Crime in Kenya: What to Look Out For

As a developing nation, Kenya still has its issues with crime, but the experiences this country has to offer outweigh the negatives. Find out how to enjoy it all safely with these travel tips.

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Kenyan Politics & Protests

While Kenya is generally peaceful and friendly, crime and protests during elections can increase and travelers can get caught in the middle.

The best advice is to be an informed traveler. Check the news, websites and ask locals about any tension. Because like many things in parts of Africa, problems can escalate very quickly.

Plus having a good grasp of what's happening in the country you are traveling in can make your visit far more interesting.

Crime in Kenya

Despite Kenya being a beautiful and exotic destination, crime is common in Kenya's urban centres, coastal beach resorts, northern Kenya (including the North East Province), the northern parts of Eastern, Coastal and Rift Valley Provinces and north of Malindi. But there's no need to be paranoid and change your travel plans, exercise some common sense and take precautions where possible to avoid crime as you would anywhere you travel.

Nairobi

There are some suburbs travelers should avoid as they tend to be crime hot spots. Most include slums, like Kibera which is the largest urban slum in Africa. Eastleigh, in Nairobi's east is considered a high risk area due to the number of terror related incidents which have occurred since 2012. Violent crimes have also been known to occur in Buruburu, Kasarani, Mathare, Pangan, South B and South C.

Bag snatching and other petty crime is common around transport hubs. Violent crime in Nairobi is increasing in some suburbs with armed carjackings, kidnappings and home invasions.

Mombasa

Compared to the capital Nairobi, Mombasa's crime rate is lower however it's still necessary to take precautions when out and about.

Travelers should be alert and take caution in the Old Town area of Mombasa and the Likoni Ferry. Avoid hanging out at the beach at night and take taxis wherever you need to go at night rather than walk.

Bandits in Kenya

Bandits or shiftas are an unfortunate problem in Kenya, with many originating from neighboring Somalia. The issue is widespread in Kenya which means you need to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions if you plan to travel beyond the urban centres. It's best to avoid traveling at night.

Kenya's National Parks

Tourists are rarely targeted in game reserves and national parks in Kenya but there have been past incidents involving tourists while on safari, even in the popular Masai Mara and Samburu reserves. Police and security forces are present in these areas and if your safari guides advise you to put your windows up, pack away your camera and other valuables while traveling through a village; listen to them. Aside from bandits, the occasional snatch and grab does happen.

North & West Kenya

Banditry, cattle rustling and ethnic clashes have caused sporadic violence in these areas. Travelers aren't always targeted but its better not to put yourself in a situation where you could be.

Borders with Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia

Travel advisories warn travelers not to travel to or around these border zones. All three countries are experiencing localized conflicts. Violence, such as armed banditry, violent cattle rustling, counter raids and tribal warfare, are common along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. Kidnapping, armed banditry and clan warfare occur along Kenya's borders with Sudan and Somalia. In November 2008, two Westerners were kidnapped on the Kenyan side of the Somali border and taken into Somalia. Somalia's border has long been a no-go zone for any travelers due its ever present internal conflicts and terrorism issues.

Terrorism in Kenya

Anti Somali government extremist group Al Shaabab continue to threaten Kenya with attacks on shopping centres, foreign embassies and other spots where tourists frequent. Most government travel advisories indicate that travelers should exercise a higher than usual level of caution while in Kenya.

Kenya is targetted by Al Shaabab due to their military intervention in Somalia and highly developed tourism (which guarantees media coverage of their nefarious activities). Several of the latest terrorism incidents have occurred near the border with Somalia such as the 2015 Garissa University attack where around 150 people were killed and many injured. Attacks have continued in Garissa county and neighboring Lamu county.

In 2013, Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Centre was targeted. 67 people including foreigners lost their lives in a shooting carried out by Al Shaabab militants. The coastal town of Mombasa has also not been left untouched by terrorist activities with a police station targeted in a stabbing and petrol bomb attack by three assailants, leaving two police officers wounded.

LGBTI Traveler Safety

Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya and it could land you in prison for up to 14 years plus financial penalties. Avoid public displays of affection as they are frowned upon and the locals can get hostile. People in positions of power such as government and numerous religious groups have often publicly denounced homosexuality which has continued to cultivate a culture of homophobia in the country. Attitudes are slowly changing thanks to local LGBTI services and advocacy groups however there's still a long way to go.

Female Traveler Safety

For the most part, female travelers to Kenya will have a trouble free time. The locals are friendly, respectful, hospitable and most speak English.

There have been some reports of women experiencing harassment by men trying their luck or prostitutes at the beach resort areas on the coast. Avoid hanging out at the beach or wandering around at night. Instead, take a taxi if you plan to head out at night, even if you are with others. Keep the beach wear at the beach and dress modestly when traveling around town. And as you would at home or anywhere else, avoid getting too intoxicated.

Safety Tips for Travelers

If you do decide to head to Kenya for a holiday, and there's no reason you shouldn't, then these tips might be helpful.

  • Get local knowledge on the bad areas. Kenyans are a friendly people and will be happy to let you know about no-go areas. Every Kenyan will tell you to avoid River Road in daylight or at night.
  • Constantly remain vigilant. Travel in Africa can be confronting at times and having a good grasp of where you are and who's around will make your trip more pleasurable.

  • If you do need help while in Kenya, contact the Tourist Safety and Communication Center. They offer a 24hr helpline service for tourists in trouble.

  • Leave the flashy jewelry at home, it will only make you stand out.

  • Keep your valuables close to you or locked up in your accommodation.

  • Snatch and grabs occur in busy places. So if you feel like people are just that bit too close to you, duck into a building or shop to get some breathing space.
  • Try to keep cameras concealed, muggings are common and you don't want to lose all your holiday memories.
  • Avoid walking or traveling after dark on isolated roads, especially in urban areas or public parks. Take taxis wherever you need go in downtown areas if you need to travel.

  • Avoid traveling at night in rural locations. Aside from the danger of bandits, trucks and other vehicles with no headlights can make the journey much more risky.
  • Avoid scams - If it doesn't sound 100% then its not. Follow your itinerary and don't be too trusting.

When traveling to any country, personal travel insurance is important. Not everyone travelling to East Africa will experience a violent crime, but petty theft is common and covering small possessions like cameras and jewelry is a good idea.

Choose a comprehensive travel insurance as travel can sometimes be a costly exercise and you don't want to be left short.

Get a travel insurance quote for Kenya

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6 Comments

  • Pankaj Verma said

    The company I work for is telling me to visit Nairobi for expanding business but after reading this have to think twice thanks for the information. Take Care.

  • Kyle D Schutter said

    Robbery is so common in Nairobi that it's best just to know how to deal with it. Here's one way to deal with it: https://medium.com/@kyleschutter/how-to-deal-with-a-robbery-f0993dadf1e6

  • Richard Walker said

    This article paints a truly dark and dated picture ... there's need for balance.
    All one needs to be is smart and sensible.
    Why walk a slum unescorted?
    Should you be in the darker side of the city at night, or be in the brighter, more 'alive' restaurants and malls?
    I live and work in Nairobi and have only been pick-pocketed once, 20 years ago, drunk in a bar.
    Most expats live in the leafier sides of the city, where people walk their dogs late into the night, where security is guaranteed either by the police or private firms.
    There are lots of superb local and international hotel chains, international country offices, and great local restaurants.

    Food for thought.

  • Jennifer L Peters said

    Thank you for commenting Richard. I am from the US and am planning on going on a medical mission trip to provide care for those that are in Kenya. I'll be in the more remote parts of Kenya. How is the crime in those areas?

  • DK said

    When did kenya become so dangerous to westerners?

  • Shimels H said

    Kenya got a beautiful nature, so much to visit. But, robbery and crime is so rampant in Kenya. The police seem part of the practice; The locals kind of approving it. In my 6 months stay in Nairobi, I was attacked 4 times; but none while working in neighbouring countries (Tanzania for 2 years, Mali 1 year, Sudan 2 years, and Djibouti 1 year). My advice is plan short trip, go with stuffs you don't mind losing, watch out your surroundings and avoid walking alone. That applies all over Kenya, though Nairobi is worse.

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