Last week, a group of my ILO colleagues flew into Nairobi from Europe, Asia and other parts of Africa for a week of internal workshop and training. After a long day at work, as a group of 10 foreigners we enjoyed a pleasant dinner at the chic-stylish Artecaffe at The Oval. This popular restaurant was placed in Westlands – a commercial district and affluent neighborhood of Nairobi. It was 10pm and we decided to enjoy another drink at a buzzling bar just down the road – 900m away from the restaurant – before heading home. We were caught in a moment of hesitation in whether we should walk or call an Uber – a taxi service which is regarded to be convenient, inexpensive and safe in Kenya. Yet it seems almost absurd to call a taxi with such short distance, thus as a group we decided to walk.
Walking in packs, we came to encounter two thin Kenyan young men on the street. One minute everything was fine – we were chatting away – then wham –these two men forcefully grabbed onto one of my female colleagues’ handbag and attempted to run off with it. Out of reflex, my colleague hanged on tight to her purse. These opportunistic thefts picked up a rock on the ground and at this moment my other colleague had already given him a punch on the face. This incident of hasty snatching caused an unruly-chaos and ultimately these nasty thieves ran away with nothing in their hands. Whilst we were lucky that nothing atrocious had occurred, the dangers of living in “Nairobbery” remain real as a resident here.
After the Westgate attack, most Kenyans would agree that the security measures have greatly increased around the city. It would not be difficult to notice the exhaustive security checks before entering any shopping malls, hotels and residential compounds. At the entrance to supermarket parking lots, security guards also thoroughly check cars. Furthermore, at higher-end housing compounds, which are protected with electric fences, guards control goes in and out. Although crime rate has dropped steadily in the country, Nairobi continue to be cited as one of the most dangerous cities in Africa. In a recent survey, it is shown that four in ten Nairobians have been victims of crime in the city in the last one year. Armed robberies in broad daylight and few years ago terrorist attacks in public spaces, almost seem to be the order of the day in the Kenyan capital.
There are many factors tied to crime in Nairobi: low wages, high unemployment among urban youths, and social segregation between the low and middle- to upper-class. The corruption that is prevalent among Nairobi’s police force further exacerbates the problem.
As an expatriate living in a developing country, I understand that despite any best efforts to ensure one’s 100% safety and security in Kenya, just like any other country, is not devoid of unfortunate incidents. It is my responsibility to be vigilant about my own safety. Yet, to me, it is disheartening to know that while residents in wealthy Nairobi neighborhoods enjoy some sort of 24-hour security, the reality in the peri-urban areas is very different. Kenya’s police to population ratio is much lower in neighborhoods abandoned by the government, like the slums. If expatriates continue to worry about their safety with a driver and a car, could one imagine the fear of living in a slum neighborhood like Kibera? Why should any human beings be robbed of their rights to physical safety in their very home and neighborhood?