they should take out specialised insurance that covers medical treatment and repatriation costs in the event of serious injury or medical condition. Security managers should also ascertain that their staff’s accommodation is secure and meets reasonable safety standards. Finally, they should also ensure that all personal information, including next-of-kin of the deployed staff, are up-to-date.

Employees should request thorough security briefings beforehand, as well as travel and life insurance, but could also ask for first aid kits as well as satellite telephones, particularly if travelling by road to a remote area or town. Staff are also responsible for regularly updating travel managers of their whereabouts, travel plans, and means of transport to keep them updated in order to more quickly locate them in the event of a major accident or attack.


Ryan Swindale, COO at RPS Partnership

 

How safe is it to visit Kenya?

Kenya is a great place to visit for both work or a holiday.   It has a mixture of the rawness of Africa but with a cosmopolitan humdrum in Nairobi.   The game parks are close to the city which gives the impression that wildlife lives hand in hand with urban life.

What are the biggest risks?

  • The biggest risks are crime – getting mugged downtown or carjacked driving around at night. There is a big differential between rich and poor.   If you pass by a shanty town, you will see the abject poverty experienced by some.
  • When travelling, always be spatially aware. Leave your jewellery at home.  It is advisable not take expensive items at all.  A friend recently had his fake Rayburn sunglasses ripped from his face in a traffic jam as he had his window open.

What are the overlooked risks?

  • Make sure your car windows are closed or with only a couple of cm open at the top.
  • Always lock car doors prior to moving off.
  • At night if driving run the red lights (carefully) as stopping may get you carjacked.
  • Car-jackings usually occur on approach to house as the car is stationary waiting for gates to open – although car-jacking is on the decrease due to the fact it is getting hard to sell stolen cars.
  • Don’t take expensive items on the streets when walking around and if you have to take your laptop then consider walking in pairs or taking the taxi.
  • Don’t walk in downtown Nairobi after dark or walk through the parks.
  • Both men and women not advisable to walk alone at night

How should people mitigate this?

  • Road traffic accidents are common – and beware of scams when up country to get you to stop then rob you.
  • If going on safari or up country then ensure your vehicle is well prepared with emergency equipment. Watch out for the rainy season as the rains will make some roads impassable. Take a brolly as the rain sometimes catches you out.
  • If you take an Uber don’t advertise the fact, i.e. don’t stand on street corner looking at phone for reg number etc. There is a lot of animosity between local taxis and Ubers.
  • Criminals target mostly laptops so don’t carry in laptop bag

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Kenya have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employer should:

  • Conduct risk assessments and update them regularly
  • Have comprehensive security policies in place
  • Maintain a log of accidents and near misses
  • Record and share security concerns and trends
  • Provide staff with information on environmental and health issues.
  • Supply information on vaccinations and medications
  • Provide staff with pre-training for security and medical emergencies
  • Have a crisis management plan in place and conduct rehearsals with staff
  • Ensure staff have access to primary health care
  • Have an established emergency medical evacuation plan in place
  • Ensure appropriate insurance policies are in place
  • Make certain that vehicles and equipment in use are serviceable
  • Utilise trusted local drivers if at all possible
  • Have a working communications link
  • Maintain good relations with the local Police, Security and Emergency services

 Employee should not:

  •  Cut corners
  •  Ignore security advice
  • Take unnecessary risks

Ryan Archer at Safer Edge

Email: operations@saferegde.com
Website: www.saferedge.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SaferEdge

Based in London, Ryan is security analyst and risk advisor at Safer Edge. Working with a variety of humanitarian, academic and development organisations, his work contributes to the success of programs and safety of staff. Safer Edge’s primary focus is to enable organisations who work in challenging environments, through learning courses and risk management consultancy.

How safe is it to visit Kenya?

Following the annulment of the recent general election results by the Supreme Court and the scheduling of a re-run for 26 October, the political situation at a national level is currently volatile. The incumbent Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance (NASA) are currently holding talks to find consensus on how the mistakes made during August’s elections can be avoided. Reports suggest that the talks aren’t progressing due to disagreement on several issues.

There is potential for the situation to deteriorate further in the coming weeks. Though the elections in August were conducted in largely peaceful conditions, there has been an increase in demonstrations by Jubilee and NASA supporters in recent weeks, in several major cities including Nairobi.

Elsewhere, travel to the east of the country that borders Somalia remains insecure due to ongoing attacks by Al-Shabaab (AS). Garissa, Mandera and Lamu counties remain the highest risk areas when it comes AS attacks, but further attacks in Nairobi cannot be fully ruled out.

Like anywhere though, it depends largely on self-generated risks as well as threats that are present in the security environment. The travellers personal profile and what they will be doing when in country are just as crucial for understanding the risks as knowing the security issues in the exact location they are travelling to.

What are the biggest risks?

In light of the current political situation in country, travellers should be concerned about the potential for further unrest in the coming months. The direct targeting of international visitors is unlikely, but getting caught-up in a demonstration could pose a significant threat of harm due to the security forces robust crowd control measures. The use of tear gas and live-fire ammunition has occurred at demonstrations in several areas in recent weeks, including in parts of Nairobi. Areas where opposition support is strongest are the most likely to see disruptive activism.

Most major urban areas in Kenya see high levels of crime, including Nairobi. Violent crime, such as armed robbery and carjacking does sporadically affect international visitors. Visitors are however far more likely to be affected by less violent forms of theft. In Nairobi, Eastleigh and the Kibera slum area are typically avoided by international visitors.

As is mentioned above, travelling to eastern areas of the country near the Somali boarder could present risks of visitors being caught up in a terrorist attack and potentially kidnapped. In Nairobi, there hasn’t been a major attack since the armed siege at the Westgate Shopping Mall in September 2013. Security around potential targets has been increased significantly since the attack. However, smaller incidents have occurred in Nairobi since 2013 and the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) remain active in Somalia, so there is a latent threat of further attacks in Nairobi.

What are the overlooked risks?

Road traffic accidents (RTA) remain one of the most pressing safety and security risks for travellers to Kenya. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the fatality rate is around 29 deaths per 100,000 individuals, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Driving standards are very different to those found in Europe. Typically, it’s best for international visitors to avoid self-driving.

Bag-snatching is a particular threat that could easily be overlooked by visitors. It is often conducted by young men travelling on motorcycles. In Nairobi, this type of crime can occur anywhere in the city, including areas frequented by expatriates such as Westlands, Kilimani and the Central Business District.

Standards and regulations regarding fire safety are not as established and enforced in Kenya as they are in most of Europe. There is an absence of fire alarms and a general lack of fire awareness. Fires in accommodation and workplaces may not be the most obvious safety and security threat for travellers, but pose an obvious high-impact risk of harm if they occur.

How should people mitigate this?

Travellers should mitigate the risks posed from demonstrations by monitoring the situation ahead of their trip and whilst in country. Ensuring they plan alternative routes so they can avoid being caught-up in protests is also advisable. If avoidance measures fail, visitors should extricate themselves from the scene immediately.

Travellers should avoid visiting the more volatile parts of Kenya along the border with Somalia, unless they have stringent security mitigation in place. For avoiding potential attacks in Nairobi, the best mitigation is to avoid or limit time spent in or around sites that are the most obvious for targeting.

Common-sense personal security measures are likely sufficient for avoiding being the target of criminal activity. This could include, avoiding areas that are known to see high-levels of crime, limiting journeys on foot after dark, avoiding carrying large amounts of cash or expensive electronic devices and travelling with someone who knows the area. To limit the likelihood of snatch-and-grabs, don’t walk directly next to the road and take a back-pack rather than a handbag or over shoulder bag. Most importantly, if you are asked to hand your belongings or cash over by a criminal, do so immediately.

Though it is obviously impossible to mitigate fully the chance of being involved in an RTA, adequate preparations can significantly reduce the probability. Travellers should use trusted private drivers with decent vehicles. Before you get in a vehicle, conduct a vehicle safety check. Make sure you are wearing your seatbelt and don’t be afraid to ask your driver to slow down if you feel uncomfortable.

When you are checking in to your hotel or arriving at an office for the first time, ensure that you make a note of fire exits and assembly points, and where extinguishes are located.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Kenya have in place? What should employees ask for?

As an absolute minimum, employers should ensure that travellers have an updated and comprehensive risk assessment, specifically tailored for the individual’s profile and their itinerary, a check-in procedure should be established and a crisis management plan should also be prepared and understood. Comprehensive medical insurance that covers evacuation and repatriation for medical emergency should be in place. If your organisation needs support in providing duty of care provisions, contact Safer Edge at operations@saferedge.com or visit our website (www.saferedge.com).

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