Safety in KenyaKenya is always in the spotlight. Nairobi is one of Africa’s media hubs and a favourite posting for journalists – but the news isn’t always good. So what are the issues Kenya currently faces and do any of them have an impact on your visit?
SomaliaIn Kenya’s neighbour to the north-east, Somalia, there had been until recently no functioning government for most of the last two decades. An extremist group, Al-Shabaab, emerged there and took over large parts of the country. When two tourists were kidnapped and one killed in separate incidents in 2011 (one at a private home on Manda island, the other at a remote beachfront lodge near Kiwaiyu island at the extreme northern end of the coast), the Kenyan army crossed the porous Somalian border. By the end of 2012 Kenya had occupied the whole of southern Somalia, while a new government was established in Mogadishu.
The two ransom kidnaps of 2011 had no connection with Al-Shabaab but brought about a security boost on Kenya’s north-east coast. British and American government travel advice not to visit the Lamu archipelago was lifted in May 2012 and most hotels on Lamu and Manda reopened. At Expert Africa, however, we have decided to wait until the end of 2013 before including Lamu in our itineraries.
Al-Shabaab have been pushed into central Somalia’s rural areas, far away from the Kenyan border. There have, however, been several grenade and gun attacks in low-income districts of Kenyan towns, though nothing so far directed at tourists. Hotel and shopping-centre security is high, with airport-style security checks in use.
ElectionsKenya’s other source of trouble is self-inflicted: elections (held on 4 March 2013) are always a potential flashpoint as votes are typically cast on tribal lines. This time the complex poll and the protracted count of the ballots were conducted peacefully and the presidential election was won convincingly by Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding president, who got just over 50% of the vote, thereby avoiding a second-round run-off. The result was challenged on a variety of grounds in the Supreme Court by Kenyatta's main rival, Raila Odinga, who received 43%, but the court ruled that the election results should not be overturned. President Kenyatta and his deputy face trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague in connection with the post-election violence in 2008 that claimed more than 1,000 lives – court cases with unpredictable consequences for their new government. Nevertheless, Kenyans overwhelmingly voted for peace in the March 2013 elections, and the political temperature has lowered.
We believe Kenya’s present troubles should be put in perspective: terrorism is an international phenomenon that claims a tiny number of lives in comparison with disease and traffic accidents; and on the political scene, with Kenya’s newly adopted constitution we believe the country is unlikely to suffer a repeat of the full-scale ethnic violence that erupted in January 2008 – (although it did not result in harm to any tourists). Never say never, but we are as confident as we can be that the areas we have chosen for our fly-in safaris will not see any serious trouble.
Visiting Kenya in 2013In many ways, 2013 is the perfect year for a Kenya holiday. 2013 is the jubilee anniversary of the country’s independence in 1963, and there are plenty of good offers to be had on camps and lodges. Moreover, with relatively low visitor numbers because of the security fears that persist among mass-market tour operators, you can look forward to quieter parks and camps and even more attentive service. Finally, increased security – invariably carried out with an apologetic smile – means the streets are safer than they have been for years, so your ordinary security is likely to be enhanced. You should of course always be very careful about not displaying your valuables, as petty crime is widespread. Meanwhile, though, the welcome you’ll receive from Kenyans in these challenging times is as warm as you’ll experience anywhere.
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