Is Kenya a safe country to visit?
British travellers in Kenya should remain vigilant in the wake of an Islamic terrorist attack on a luxury hotel complex that left at least 14 dead, the UK Foreign Office (FCO) has warned.
Around 100,000 Britons every year visit the east African country popular for its Big Five safari and Indian Ocean beaches, but its tourism industry has been blighted by security concerns, most recently after a spate of attacks in 2014. The FCO still advises against travel to parts in the east of the country near the Somali border.
However, the majority of the country, including the capital Nairobi, where Tuesday’s attack happened, are considered safe for Britons.
Members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali group Al-Shabaab stormed the DustitD2 hotel complex in central Nairobi that contains also a spa, restaurant and office buildings, on Tuesday afternoon.
At least one suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel while gunmen sprayed fire before holing themselves up at the premises as civilians fled or barricaded themselves in their offices awaiting rescue.
Gunfire and the sound of explosions stretched into Wednesday morning as security forces battled to take back control.
On Wednesday morning president Uhuru Kenyatta said that the siege had ended and that “all terrorists have been eliminated”.
A British man was among those killed.
Kenya’s interior cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i said that all buildings affected by the attack have been secured, adding: “I can report that the country is secure, that the nation remains calm, that Kenyans and all of our visitors are safe and should feel free to continue going about their normal businesses. The situation is under control, and the country is safe.”
A statement from the Kenya Tourism Federation said that Nairobi is “calm and security is stable” and that all airports are operating as normal as are train services between Nairobi and Mombasa. “We are also happy to report that all tourist circuits across Kenya are operating normally,” the statement concluded.
What is the Foreign Office advising?
The High Commission in Nairobi will be closed on Wednesday, the FCO said. It said that anyone in the Riverside area of Nairobi should “remain vigilant and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities”. Anyone in the UK concerned about a British national in Kenya should call the FCO in London on 020 7008 1500.
Despite advice that much of the country is safe and that the majority of British visits are trouble-free, the FCO says that terrorists are “very likely to try to carry out attacks in Kenya”. “The main threat comes from extremists linked to Al Shabaab, a militant group that has carried out attacks in Kenya in response to Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia,” the FCO says. “There have been a number of attacks in Kenya in recent years, particularly in Garissa, Mandera and Lamu counties and other mainland areas close to the Somali border.”
The FCO currently advises against all but essential travel to the following:
- areas within 60km of the Kenya-Somali border
- Garissa County
- Lamu County (excluding Lamu Island and Manda Island)
- areas of Tana River County north of the Tana river itself
- within 15km of the coast from the Tana river down to the Galana (Athi-Galana-Sabaki) river
Of terror attacks, the FCO warns that attacks could be indiscriminate in places frequented by foreigners, and warns travellers to be vigilant at “hotels, bars, restaurants, sports bars and nightclubs, sporting events, supermarkets, shopping centres, coastal areas including beaches, airports, buses, trains and other transport hubs”.
Are safaris in the country safe?
Kenya is most popular with British travellers as one of the greatest wildlife watching destinations in the world, home as it is to the Big Five (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and white/black rhinos), with few spending more time in the capital, Nairobi.
As such, ensuring the safety of key national parks and reserves is of high priority.
Brian Jackman, Telegraph Travel’s Kenya expert, said: “The chances of being caught up in a terrorist outrage are probably greater in London than in Nairobi. So don’t be put off going, otherwise it means the bad guys have won.
“Just remember that most visitors are only passing through the city en route to to the game parks, where security is seldom a problem and you are far safer sleeping in a tent with lions and other big game prowling around at night than you would be almost anywhere else in the world.”
The FCO specifies that its guidance against travel does not include “Kenya’s safari destinations in the national parks, reserves and wildlife conservancies; including the Aberdare National Park, Amboseli, Laikipia, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara, Meru, Mount Kenya, Samburu, Shimba Hills, Tsavo”.
The FCO also says that it is safe to visit the beach resorts of Mombasa, Malindi, Kilifi, Watamu, Diani, Lamu Island and Manda Island, however to travel to the latter to must be by air and not by road.
Can I cancel my trip?
Not unless you want to lose the money you paid for your trip. That the FCO is not advising against travel to much of the country means tour operators are not legally obliged to offer refunds should you decide to cancel, however, if your trip is affected by the recent events in Nairobi, they should make alternative arrangements and are likely to change your itinerary.
Has terror affected visitor numbers before?
Yes, the last travel restrictions imposed on the country by the FCO – related to terror – were lifted in 2015 and related to terrorism, after a series of attacks by Al Shabaab. More than 400 people were killed between 2013 and 2014.
The threat in the early Noughties and subsequent FCO travel ban caused Kenya’s annual international arrivals to fall from 1.47 million in 2010 to 1.11 million in 2015. Visitor numbers have since picked up, thanks to a period of relative stability, with 1.39 million visiting in 2017.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics last year showed that visitor numbers were again rising in the first half of 2018. 1.61 million arrivals were forecast for 2018.