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Photos of Nairobi City, in the sun - be safe from crime in streets and other places

Updated on September 3, 2013
The I & M building as seen from Muindi Mbingu Street
The I & M building as seen from Muindi Mbingu Street

updated Sept 2013

Stay Safe in Nairobi City – or any other big city for that matter.

Nairobi is fairly safe by international standards. Most visitors to this city in the sun report that the people are friendly and smile a lot. One thing that is probably not reported often is the warm handshake – and Kenyans shake hands a lot. By the end of the day, the average Kenyan has shaken over ten hands and still counting. Foreigners who are used to greetings with their hands in their pockets are surprised to find that every Kenyan offers a handshake at each meeting and departure point – even if there is a crowd in the room. Foreigners may be hoodwinked to lower their guard in such friendly surroundings. Upcountry folk who have lower crime in their counties also fall easy prey to Nairobi con artists.

Since in every culture there are those who want to reap where they did not sow, I hope that the following tips will help visitors to this bustling city enjoy their stay with the least of worries.

When asking for directions…

Most people will be very helpful if you appear lost and need help with directions. But you may just encounter that one in a hundred who will pay closer attention to your camera or wallet in your back pocket. To be safe, look for someone who is rooted to their job and not likely to follow you. A newspaper vendor; a traffic policeman (blue uniform with a white cap); doorman in a hotel entrance; shopkeeper and so on. If you must ask a fellow passerby, you are safer asking a woman. Nairobi crime statistics indicate that there are less women criminals but times may change.

A busy bus terminus - Bus station
A busy bus terminus - Bus station | Source
A view of the city from Haile Selassie Avenue
A view of the city from Haile Selassie Avenue

Friendly warnings in public buses and Matatus…

I had heard about this trick through emails but I still fell prey to it and lost my wallet. There is a law that everybody should wear a seat belt even in a public vehicle. Most passengers find this a nuisance and reason that the belts are dirty to begin with and in any case, the distances travelled are short. The police are also not consistent in enforcing this law. So many people ignore the belts and the con artists know this. Sometimes the police make impromptu crackdowns by stopping a public vehicle and arresting all those who are not belted or are attempting to belt up. Usually the conductor or driver warns the passengers if he sees a crackdown ahead causing a commotion as the passengers stand up partially to look for the belts under the seats. If you have pickpockets at this point they will be very busy emptying pockets. Pickpockets working in teams frequently issue a false alarm, empty pockets and drop off in a hurry. So when you hear “Fungeni mishipi,” be sure you know where your wallet is before you stand to look for that seat belt.

The statue of the slain Tom Mboya between the National Archives and the Standard Bank
The statue of the slain Tom Mboya between the National Archives and the Standard Bank | Source

Playing cards on the street!

You may find a character with makeshift table, usually a large collapsible carton shuffling three cards. If you place a bet on the winning card, you will win twice the value of your bet. If you place your bet on any of the other two cards, you will lose. Usually you will find someone playing and winning easily. Of course it’s all planned to look easy so that you can remove your wallet and make a bet. What you might not realize is that the card artist, the player and most of the spectators are a team. If you play for a while, they will encourage you to make bigger and bigger and bigger bets and let you win. They will size you up as you play and estimate your worth. At some point you will get reckless and place all your money on the card you are so sure is the winner. When it is turned upright, you have lost. And do not think that you can play once or twice and walk away with their money. You will be followed and mugged in broad daylight. So please, when you see the cardplayers, mind your own business and keep your appointments. I have never fallen prey to these one but upcountry folk wail in the streets after losing all the money they had.

Prophets on the street

I do not know how grown ups who have been to school fall for this one, but believe me it happens. You are stopped by a man or a woman who wants directions to a place. As you try to think of the best route to direct the lost traveler, someone stops, stares at the traveler and exclaims something like “Bishop (or Prophet), it’s good to see you!” After this greeting, you are left out of the conversation as the new entrant thanks the Prophet for his prayers which resulted in a sum of money multiplying by two miraculously. The prophet offers to repeat the same if the new entrant is not in a hurry. Before your very eyes, the entrant removes a large denomination note from a purse and the prophet wraps it in a handkerchief and asks you to hold it tight. After a brief prayer, you are asked to open the handkerchief and your consternation, the money has doubled. It is at this point that you are hooked (hook line and sinker) and the rest will be history if you do not run away at this point. My acquaintance gave an expensive watch to the prophet with the promise on opening there would be two watches. The Prophet said “Close your eyes and prey,” and when my acquaintance opened the handkerchief after some time, the Prophet had disappeared and the watches too. There were some stones in the handkerchief and since I am neither a Prophet nor a magician, do not ask me how this is done.

Do not display valuables

Probably this goes without saying but I will say it anyway. Leave valuables at home, or otherwise keep them out of sight. Hold tightly on a camera when in use and put it out of sight after the shots. Of course if you are travelling in a group you are less vulnerable. Do not leave a laptop in a locked car, even under the seat. I have no idea how they sniff it out but they do, and will damage the car lock to get it. Do not use the back pocket for your wallet. The nerves around that area are not very good under jeans and other trouser material. Gold earrings and necklaces are for the chauffer driven not pedestrians. Women have had their ears damaged when earrings are ripped off by thugs who must get away on foot quick. I once saw a woman with bleeding scratch marks on her chest when a necklace was ripped off.

All in all, Nairobi must rank as one of the safest Cities in the world. Most guns are in the hands of the police and the army. The few in the hands of thugs are used at night when it is easy to conceal them. When they are used during the day, they are rarely fired as doing so might make the getaway precarious for the offenders. So if you are a visitor to the city, enjoy your stay without undue worries. Be alert to your surroundings and avoid walking alone.

The Macmillan Memorial Library, managed by the City Council of Nairobi
The Macmillan Memorial Library, managed by the City Council of Nairobi | Source

Friendly chats in public buses and Matatus…

A matatu is an informal form of transport, usually a thirteen seater Nissan minivan. Some of these minivans have formed cooperatives and are operated professionally. If the passenger next to you is overly friendly, be cautious but do not be overly alarmed. It is Kenyan to be friendly. You should get very concerned if the fellow has a juice in a paper packet and appears to have some to spare in a bag. Should he offer you the spare pack, which will seemingly look safe and unopened, reject the offer. Two people I know who are not new to Nairobi have fallen for this trick and ended up in a hospital ward for some three or four days. The Drink is spiked, probably by syringing. The con artist will have selected you well and will end up harvesting your wallet or flashy mobile phone. And don’t ask later why the other passengers did not come to your rescue. But the time you take the drink, you will have been engaged in your pet topics and talked like old buddies from high school. These cons can discuss any topic on earth, so by asking you the right question they will be on to your pet subjects before without you realizing it.

A view of the New Stanley Hotel. the round building at the far centre is the Hilton Hotel.
A view of the New Stanley Hotel. the round building at the far centre is the Hilton Hotel. | Source
Statue commemorating the Africans soldiers and porters of world war 1 and 2 on Kenyatta Avenue
Statue commemorating the Africans soldiers and porters of world war 1 and 2 on Kenyatta Avenue | Source

Having a drink in a pub or discotheque?

When you visit a bar, café or discotheque, keep a close eye on your drink. Leaving your drink unattended for a few minutes could be disastrous. A pill may be dropped into the drink. When you return to the same drink, you could go into an unforgettable slumber, if you live that is. Well, most people live but the trauma cannot be erased easily, not to mention the memory when it returns. Only the person dropping the pill knows the purpose for the despicable action, but it is usually to rob you, or in case of women, rape!

In a story repeated in the Daily Nation of 16th April 2012, a University student who realized too late that she had been drugged in such a manner ran away into a taxi where she collapsed. She was later raped by the Taxi driver. The man then acted 'the good samaritan' and abandoned her at a hospital. All along she was vaguely aware of what was happening and was able to recount her ordeal. According to tests carried out at the hospital, she ad been drugged with rohypnol. In other cases, a person willingly sniffs at a perfume. Sniffing at perfumes before buying is such an ordinary occurrence that crooks know that few will think twice when offered the opportunity. It is even claimed that the criminal act of turning a person into a zombie can be achieved with a mere handshake. One drug called scopolamine can be absorbed through the skin according to doctors.

Benzodiazepine which is used legally in hospitals can have devastating consequences in the hands of crooks. It is a stress relieving tranquilizer that causes “memory lapses, confusion and drowsiness.” Imagine what happens when the dose exceeds what is recommended! Some drugs when in the hands of criminals can cause long-term medical problems for the victim.

The University of Nairobi, main campus
The University of Nairobi, main campus | Source
A frontal View of the entrance to the Main Campus, University of Nairobi
A frontal View of the entrance to the Main Campus, University of Nairobi | Source

Mbilia Bell of Congo sings about Nairobi

Statue of Mau Mau hero, Dedan Kimathi on Kimathi Street
Statue of Mau Mau hero, Dedan Kimathi on Kimathi Street | Source


Submit a Comment
  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    6 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Hello, AfricaResource,

    Compared to other big cities like New York, London or even Lagos, I believe Nairobi's bad reputation is exagerated. Many people will come to your rescue if alerted to your misfortune and even arrest the criminal, after beating him up of course. But as you say, one has to be always on the look out for that opportunistic bad element.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • AfricaResource profile image


    6 years ago from Dorking, Surrey, United Kingdom

    Theres no question that Nairobi has a bad reputation, robbery, car jackings and violence always seem to make the news although i have certainly never witnessed any of this myself on the 4 visits i have made to the city. There are many great, safe areas within the city but as the hub reiterates it's imperative you look after your personal belongings whilst roaming the city streets.


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