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31 Jan 2013
Numerous threats hang over Kenya as it heads to the polls on March 4. As journalists and news crews prepare to cover the election, they are advised to take note of the security situation there.
More than 1,000 people died and 600,000 were displaced when inter-ethnic fighting broke out around the disputed last election in 2007.
In April this year, four Kenyans – including Uhuru Kenyatta, a frontrunner in the 2013 election - will face trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
And with the stakes for political power so high, the risk of local violence during the race to replace president Mwai Kibaki is apparent.
Threats ahead of the upcoming Kenyan elections
The tension surrounding the elections is now fuelled by the political unrest and a degree of anti-western feeling in the northern African countries. Kidnapping in some areas in support of insurgents operating in and around Mali is just one of many acts of violence predicted during the upcoming Kenyan elections.
A number of fatal ambushes were reported last month on the road from Archers Post to Marsabit. The MP for Saku, Hussein Tari Sasura, was fired at by an individual dressed in a police uniform while being driven on the road.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also reported a spate of grenade, IED and armed attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa, and said that further attacks are likely. It says there is a possibility of attacks specifically targeting election-related activity.
An unconfirmed report that an unknown number of hostages have been taken from Mandera in Kenya on the shared Somalia/ Ethiopia border may be seen as just the start. The hostage takers claim that they will execute the hostages if al-Qaeda suspects held in Kenya are not released by 14 Feb, so already the events of the region are starting to affect this election.
General top tips for travel to Kenya
1. Time is GMT +3 hours
2. Normal three pin plugs UK style
3. Only plan to use one credit card if you have to, so clear before you take it and use one with a low limit, so you can determine exactly what has been spent, in case of fraud.
4. Don’t use debit cards in Africa if at all possible, you are more protected by credit cards for loss.
5. If you have to use an ATM, use one inside a bank
6. Take cash – Sterling, US Dollars and Euros and make sure you have Kenyan Shilling- small denominations
7. Ensure you have high factor sunscreen if working outside, as the sun is hot, but remember it can also be cold at night, so take appropriate clothing.
8. Expect heavy rain showers during the rainy seasons, so take a strong umbrella or light raincoat. The “long rains” are from March-June so around the time of the elections. Be prepared as they can be torrential.
9. Take mosquito repellent, if going outside Nairobi and assess the areas you are going to for malaria risk; consult your doctor about which vaccinations you require and whether or not you need anti malaria tablets.
10. Ensure you carry photocopies of your travel documents and other vital documents as well as an electronic copy on a flash disk/ on the internet in case your originals get stolen or lost.
Flights to Kenya and getting in/immigration
It is easy to fly to Kenya on one of the many regular airlines operating. The airport can be mayhem at certain times of the day and the usual airport scams may be expected. Have an agreed identification process with your driver (know their name, phone number and the make and model/registration number of their car). It is easy to get picked up by the wrong person.
Kenya is an English speaking country, but bear in mind your accent will be different and allow people to get used to your accent by speaking slightly slower at first and more clearly. Try to avoid slang.
UK citizens need a visa. Depending on how long and what you are doing you may need to get this in advance. You can get visas at the airport on arrival, however you will need to check if this is possible with your citizenship and for what you are doing and length of stay.
It is always useful to have a letter from your company stating that you will return to the UK and what your position is there, as well as to show you have the funds to support yourself whilst there. Or some sort of accreditation to your company and preferably some sort of press card. You will need to be accredited to film in Kenya, after you arrive.
It is worth having a yellow fever certificate in case you go on anywhere else in Africa after this assignment. If you are arriving from somewhere which has yellow fever, you may need to show the certificate.
You will have to fill in a landing card on arrival and another one for exit, prior to going through immigration.
Be careful about using personal addresses; bear in mind your own personal security when travelling. Try to use your work address for the airport as well as the hotel.
Your luggage gets delivered on belts on the other side of passport control, after your passport has been stamped. Trolleys are free, but if you have a lot of kit, you are better to hire a porter who will then push and shove on your behalf if required to get your bags.
The area where the baggage comes out is open and you sometimes need to show your luggage tags as you leave to prove the bags are yours, so don’t throw them away. Keep a close eye on things as it all comes out to ensure that nobody else takes your bags. If your host has a protocol officer you can use them to get you through.
There are a lot of good hotels in Nairobi, however, if you are staying down town, then watch your personal security at night and be aware that it is inadvisable to walk around at night.
Do use the safes in the rooms as long as they are attached to something but don't leave all your money there (split it up).
Moving around Kenya
If you are going to drive around Nairobi at night, then pay attention. Carjacking and robbery are common at traffic lights and as people arrive home. Around the time of the elections expect to find more security checkpoints and have your documents ready.
Make sure you know if there are curfews, which may be in place if there is violence. Make sure you have a good fixer and driver, know where you are going, be prepared for anything.
Be conscious that outside Nairobi, there are few streetlights and cars can sometimes drive without headlights in the more rural areas.
If you are going up country, then make sure your vehicle is prepared and you have adequate provisions. Punctures do happen so make sure you have a spare tyre and jack to change it.
You need to have good sources of information to make sure you know what is going on, speak to local contacts and ensure your driver/fixer is tapped into the local media and security forces if possible, so you get up to date information.
The water is not always the cleanest to drink, so don't drink the water at all; use bottled water. If you want to be ultra careful, brush your teeth in it too. Be careful of what you eat outside Nairobi (no salads etc) as hygiene standards are very different. Take water purification tablets, as there is no guarantee of always getting bottled water up country and you may run out.
MAKE SURE ALL YOUR INNOCULATIONS ARE UP TO DATE.
Make sure you have good travel insurance, as Kenya does not have free hospitals for foreigners. Malaria tablets are a must if in the season and going to malaria areas.
There is talk of the Kenyan Government shutting down the mobile phone networks and the internet in the event of civil uprising. INSI suggests that, to get around this, you buy multiple SIM cards from all the providers in Kenya as they may only shut down the "Big Two" at first (Airtel and Safaricom) so Orange and the YU network may work.
Ensure you have an effective and reliable means to transmit out of the country.
Take an unlocked phone, and use the local simcards. You will have to top up on credit. Make sure you top up to the maximum and top up whenever you can.
If you can get access to a satphone it is recommended to take one to be safe, if you are going up country. Kenya has good mobile coverage, although out of Nairobi it can sometimes be intermittent and see above for shutting it off in times of unrest. The internet can sometimes be unreliable at times in the hotels.
In the event of power and comms going down, having a battery operated radio would be useful as many Embassies will be sending out communiques over the radio and this will allow you to receive those.
Kit to take
Take a good first aid kit with a set of needles and dental emergency kit too as the hospitals can sometimes lack equipment out of Nairobi
Take torches, as electricity often fails
Take all hostile environment emergency equipment – plug for sinks, wet wipes (as water often goes off) etc. 2 pin adaptor with surge protector for electronic kit.
Equipment clearance on arrival in Kenya – INSI has heard from sources in Nairobi that Filming Licenses/Permits will be required to clear equipment arriving into the country even if it is only for news coverage (currently equipment for news coverage doesn't need a temporary Customs Bond)
Check nearer the time of the elections as to what the regulations are, so that you avoid any nasty surprises or huge fees on arrival to purchase customs bonds.
Contact INSI if you require an equipment list or further information for working in hostile environments
Hannah Storm (Director of INSI) -email@example.com
Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are not meant to be negative in nature, they are meant to assist the international traveller in being prepared to work in Kenya. If they cause offence to anyone, sincerest apologies are offered in advance. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems as a result of this advice.