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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Kenya

Kenya: Republic of Kenya
Capital: Nairobi
Population: 31,138,735
Currency: Kenyan shilling (KES)
Languages: English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages
Religions: Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, indigenous beliefs 10%, Muslim 10%, other 2%
Borders: Ethiopia 861 km, Somalia 682 km, Sudan 232 km, Tanzania 769 km, Uganda 933 km

Kenya is a developing East African country known for its wildlife and national parks. The capital city is Nairobi. The second largest city is Mombasa, located on the southeast coast. Tourist facilities are widely available in Nairobi, the game parks, the reserves, and on the coast.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.

On November 28, 2002, there was a car bomb attack on a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, in which 15 people were killed, and an unsuccessful attempt to shoot down an Israeli charter plane departing Mombasa. These incidents have highlighted the continuing threat posed by terrorism in East Africa and the capacity of terrorist groups to carry out attacks. U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in public places, including tourist sites and other sites where Westerners are known to congregate, especially in the coastal region.

Successful presidential and parliamentary elections were held in December 2002 with minimum reports of violence.

Travelers should maintain security awareness at all times and avoid public gatherings and street demonstrations.

The area near Kenya 's border with Somalia has been the site of a number of incidents of violent criminal activity, including kidnappings. In a late 1998 attack by armed bandits at a resort in the Lamu district near the border with Somalia, U.S. citizens were identified as specific targets, although none were present. There are some indications of ties between Muslim extremist groups, including Osama Bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, and these roving groups of Somali gunmen. Recent information about possible targeting of Americans for kidnapping or assassination in this same area has heightened the Embassy�s concern. In March 1999, a U.S. citizen was killed, reportedly by a Somali national, on the Somali side of the border area.

Some sparsely populated rural areas of Kenya, principally in the North, experience recurrent, localized incidents of violent cattle rustling, counter-raids, ethnic conflict, tribal or clan rivalry, and armed banditry. During the past several years, incidents have occurred in the Keiro Valley, Northern Rift Valley sections of Laikipia and Nakuru Districts, and other areas north of Mount Kenya. A number of incidents have also occurred near the game parks or lodges north of Mwingi, Meru, and Isiolo frequented by tourists. The precise areas tend to shift with time. For these reasons, U.S. citizens who plan to visit Kenya are urged to take basic security precautions to maximize their safety. Travel to northern Kenya should be undertaken with at least two vehicles to ensure a backup in the case of a breakdown or other emergency.

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

On August 7, 1998, terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, killing 213 people and injuring many more in and around the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy subsequently relocated to a different location.

There is a high rate of crime in all cities, particularly Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and at coastal beach resorts. Reports of attacks against tourists by groups of two or more armed assailants are not uncommon. Pickpockets and thieves carry out "snatch and run" crimes on city streets and near crowds. Visitors have found it safer not to carry valuables, but rather to store them in hotel safety deposit boxes or safe rooms. However, there have been reports of safes being stolen from hotel rooms and hotel desk staff being forced to open safes. The best advice is not to travel with any valuables. Walking alone or at night, especially in downtown areas, public parks, along footpaths, on beaches, and in poorly lit areas, is dangerous. In March 2003, an American citizen was mugged by four men and killed while walking in downtown Nairobi.

Thieves routinely snatch jewelry and other objects from open vehicle windows while motorists are either stopped at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Armed vehicle hijackings are common in Nairobi but can occur anywhere in the country. Armed robbers in Nairobi steal approximately ten vehicles every day. Although these attacks are often violent, victims are generally injured only if they resist. There is also a high incidence of residential break-ins. Thieves and con artists have been known to impersonate hotel employees, police officers, or government officials. American visitors and residents are strongly encouraged to ask for identification. Thieves on buses and trains may steal valuables from inattentive passengers. Americans should guard their backpacks or hand luggage and ensure these items are not left unattended. Passengers on inter-city buses should not accept food or drink from a new acquaintance, even a child, as such food or drink may contain narcotics used to incapacitate a victim and facilitate a robbery.

Many scams, perpetrated against unsuspecting tourists and foreign-looking residents on foot, are prevalent in and around the city of Nairobi. Many of these involve persons impersonating police officers and using fake police ID badges and other credentials. In one of the latest scams, a tourist was stopped by someone who appeared to be a beggar telling a "sob story." The tourist agreed to purchase a cup of coffee for the beggar. The tourist was then approached by "police officers" who told him that he was seen talking with a drug dealer/counterfeit suspect. The "police" demanded money from him. American visitors and residents should be alert to these kinds of scams and immediately contact the U.S. Embassy if they think they are being or have been victimized. Con artists may park their cars on the side of a road, pretending that they broke down, and rob persons who stop to offer assistance.

Highway banditry is common in much of North-Eastern Province, Eastern Province, the northern part of Coast Province, and the northern part of the Rift Valley Province. These areas are remote and sparsely populated. Incidents also occur occasionally on Kenya's main highways, particularly after dark. Due to increased bandit activity, air travel is the recommended means of transportation when visiting any of the coastal resorts north of Malindi. Travelers to North Eastern Kenya and the North Rift Valley Region should travel with the police escorts or convoys organized by the Government of Kenya.

There have been recent attacks on ships in the vicinity of Kenyan waters, in particular near the Kenya-Somalia border. Mariners should be vigilant.

The Kenyan mail system can be unreliable and monetary instruments (credit cards, checks, etc.) are frequently stolen. International couriers provide the safest means of shipping envelopes and packages, although anything of value should be insured.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Kenyan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kenya are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. The penalty for possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana, is ten years imprisonment, with no option of a fine.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Adequate medical services are available in Nairobi.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Kenya is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of public transportation: Poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: Poor
Rural road conditions/maintenance: Poor
Availability of roadside assistance: Poor

In Kenya, one drives on the left side of the road, which can be very disorienting to those not accustomed to it. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits and manners, poor vehicle maintenance, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are daily hazards on Kenyan roads. When there is a heavy traffic jam either due to rush hour or because of an accident, drivers will drive across the median strip and drive directly toward oncoming traffic. There are often fatal accidents involving long-distance, inter-city buses, or local buses. Also, vehicle travel outside major cities at night should be avoided due to the poor road and street light conditions, and the threat of banditry.

During the rainy season, many unpaved roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. Severe storms and heavy rains in late 1997 and early 1998 led to extensive flooding and critical damage to roads and bridges, making travel and communications difficult in many parts of the country. Although the government repaired many of the damaged roads and bridges, some are still impassable. Travelers are urged to consult with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and local officials regarding road conditions.

For specific information concerning Kenyan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the commercial attach� at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, D.C. via telephone at (202) 387-6101 or via email at Visitors contemplating adventure tours should contact the Kenya Tourist Board Offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota via the internet at, via telephone at 1-866-44-KENYA, or via email at

For specific information concerning Kenyan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Kenyan National Tourist Organization offices in New York at telephone 212-486-1300 or in California at telephone 310-274-6635.

Travel via passenger train in Kenya is considered unsafe, particularly during rainy seasons, because of the lack of routine maintenance and safety checks. Over the past three years there have been several accidents, including a passenger train derailment between Nairobi and Mombasa, which resulted in the deaths of 32 people, including one foreign tourist. Several trains derailed in 2000.

The Kenya Railway service has been reduced from seven days to three days per week. The service from Nairobi to Malaba is now only a cargo service and is no longer a passenger service.

As there is no direct commercial air service between the U.S. and Kenya by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Kenya�s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s Internet website at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

There has been an increase in armed banditry in or near many of Kenya's national parks and game reserves, particularly the Samburu, Leshaba, and Masai Mara game reserves. In response, the Kenya wildlife service and police have taken some steps to strengthen security in the affected areas but the problem has not been eliminated. Travelers who do not use the services of reputable travel firms or knowledgeable guides or drivers are especially at risk. Safaris are best undertaken with a minimum of two vehicles so that there is a backup in case of mechanical failure or other emergency. Solo camping is always risky.

Use of firearms is strictly forbidden in wildlife reserves and national parks.

Local tap water is not potable. Sealed bottled water is safe to drink and can be purchased in hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores.

Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Kenya and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 7, 2004 | Travel Warning

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