staying safe in an unsafe land
We have received various emails and skype calls over the last month or so expressing concern for our safety as Kenya continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. For those who have not been following the news, below is a brief summary of recent events:
- In mid-September, Somali gunmen shot and killed a British tourist who was vacationing at Kiwayu, on the northern coast of Kenya, and kidnapped his wife.
- A few weeks later, a Frenchwoman who was living near the coast city of Lamu was kidnapped from her home. She died in captivity in Somalia.
- In mid-October, two Spanish aid workers were kidnapped from the Dadaab refugee camp, which is host to approximately half a million Somali refugees.
- Following the Dadaab kidnappings, Kenya decided to send troops across the border into Somalia. Al-Shabab, the loosely-organized Islamist militant group that controls much of Somalia, vowed that the incursion would not go unpunished, and a few days later downtown Nairobi was rocked by successive grenade explosions.
- Things had been relatively quiet for two weeks until this morning, when we learned that two Swiss tourists were attacked at a game park in the north of Kenya. One of them was seriously injured and their driver was killed by the gunfire of what appears to have been a botched robbery attempt unrelated to the wave of al-Shabab violence.
While we do not want to downplay the seriousness of these incidents, we would like to assure you all that we still think it is safe to live and work in Nairobi and also to travel around certain parts of Kenya. Although recent events have focused the world’s attention on Kenya’s security problems, it is important to note that Nairobi has been rated as critical for both crime and terrorism by the State Department for the last decade. These attacks, though unfortunate, were certainly not unexpected. Staying safe while serving in a critical/critical post requires adjustments. It has meant restricted travel (for example, Kiwayu, where the first attack occurred, is well within the 80km stretch of land bordering the Somalia border that has been off-limits to Embassy personnel long before the incident). It also entails modifying our behavior, spending more time hanging out at friends’ houses and avoiding malls, nightclubs, and other crowded places with lax security that present a tempting target for attack.
The last few months have underscored the important role the Embassy’s Regional Security office plays, both in keeping us informed and in evaluating Kenya’s complex security environment. While there are parts of Kenya that are dangerous, much of this country is not, and it is still possible to enjoy living and traveling here. With that in mind, we hope that those of you who have expressed a desire to visit us follow through on your intentions.