Safety and Security
All travelers to Kenya should review the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Kenya that provides detailed information about security issues affecting the country. Though thousands of U.S. citizens visit Kenya safely each year, the U.S. government continues to receive information regarding potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya. Terrorist acts could include suicide operations, bomb and grenade attacks, kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports. Although there have been recent gains in the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities, many of those involved remain at large and continue to operate in the region. Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution on the Travel.State.Gov website for further information and details.
Kenya initiated military action against al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaabby crossing into Somalia on October 16, 2011, and, on June 2, 2012, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) whereby it formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Kenyan troops within AMISOM are now actively pursuing al-Shabaab in southeastern Somalia. In response to the Kenyan intervention, al-Shabaab and its sympathizers have conducted retaliatory attacks against civilian and government targets in Kenya.
In the past year, there have been numerous attacks involving grenades or explosive devices in Kenya. At least 76 people died in these attacks, and around 220 people were injured. No U.S. citizens were among the casualties. Approximately twenty-five of these attacks occurred in North Eastern Province, mainly in Dadaab, Wajir, Mandera, and Garissa. Four attacks occurred in Mombasa. Twelve grenade and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have occurred in Nairobi, illustrating an increase in the number of attacks and an advance in the sophistication of attacks. Targets included police stations and police vehicles, nightclubs and bars, churches, a mosque, a religious gathering, a downtown building of small shops, and a bus station. One of the deadliest attacks occurred in Nairobi on November 18, 2012, when an IED detonated on a passenger bus in Eastleigh, killing ten. Seventeen people were killed and about 50 people were injured in a deadly attack on July 1, 2012, with two simultaneous assaults on churches in Garissa. Additionally, Kenyan law enforcement has disrupted several terrorist plots, which resulted in the discoveries of weapons caches and other dangerous materials, and the arrests of several individuals. Multiple kidnappings of Westerners have occurred in Kenya.
In September 2011, a British woman was kidnapped and her husband murdered at a coastal resort near the Kenya-Somali border. The British hostage was released in March 2012 after payment of ransom. In October 2011, a French national was kidnapped from a private residence on the popular tourist destination of Lamu Island on Kenya's north coast. She died while in captivity in Somalia. Also in October 2011, two Spanish nationals working for a NGO were kidnapped in Dadaab refugee camp, in northeastern Kenya. They are still being held. On June 29, 2012, four international aid workers (from Canada, Pakistan, Norway, and the Philippines) were kidnapped in Dadaab. All were rescued on July 1, 2012.
Following a series of security incidents attributed to violent extremists, including al-Shabaab, the Government of Kenya announced on December 13, 2012 that all urban refugees (primarily Somalis) should relocate to refugee camps. This directive is being challenged in court and is not currently being enforced; however, U.S. citizens of Somali descent should be aware that they may encounter interruptions in their travel due to increased police scrutiny based on the directive. It is very important to carry proof of identity and legal status in Kenya (e.g., valid visa). If you are detained by police or immigration officials, you should request to speak to someone from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
As a result of these recent events and threats, U.S. government employees, contractors, grantees, and their dependents are prohibited from traveling to the cities of El Wak, Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and Liboi. U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling to the coastal area north of Pate Island, including Kiwayu and north to Kiunga on the Kenya/Somalia border.
Although these restrictions do not apply to travelers not associated with the U.S. government, U.S. citizens already in Kenya should take these restrictions into account when planning trips. The Embassy regularly reviews the security of these areas for possible modification.
Clashes occasionally occur in and around Isiolo and Moyale and in 2012 there were numerous instances of sporadic violence and protests elsewhere in the country. Rioting occurred in Mombasa shortly after a local Muslim cleric with alleged ties to al-Shabaab was killed in a drive-by shooting, resulting in the deaths of three policemen and four church burnings. Demonstrations in Kisumu following the murder of two prominent Kenyan citizens in October 2012 turned violent, leaving at least four protestors dead. More than 160 people were killed in clashes in late 2012 between two communities in Tana River County. While this violence is not directed at foreigners, protests and ethnic clashes are unpredictable. U.S. citizens are advised to check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling to these areas.
Villagers in rural areas are sometimes suspicious of strangers. There have been several incidents of violence against Kenyan and foreign adults in rural areas who are suspected of stealing children. U.S. visitors to rural areas should be aware that close contact with children, including taking their pictures or giving them candy, can be viewed with deep alarm and may provoke panic and violence. Adoptive parents traveling with their adopted child should exercise particular caution and are urged to carry complete copies of their adoption paperwork with them at all times.
Travelers should keep informed of local developments by following local press, radio, and television reports prior to their visits. Visitors should also consult their hosts, including U.S. and Kenyan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers.