Is Kenya dangerous?

Africa, a dangerous continent?

I think the Western public have different feelings about Africa, which polarise in quite dichotomic positions: on one side, Africa is associated with wars, dictatorships, child soldier, ransoms, embassies, malaria and general insecurity. On the other side, with luxurious tourism, sailing boats, crystalline sea, and awesome panoramas.

Sweeping generalisations, right?

Of course yes, and most especially because Africa is a continent. As so, regional variation is incredible in any respect: climate and weather, landscapes, access to water, presence of mosquitos, levels of development, access to health and education, forms of government, security, etc.

Africa, a dangerous continent? - my question is thus misleading,

Although, I chose to start this post with this question purposefully. Many times, in these months - and in the years before this trip to Kenya - I have been asked if I wasn't scared, because Kenya is in Africa, and thus it is dangerous. Also, lots of media, when talking about a country in Africa, they just say "Africa", as if Africa was a country and not a continent - think about how medias describe the situation with Covid "in Africa"! It is a bit like describing the situation of Covid in Italy just by saying "Covid in Europe"!

It is common practice for people traveling to Global South Settings (one day, I promise, I will write a post about the reasons why I don't use expressions like "low-income countries" or "developing countries") to refer to institutional websites to get a sense of the place, and of the risks it entails: for example, the Farnesina, for Italians. Or the High British commission for the UK.

I think this is generally a good common practice: it lists different kinds of risks, e.g. epidemiological (i.e. if there is malaria, or typhoid  fever, or any other health risks which are not common in the West), as well as racial, political, and general insecurity risks.

In the last years, while travelling between Jordan and Kenya, I realised how these websites are intentionally overcautious. This is not a critique: I think they serve the purpose of making inexperienced travellers more attentive and receptive to situations they may underestimate.

Kenya is described as a country with high risk of criminality and terrorism. This is certainly not false. The coastal region and the area at the border with Somalia are considered high risk for foreigners due to the incursions of El Shabaab militias from Somalia. Also, the North region is still undergoing traditional issues connected with banditism and tribalism amongst nomadic groups fighting over land and cattle at the border with South Sudan. Lots of local people I have been talking with confirm that.

Nairobi is defined as Nairobbery for the high level of criminality, robberies, and gangs attacks which are common in its streets.

But what about Eldoret?

Kenya is a big country, and still: we cant generalise.

And, to be humble, Eldoret is the only place I should be allowed to talk about.

Eldoret is a town and as so, it entails all the problems of a town - microcriminality, unemployment, housing issues, discrepancies in socioeconomic status and access to education and health. These elements deeply shape life in Eldoret.

I would say that Eldoret is mostly safe. 

You will need to pay attention to your belonging when in crowded spaces, like the matatu stages or the markets. It is very easy for people there to snatch your phone or bags taking advantage of the crowd. But this applies to every place in the world, doesnt it? Well, except Jordan, where thieves just dont exist ;-)

You wouldn't walk around at night, or at least: they told me not to do so. I never took the risk to check myself but it is well known that criminality raises at night when people try to access houses to steal. It is also better not to trust anyone in the dark, not even motorbike guys, as you have no guarantee of where they could take you.

As a white lady, there are some corners that it is better not to access, especially not alone. Even in downtown, there are some narrow streets that create a maze - not sure where you can end up and who you could met.

Unfortunately, everywhere in downtown is full of street boys, who live day by day and sniff glue. They usually have been abandoned by their family and they dont have a place to stay. Together with drank people, another huge issue in Eldoret, they can really annoy you and follow you for miles wishing to get some money from you. But I wouldn't say that they are dangerous. 

Said so, these are kind of common sense recommendations that would work everywhere in the world and dont refer to Kenya specifically. 

Personally, I almost always felt safe - despite I conduct my work in a poor, informal settlement well-known for micro criminality.

I think I have always been lucky, but also quite aware of the environment around me. Especially, in term of work, I always tried to respect local hierarchies and follow the instructions that my field workers gave to me.

What about the police? 

I am sorry to say that police is probably not the most trustable institution in Kenya. Cops are known to be easily bribed - and, in reverse, not to be very well intentioned in helping you. Better not to be in the position to call them - said so, I just realise I dont even know what the emergency number for the Kenya Police is!

This post doesnt have a real argument to be made. I just wanted to offer some of my feelings about security in Eldoret.

Some years ago, when Silvia Romano was kidnapped on the Kenyan coast, the perception and idea of Kenya really changed, at least for Italians. People were horrified by the idea of going to Kenya and they thought about it as a very dangerous country.

This makes me sad, because that is not been my experience of Kenya at all! But, ultimately, it is always about been able to go beyond stereotypes, fears and generalizations, with caution, of course!


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