News & resources

Situation Update - Kenya

Back to blog

SECURITY IMPLICATIONS FOR FOURTH SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT ASSEMBLY, 11-15 MARCH 2019


Kenya UN environment

  • UN Environment Assembly delegates and related stakeholders to meet at the United Nations Gigir complex in Nairobi – located adjacent to the US Embassy.

  • Meeting follows first major terrorist attack on Kenya, external to border regions since 2013 Westgate Mall shooting.

  • November 2018, UN monitoring group warns that al-Shabaab continues to pose high threat to Kenyan and regional security.

  • On 4 February, US Embassy in Nairobi issues security message concerning 'credible threat to Westerners in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nanyuki, and coastal areas of Kenya’.


Situation

The Fourth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly and its associated meetings will be held on 11-15 March 2019 in Nairobi. High-level representatives as well as other environmentalist groups/stakeholders will meet at the UN’s Gigir complex, which is situated adjacent to the US Embassy and the 2,000-acre Karura Forest. Daily, the complex hosts approximately 3,500 members, however during major conferences, attendance can reach in excess of 6,000 people. 

Main access is via the UN Avenue – off Limuru Road with vehicles able to drop off their passengers at a drive-in space in front of the gate. The pedestrian access is through the Pavilion, north of the main vehicle access gates opposite the United States Embassy. The UN Department of Safety and Security has pre-approved and rate negotiated a number of hotels in the vicinity. 

This UN Assembly meeting follows the first major terrorist attack to occur external to Kenya’s border regions with Somalia since the 2013 Westgate Mall shooting, in which 67 people were killed. On 15 January, four al-Shabaab gunmen attacked the DusitD2 complex situated at 14 Riverside Drive junction, killing 21 people - including foreign nationals - and injuring others in the process. 

On 4 February, the US Embassy in Nairobi issued a security message stating 'credible information indicates Westerners may be targeted by extremists in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nanyuki, and coastal areas of Kenya. Followed by a Kenyan police assessment that a known al-Shabaab militant had recently conducted surveillance activities north of Nairobi at Cedar Mall in Nanyuki, Laikipia County, also raising concerns that British military personnel and other expatriates are likely targets. 

Prior to the DusitD2 attack, in November 2018, the regional UN monitoring group reaffirmed the real and ongoing security threat posed by al-Shabaab to Kenyan and East African security agencies. Specifically warning that persistent violations on the ban of the charcoal trade (through Oman), were providing a main source of al-Shabaab funding. Concerns were also raised regarding the presence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) faction in Somalia. 

In addition, it is reported that the Kenyan intelligence services were warned by western and regional security officials, of al-Shabaab plans to attack high-profile targets in the east African country around Christmas and the New Year, with no known precautions having been taken by Kenyan officials, as they deemed the information too vague.

All of which follows an increase in US airstrikes on the militant group, which Kenya publicly supports. According to US Africa Command, unmanned drones operating from Somalia and neighbouring countries conducted 47 strikes in 2018, up from 31 in 2017.

Analysis

In claiming responsibility for the DusitD2 attack, the Somalian-based group said the attack was “a response to the witless remarks of US president, Donald Trump, and his declaration of al-Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Israel.” Although, US military ‘intervention' in Somalia likely contributed to the motivations of al-Shabaab, in terms of demonstrating that their capability has not been downgraded, the target (DusitD2 complex) does not appear to fully support this standpoint.

Instead evidencing a broader agenda to affect western confidence in Kenya, thus affecting the ability of the Kenyan authorities to attract investment and support, which in turn can fund counter-terrorism programmes. Moreover, al-Shabaab will be seeking to influence public opinion, in so much that Kenya's involvement in the international military campaign in Somalia negatively affects its own security.

Meanwhile, and of particular concern for the authorities and the international community, subsequent investigations appear to demonstrate prior warnings, as well as a Kenyan support network for the attackers; evidencing the extent to which Al-Shabaab can operate undetected within Kenya. This also raises questions about the effectiveness of the Kenyan authorities in protecting the public; particularly in light of the exacerbated time (the following morning) it took security forces to end the assault.

In light of the DusitD2 attack, and recent security warnings from various sources including the UN itself, further terrorist attacks are likely across the country, and Nairobi remains an aspirational target for al-Shabaab. For which, the US Embassy warning broadly reiterates.

While there are no current threats against specific locations in Nairobi, attacks can take place in any location. Potential targets include locations affiliated with the government or security forces, crowded places and areas frequented by tourists, including hotels and shopping complexes as evidenced in the recent attacks and counter-terrorism operations.

In February 2018, police foiled a terror attack against the Supreme Court and other government buildings in Nairobi. Following a bomb attack against the Supreme Court, the militants planned to carry out attacks against the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Parliament Buildings, City Hall, the Technical University of Kenya, Central Bus Station, Jeevanjee Gardens, Serena Hotel, the University of Nairobi, and Milimani law courts.

 
Implications

In being the first major international diplomatic event to be hosted by Kenya since the DusitD2 attack, The Fourth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly and its associated meetings will be a high profile target for insurgent outfits and in particular al-Shabaab. Comments made by the UN monitoring group in November last year - relating to violations on the charcoal trade - could further legitimise the UN as a valid target, in addition to the US Embassy, which is adjacent to the UN complex and a high profile target in itself. 

Security measures and vigilance will undoubtedly be elevated in the aftermath of the Nairobi attack for the protection of delegates, especially at the Gigir complex. However, the extent to which visitors will be protected in the wider area of Nairobi will be heavily dependent on the measures taken by individuals and their organisations. 

The UN has promoted its list of approved hotels, taxi services and its plans to operate branded counters at all the arrival lounges of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), which should reassure attendees regarding their personal security. However, such an overt presence provides its own security challenges, as does publicly issuing a list of approved hotels and taxi firms. Moreover, the fact a drive-in space will be available in front of the main gate to the UN site will require personnel to exercise heightened caution.

Any increased security measures will also likely disrupt travel to/from the airport, the UN offices, as well as any major accommodation site.

Note - the UN offices in Nairobi will be a weapons-free zone except for authorised security officers and those with prior authorisation.

Advice

  • Accommodation Safety and Security

    • Stay no higher than the third or fourth floor of a hotel and in rooms on the same side as the front of the accommodation or facing a parking lot. This is to facilitate fire evacuation.
    • Travellers should become familiar with all points of exit and entry, especially in relation to where their room and emergency exit points are. If possible, know how to find exit points in the dark.
    • Accommodations with “safe rooms” are preferable to those without.
    • Valuables should be locked within your room or stored centrally with authorities at the hotel. This also relates to sensitive documents, including personal and commercial.
    • Liaise with the concierge or hotel security officer to ascertain information about emergency evacuation procedures.

    Terrorism

    • Stay well-informed of the security environment and the threats in the area and your destination.
    • Consider undergoing hostile environment awareness training if venturing into areas with a high terrorism threat.
    • At airports, minimise the time spent in public areas, which is generally less well-protected. Move quickly from the check-in counter to the secured areas. Upon arrival, leave the airport as soon as possible.
    • Be vigilant in public areas and places that attract foreigners and Westerners, including hotels, restaurants, bars and crowded places like markets, malls or sporting events.
    • Be vigilant around significant dates and religious periods.
    • Avoid routines and vary patterns of life activities such as time and route of travel to minimise the risk of kidnapping and attack.
    • Keep mobile phones charged and with you, with emergency numbers programmed in.
    • Be discreet on social media about yourself and your travel and social plans.
    • Maintain a low profile and keep your travel itineraries discreet.
    • Report any suspicious persons, items and activities to the nearest authorities as soon as possible.
    • Identify places where you could seek refuge in an emergency.