Will I die in Nairobi?
June 7, 2012 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I have upcoming business travel scheduled in Nairobi and recent reports have me more than a little alarmed.

My trip is scheduled for 3 nights. I'm planning on staying at the Intercontinental as I was told that it is the safest but it seems to be right in the middle of the most likely targets. I feel like, if I could get a good handle on the risk here, I would be able to make a decision but I'm getting conflicting views. The security people I'm in contact with say it is relatively safe if I stay in my hotel. I'm having a hard time reconciling that with the reports linked above. How much risk am I taking on by making this trip? Are these threats real or just bluster?
posted by MasterShake to Travel & Transportation around Nairobi, Kenya (6 answers total)
I would check the US State Dept site for warnings:


I would also make sure I had all of the local US numbers on my person (assuming you are a US citizen or other appropriate contacts if not...) - just in case.

Do you have a local contact? They should be able to give you a good measure of the risk...

Do take into account that even bluster can cause local conditions to change in a way that might make a standard business trip more difficult for you...
posted by NoDef at 5:55 PM on June 7, 2012

Your best source on the Internet for realistic assessments of current travel safety conditions is Thorn Tree. The community there is full of professional travel guide writers, local residents, expats, or former travellers, all of whom will give you a fuller picture any day of the week than the State Department.

The State Dept. will tell you almost anywhere in the world is unsafe to some degree, and their assessments are driven by all sorts of geopolitical agreements, allegiances, and other complex workings under-the-hood that you're not likely to be privy to unless you spend many hours reading into the complexities of the situation on the ground.
posted by mykescipark at 6:48 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I haven't checked the listed targets on a map, but I have stayed at the Fairview (and its sister business property next door). It is very close to the Israeli embassy, which might make it sound like a bad idea, but they have security operating all the time on the street who are very prompt to respond to potential threats.

It can be hard to keep in perspective, but you are statistically much more likely to die in a car to or from the airport (at either end of your journey).
posted by AnnaRat at 11:36 PM on June 7, 2012

Will I die in Nairobi?

Speaking as a Nairobi resident...

Most likely not. Al-Shabaab have been spouting off about blowing up skyscrapers ever since Kenya mached into Somalia last year. The total of the attacks so far are a couple of grenades and the recent bomb in a market. Admittedly, the recent attack is a step-up - and I would in no way be surprised to see larger attacks - however the stated focus has been on the Kenyan government - as supported by the UN list you link to - and whilst I may choose not to hang around government offices (and wouldn't as a visitor choose a hotel near them), I have no hesitation currently in visiting hotels.

That said - I wouldn't choose the Intercontinental - CBD isn't where I'd choose to stay. Fairview has a good security reputation and is outside the CBD, Sankara is brand new and in a "safer" location, Tribe is out the North end of town miles away from government buildings.

And AnnaRat is spot on - the road to and from the airport is a wonderful black spot. I'm far more concerned about being in an accident than I am about being blown up.

Hopefully the other couple of Nairobi residents may speak up - I may be a little blasé having lived and visited places with a far higher chance of terrorism.

posted by Hobo at 12:15 AM on June 8, 2012

I was in Nairobi 4 weeks ago. I stayed in the CBD but would have preferred another location as Hobo mentions. The areas beyond the CBD are good. I was concerned as you are, but more about my personal safety as a solo female. I was approached many times on the street with various deals. I made sure not to carry anything more than the money I needed for the day, and didn't venture beyond my hotel after dark. The church grenade happened a day after I accidentally walked through that neighbourhood. Mugging with violence remains a far greater risk to you than terrorism.

Your local contacts will be important, but be sure to stay in contact with someone who will give you the real picture. VERY often, I find that my immediate business contacts are not totally honest about risks, as they live daily in the situation and may not want to dissuade you from traveling. Be sure to have all contact numbers on you at all times, and know your itinerary in detail, no diversions to random places you've not been advised of.

Also, go visit the Thorn Tree cafe if you are a Thorn Tree reader. It's a welcome respite from the busyness of the city.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:34 AM on June 8, 2012

If your budget is for the Intercon, there's much nicer places you can stay for your money - Sankara (in Westlands, where I live) as Hobo mentioned, or Tribe (co-located on the same property as one of Nairobi's largest shopping malls). The CBD is pretty notorious for petty crime, and is also where the lion's share of the terrorism stuff has gone down.

As a marker, we generally avoid walking around outside during day or night (but night time I absolutely forbid it for self or wife). I prefer that she not drive alone at night if at all avoidable (I travel a lot for work). I drive at night plenty but take lots of precautions, know if someone is following me, and keep up to date with my work's security advisements on the latest schemes for car jacking, home invasion, etc..

The sad state of affairs is that this stuff does happen routinely in Nairobi, but if you live there you learn how to deal with it as a part of life. You don't drive / go out with windows down or doors unlocked, or without more than a quarter tank of gas and a working cell phone. You don't take taxis you don't know, you find a good guy and call him regularly. You learn which parts of town to avoid and when and why.

All this said, I think your security folk are a bit off. If you're staying in one of the upmarket hotels (including Intercon or Norfolk, both in CBD), I'd say you're 100% safe staying in the hotels. They all have good security up front, there has not been an incident in the slightest at any of them, despite them being mentioned as potential targets in security reports (of course they are, anywhere expats go will be, duh). Its when you venture out on the street looking like a tourist that you make yourself a target.

Feel free to drop me a MeMail if you care to. Nairobi's a really nice town if you know how to navigate it (and where the best restaurants are - most of them aren't in the hotels FYI).
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:38 AM on October 8, 2012

« Older Is a flat roof in the US south a bad idea?   |   I need a plan Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.