The crime rates in Nairobi are up again. I feel that talking specifically about crime rates in Nairobi takes the situation out of context, so I don't usually like doing it. Nairobi has a bad reputation for crime worldwide, but after all, every city has its own level of crime to deal with - Nairobi is not on its own. That said, at the moment, we are thinking twice about travelling far in the evening etc. Suddenly, staying in seems more appealing.
My friend who lives in Dar es Salaam says that everybody there shudders when there is any mention of Nairobi. 'It's the terrible crime that I could not live with' they say. She arrives at our house shaking in her boots, but after two days decides that it is absolute heaven here and she is ready to pack her bags and move to Kenya asap. The beautiful gardens, the shops, the wonderful people - she loves it! Ironically we had a bad break-in (after a few previous attempts too) when living in Dar es Salaam so the past 6 years of living in Nairobi has felt like a much safer existence for us (touch wood!).
Refreshingly, South African friends think that living in Nairobi is a walk in the park compared to the senseless killing in places like Jo'burg. 'They shoot you dead in front of your kids, just to get your mobile phone down there - I love Nairobi. It's much better.'
I think that the trouble is, there is a misconception that foreigners might be particularly targeted here in Kenya, when in fact the opposite is the case. Foreigners can generally afford very good security, dogs etc. they are usually pretty safe - it is the middle class Kenyans and the poor who are far more likely to be victims of crime. Corporate crime is also on the rise.
If you travel on a matatu/bus, you are more at risk as you are likely to be robbed of your pay packet on the way home. Sometimes thugs take over the bus, drive off into the bush and mug everybody on board. Robbing from poorer people is easier.
Our friendly cab driver lost his car in a car jacking incident - it was just an anonymous, untraceable old white Toyota Corolla that you would not think that anybody would particularly want - the tragedy was that it was also his entire livelihood. Raila Odinga's aide got car jacked in Karen last week and was bundled into the boot for hours, that made the news. A bank cashier I met said she was held at gunpoint in her home as they took her TV.
At the moment there are apparently up to 18 car jackings per night in Nairobi. The routine is often the same, there is an obstacle laid in the road (ie rocks or a telegraph pole), you might get stopped in traffic, or you are surrounded when arriving back home at your gate/compound after dark. At gun point, you are put in the boot of your (usually saloon) car and driven around for a few hours, often via the cashpoint so that you can draw your maximum daily allowance to hand over to the villains. Once in a relatively remote spot, you may be let out and they thieves drive away.
Kiss FM are advertising a Group 4 security gadget called 'Porto-track' a portable tracking device that can either locate your car if it is stolen, or be carried on your person for saftety. It is then possible to raise an alarm/call for back up when necessary. One of the DJs said jokingly; 'keep it in the boot of your car, that way, you will have it to hand when you are put in there by car jackers!'
A particularly dodgy place for car jacking is currently the unfinished Nairobi ring road that leads from near the airport to Ngong Road just outside Karen. The first dirt section from Mombasa Road to Langata Road is well policed and usually not a problem, but the second half on the other side of Langata Road, past Kibera and through the forest to Ngong Road is the more dangerous section. You might ask why anyone would take an unfinished dirt road if there was a risk - but if you know Nairobi traffic, you will understand why. I must admit, we have done it a few times.
A friend was driving along the second section a week ago on a Friday evening after work. He took it because Langata Road was utterly jammed. He knew it was risky and for some reason was feeling particularly alert that day (having taken the route lots of times before without a problem). It was not dark, but he was driving into the setting sun so used his sun visor. He said he even switched the radio off to concentrate more, and left his mobile phone ringing rather than answer it. He drove past Kibera, which was fine as usual. he said,
'people are actually very friendly there'
then, as he got into the forest he saw a parked saloon car in the middle of the road. Alarm bells started ringing. He slowed down well ahead to consider whether there was room to pass - sure enough, as he did this, men leapt out from the bushes wielding machetes, rocks and guns. The friend slammed into reverse and went backwards as fast as possible- the men chased him on foot. When he saw they were gaining on him, he slammed back into a forward gear, straight through them (they thew stones but didn't really have time to react) then somehow swerved around the car that was blocking his path and sped away.
A kilometre later a police patrol was passing. Our friend flagged them down and explained what had just happened and where to find the gang. The police were sympathetic and said they would go to investigate, but that that area was a real problem for them to control.
I'm not sure if there is much you can do about Nairobi's crime. My advice would be:
1) don't panic about it, if you worry all the time you will be a miserable wreck - then you might be hit by a bus when on home leave. That would be ironic?!
2) remember that security reports sent round on email from security companies and driving schools are designed to help their businesses, not just scare the living daylights out of you. If you find it upsetting, just stop reading them for a while.
3) remember that you are not necessarily a prime target.
4) lock your car doors, especially when sitting in traffic.
5) if returning home at night make sure the gateway to your compound is well lit and the gate is opened quickly. Phone ahead if this makes it easier.
6) If you are in a hold up situation, do as you are told. Do not resist, do not scream, follow instructions, act dumb not street savvy. Horrible as it is you are most likely to walk away unharmed when the experience is over, having lost your valuables.
7) Remember that people have lived here for more than ten, even twenty years without any incidence of crime affecting them. It is possible that you will be lucky.