The US State Department renewed their official travel warning for Kenya a few weeks ago. Given the violent protests that broke out during the 2007/8 elections, this may not seem too unreasonable given the fact that Kenyans will go back to the polls on March 4th. However, I recently went to Kenya and I'll give you a few reasons why I did not hesitate to book a safari - (and a great one it was too)!
Firstly, the US State Department has consistently failed to slap a travel warning on other countries where violence is more widespread, and in areas where tourists actually visit. Cairo in Egypt is an obvious example. Sixty people were killed in Cairo this week, but apparently it is quite safe for US visitors to still plan a trip to see the Pyramids, according to the US State Department.
I just read a report about 6 tourists getting raped at a resort in Acapulco, and to be fair, there is a travel warning out for Mexico. But the first sentence reads: "Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day".
The Kenyan Travel Warning starts off: The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya. U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas. It then proceeds to give facts and figures about violence, none of which involves tourists or US Citizens, beyond a single case on the Coast two years ago.
What I am saying is that the US State Department is not just guided by the principles of keeping its citizens abroad safe, but is equally guided by politics. Kenya does not matter to the US either economically, or politically. So issuing a Travel Warning for violence that occurs in some areas, that may or may not affect its citizens traveling there, is not a big deal. Egypt has been up in flames many times over the past year, and not a single alert or warning has been issued.
Yes, there is violence in Kenya, but there is violence everywhere, and in Kenya it is quite easy to avoid especially when you are on safari. Have a look at a map of Kenya, and you'll see that the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu and other popular national parks where safaris take place, are far away from any recent spates of violence. A lion kill is as violent as you get in these parts.
If Kenya does experience fall-out from its elections this March, and there really was a threat to your safety, then you could ask your tour operator to book you somewhere else instead. Personally, I would not miss out on one of the best safari destinations on earth, because there might be a possibility of some violence, in places far away from where I was going to be. Let's give the good people of Kenya a chance shall we? Without tourism, thousands of families lose their jobs and their children don't get to eat. Without tourism, wildlife conservation would not exist and none of our grand children will get to see an elephant or rhino in the wild.
I would never encourage anyone to go anywhere if they feel it is unsafe. It's your vacation, the point is to relax. But I'm just urging you to do some research yourself and make up your own mind. Africa gets way too much bad press and myths about the continent abound. Talk to people who have actually been on vacation in Kenya, I'm sure they've had way more positive experiences than negative. I know I certainly have and I would plan a safari to Kenya any time.
Image © Anouk Zijlma - Masai Mara at Dawn - No Political Protest in Sight!