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, in 2011, two tourists were kidnapped and one killed in separate incidents (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 hotels on Lamu and Manda reopened.
Al-Shabaab have been pushed into central Somalia’s rural areas, far away from the Kenyan border. There have, however, been numerous grenade and gun attacks in low-income districts of several Kenyan towns, and in in September 2013, Al-Shabaab carried out a terrorist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, killing more than 60 people. Despite the atrocity, official travel advisories, including that of the UK FCO, continued to stress that most visits to Kenya are trouble-free and the vast majority of the country safe for travel, reflecting the widespread realisation that such outrages could be, and have been perpetrated in many big cities around the world. Hotel and shopping-centre security is high, with airport-style security checks in use.
In May 2014, the UK FCO issued new travel advice, advising against travel to Mombasa and a short strip of coast to the north and south of the city. In July 2014, they revised their advice on the Lamu archipelago, and now advise against travel to Lamu and Manda islands. As a consequence, for the present time Expert Africa is sadly not booking hotels in these coastal areas. The change of advice does not affect the rest of Kenya, and we continue to offer hotels on the coast at Malindi, Watamu and Diani Beach and to organise safaris around the rest of the country.
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.
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.
Visiting Kenya in 2014In many ways, 2014 is the perfect year for a trip to Kenya. 2013 was the jubilee anniversary of the country’s independence in 1963, and there are currently 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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