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Theft in Kenya

HANS-GEORG MICHNA

Copyright @ 2000-2017 Hans-Georg Michna.


My own observations

One thing in Kenya that I usually have to deal with is theft. During my stays in Kenya I use special methods to detect break-ins into my luggage. Occasionally I set up traps for thieves.

As a tourist you're in a somewhat helpless situation. You cannot always carry all your luggage on you, you have to leave it behind sometimes, typically in your hotel or lodge room. When you do that, your luggage is at risk to be opened and possibly made a bit lighter.

What I found is that the risk of at least one of my bags being opened is very high, higher than 50% in each lodge or other place where I stayed overnight. Usually, wherever I left luggage unattended, at least one bag was opened. Even when you stay with friends, the house employees will open your luggage, if they have a chance. They have a higher inhibition of stealing from their employers, but they do that too if they believe that it will not be noticed. (This has happened to me too.)

The opening is done crudely. The potential thieves do not go to the trouble of getting your bag back into exactly the same state as it was before. Thus you can perform very simple tests. For example, one of the simplest traps and tests is to leave all zippers of all your bags open a little bit, by, say, half an inch or such that one finger fits in the opening. When somebody opens them and closes them again, the zippers will usually be fully closed, and you know that somebody has checked the contents of your bag. More sophisticated tests are to affix something like a hair or to put out a bait, like a purse with a variety of bank notes in it while you keep a written record of those bank notes. That latter test is rather boring, because in Kenya the score is near 100%. In most cases a small part of the money is stolen, and in a few cases the entire purse is stolen. Rarely will the purse remain untouched.

After many years of such observations and tests a body of experience accumulated on the topic of theft from the point of view of the tourist.

Not always is something actually stolen. The room attendants are primarily looking for cash, but sometimes they find little things they cannot resist, and they steal them. The plan is to steal in such a way that the victim doesn't notice, at least not before departure. If, by checking your bags, the potential thief doesn't find anything enticing, he may back off and try somewhere else.

Things most likely to be stolen are first and foremost cash, things that are directly useful to the thief, like clothes (a t-shirt) or a pocket knife. The thief apparently judges the likelihood of the theft being noticed by judging the amount present and the location in your bag. Things that are somewhere deep in your bag, underneath other things, seem to be more likely to get stolen than things you probably use every day. For example, if you carry a whole collection of t-shirts in one bag, then it is more likely that one of them gets taken than if you have just one.

Another tactic is to delay the laundry in the hope that you are forgetting about it and leave your entire laundry behind. It is anyway recommendable not to leave any laundry unless you are staying for two full days at the very least, and leave it early, just after you arrive, so there is plenty of time to get it back.

I've had several cases in one particular year where things had gone missing. One example was that I extended my stay in one place for another night, but the room attendant apparently didn't get to know this, and the preferred time for theft is always the morning of your departure while you're sitting at the breakfast table. The room attendant took a flashlight. After finding out I asked her into my room and talked her into giving it back. She pretended that the flashlight had slipped into my pillow and was taken with the bed laundry by mistake.

It is interesting that the attitude towards theft in Kenya is very different, compared to most tourists' home countries. In Kenya theft is not seen as anything morally deplorable. Quite to the contrary, it is seen as very normal, and few Kenyans would assume that anybody would miss a chance to take something.

Addendum: However, after reading Ben Singer's email (see below) and agreeing with him, I have to qualify this. My statement certainly applies to all places made for tourists. It does not necessarily apply to the streets or any other places where tourists are not typical. I still cannot say for sure where exactly theft is widespread and accepted and where it is not tolerated.

In conversations among Kenyans, in which I happened to take part, I have, for example, heard a Kenyan lodge manager (of Block Hotels & Lodges in this case, but there is no doubt that this is typical for all tourist lodges) boast about how he cheated one of his (richer) clients.

Even well paid managers will not miss a chance to steal even ridiculously small amounts of money. Also, offering trust does not create any perceptible obligation for the trusted Kenyan to reciprocate that trust. Quite to the contrary, it may make it more likely that the trust is abused. The trusting person is viewed as stupid, rather than benevolent or clever, and the story of the trusting person is told later, because it sounds so odd to the Kenyan ear.

Another observation is that, when something gets stolen and you complain to the manager, the manager will never do the thing you would normally expect, namely call the likely thief and attempt to uncover the truth. Instead the manager will first ask what exactly got stolen, especially the exact amount of money, then he will immediately try all kinds of obfuscation tactics. The same happens when you go to the police. I don't know for sure what happens between manager (or police) and the thief later, but it seems likely that the manager will use his information against the thief in some way that is advantageous for the manager. You might as well not complain in the first place. In some cases it may be possible to get the stolen good back from the thief directly, but you have to be very careful to (a) allow the thief to keep some equivalent gain or, which is more difficult, put up a highly credible threat, and (b) open a way for the thief to deny the theft credibly, like explaining it as a mistake or misplacement. This is very difficult and often impossible, but it may be worth trying if something got stolen that has a much higher actual value to you than to the thief. If you try such tactics, you cannot talk to anybody else about it, only to the thief, because otherwise he will not admit to anything and will try to avoid any possible proof. However, when it is obvious that the goods were not misplaced, but actually stolen, then your chances of getting them back are slim, because the thief will strongly avoid yielding any firm proof, and if you promise considerable amounts of money, it is difficult to carry out the trade safely, as you're still trying to trade with someone you cannot trust.

This opens the way to create some trouble by turning the tables. For example, when something is stolen from you and you feel like complaining, you could add a lie and try to state believably that a large amount of money was taken from you in cash at the same time. I have never done that, but I guess that it would create a rather odd situation between manager (or police) and thief. I have in fact experienced cases in which indeed a large amount of money was stolen, and it was quite obvious, though not ultimately proven, who stole it. In that case I could even trace the path of the stolen money to another person (a relative of the thief), but then there was no way to proceed, as the police applied the usual tactics and my personal interest in the case was limited and mostly theoretical.

So what is a tourist to do? Small locks on the bags help, but zippers are then sometimes forced open at their ends, allowing the thief to defend himself by stating that your bag is defective and things may have fallen out. Locks may still make thefts less frequent, as some potential thieves may give up on your luggage and move on to other clients, since most luggage is unprotected.

2006-09-03 – Elaine Estern mentioned another, similar method: electrical ties, small plastic strips that are pulled into a loop and cannot be opened without destroying them. You can get them from electrical supplies stores. Like locks, they can be circumvented, but only by destroying them and thereby making the theft obvious. One advantage is that airplane security may not allow locks on certain flights, but the ties can always be broken with scissors or a similar tool, if the luggage is to be inspected.

I have not experimented with more sophisticated, technical theft protection devices, but some newer electronic devices may work well in Kenya because nobody knows and understands them yet. Examples would be hidden video cameras or theft alarms by radio. Bluff might also work, but you have to consider that potential thieves may be rather uneducated and stupid and might not even recognize anything that looks like a theft protection device. A simple method for partial protection is to build an elaborate tower of bags, such that it is difficult to manipulate anything without destroying the tower. A better way is to leave most bags openly in the room, but hide the most valuable ones in a cabinet or wardrobe. If there are drawers, you could put your valuable bag into a drawer where it is not visible before the drawer is opened. When a potential thief looks at the wardrobe and it appears to be entirely empty, he is not likely to pull all the drawers to check for hidden bags. I have never had any bags manipulated that were hidden like this.

The best way to protect your valuables is still to have them with you at all times. I carry all my important valuables either in my pockets (like money) or in my camera case or, nowadays, shoulder bag, which I carry with me even when I go to the breakfast table.

I have witnessed one theft of a camera that was placed on the floor underneath the table (a waiter dropping a plate to distract, another waiter snatching the camera, the usual discussion with the manager, etc., in the restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel in Nairobi), but this will not happen in a wildlife lodge if you take minimal precautions that your camera case or your bag cannot be taken from you without noticing.

I encourage you to set up the occasional trap by checking your luggage zippers or set up a bait of a few shilling bank notes to learn a bit more about this phenomenon. I fear that this lack of culture is a definite hindrance for the Kenyan economy, because business is much more difficult when you can't trust anybody.

Another phenomenon is direct and indirect theft from the employer. Every time I visit Kenya I learn at least one new trick how employees cheat their employers. The last one I learned in one of the Serena lodges. The waiter wrote a bill for two soft drinks I had consumed. Right in front of me, without any attempt to conceal it, he pulled one of the carbon papers to the side such that the amount, written near the upper right corner of the receipt, was not copied to one of the copies underneath. The plan is to write a different figure onto that sheet, in this case obviously the price of only one soft drink, and to pocket the difference. I found it odd that the employee did this for such a small amount.

The widespread theft and fraud makes it very difficult for government organizations to collect money. One example is that all possible schemes to collect nature reserve entrance fees keep being fooled. The most obvious for me has always been the entrance fee to Maasai Mara. Entire highway toll stations, like the one near Naivasha, have been built and abandoned, because it proved impossible to extract the desired money and actually get it from the people in the toll booths.

KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) is now using a new scheme of smart cards, where tourists transfer money onto the cards, then pay with the smart card, as they enter Nairobi National Park and presumably later all KWS controlled nature reserves. I'm wondering how long it will take to fool this system, but I'm sure it won't take long. It will be interesting to see what black market rate develops for residents' cards (residents pay much less), and I wouldn't be very surprised to see collusion between the money collectors and the rangers at the gate, especially if the offices are not far from each other as in the case of Nairobi National Park. However, so far the system appears to have held up better than I thought.

It seems to me that most Kenyans genuinely do not understand how trust works in the industrialized countries and how most people there are brought up from early childhood in the strong belief that stealing and lying is something that's morally wrong, reinforced through early pursuit and punishment even for small children. However, some knowledge has seeped in sufficiently that at least stealing is something you do not talk about very openly, at least not in the face of foreigners. Hence it is now difficult to discuss it openly, and it is not dealt with openly in newspapers either. However, when you read the papers, you can read about this problem between the lines. Still few people seem to understand the link with conducting business and the burden this constitutes for the economy.

As the subject is by far not fully explored and much more information is needed, I encourage you to write to me about your experience with luggage tests and actual theft cases. I am not very interested in impressions or beliefs, only in facts and findings. Also, my knowledge about moral stances on theft between Kenyans is spotty, although there are some indications that theft is widespread and that there is no fundamental difference between stealing from a tourist and stealing from a countryman. Any further information is welcome.

This article does not deal with robbery. I have experienced robberies in Kenya, more precisely in Nairobi ("Nairobbery"), but there is not enough knowledge on robberies to give any advice, short of the usual recommendations of not carrying any valuables, especially not visibly, making it difficult to open the car from the outside, i.e. lock doors, close windows, avoid any temptations like visible bags, valuables, devices etc., and avoiding big cities altogether, especially city parks and other areas with good escape routes, and especially at night. If you are robbed, concentrate on keeping your life and health and do not resist, especially if the robbers are armed. On roads outside settlements, if you happen to see a suspicious road block in time, try to turn back and escape.

Hans-Georg Michna

Letters

2001-04-02 – The author of this letter prefers to stay anonymous:

I have been in Kenya probably 20 times in the last 15 years. I tried to find a hotel which wasn't too expensive, yet was a relatively safe place to stay. I started out at the Ambassador—& due to slow deterioration & lack of security when storing luggage, etc., I stopped going there. There was/is always a huge crowd out front waiting for buses—not the best place to be trying to move around in with luggage & other more portable articles.

After a search of other moderate-priced hotels (some with zero security!) I decided that I would make the "680 Hotel" my "home-away-from-home". There was always someone there upon arrival to take your luggage into the hotel & they stayed with it until time to go to your room. They then went up with you & were very courteous. Each floor has a 24-hour guard sitting/sleeping close to the elevator & at times they made notes as to who came & went. Other times no notes were made & the guard seemed indifferent—a boring job by anyone's criteria. The guards also followed you now & then, to make sure you went into a room.

Another job of the guard was to "stand guard" outside the doorway of the room that was currently being "cleaned". This was supposed to be a deterrent to the cleaning person in their attempt to "clean" the luggage, etc. I became rather lax in this hotel on one occasion, and left my briefcase unlocked. When I returned later in the day, I discovered that I had been relieved of two US $100 bills from my money purse inside the briefcase. I knew there was no way to prove anything, so next morning I decided to set a trap—as you did. I left several things sitting around (which the cleaning staff would have NO reason to touch) & left a couple of zippers partly open—& went for breakfast—putting the "clean the room" sign on the door. When I came back, it was quite obvious that someone had been into ALL of my traps! Nothing was taken, because I didn't leave anything of value.

I decided to talk to the Manager. Very polite, etc. He called in the head of Security, who took me several floors beneath the hotel where he had his "office". After explaining the loss of the $200 & my traps that day, he asked me to write out a description of the "loss". (He claimed to be an x-policeman) Then he inquired as to who had cleaned the room when the money was taken & that person was "conveniently" on their day off. I threatened to call the police—but I was leaving the country the next day—so there was really nothing I could do. Talking any further with anyone proved a waste of my time. I am convinced that the fat slob in the basement was "in on the take" as well. He just made excuses & gave the lame impression that he was "in charge" ...

I have been back to the 680 a few times since—& will be there again this Summer. That might sound really dumb, but I now know how things operate there and am prepared to take the proper precautions. I do NOT have the room cleaned. (It's hard to notice sometimes if it was cleaned or not :) anyways!) I put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door & call for fresh towels when I get in for the day. It can take one or two hours to get them unless you establish a specific time—within 15 minutes. I carry a generic DO NOT DISTURB sign with me, because a lot of times there are none. I also have a simple device that attaches to the inside doorknob that senses when someone touched it from the outside. After a 15-second delay it emits a VERY loud squeal, which I am sure can be heard throughout the floor. It re-arms in 60 seconds. I also have resorted to locking everything of value in my Delsey suitcase (two key locks + combo). U.S. Customs told me that they have to destroy the locks on Delsey suitcases—they can't pick them. Samsonite has "one key fits all" & is just a joke. I also take a few pictures with my digital camera just before leaving the room & then compare them to ones I take as soon as I get back.

I know that eventually, if I spend enough time in Kenya—I will lose something again! There are SO many "hungry" people everywhere you go & they're very organized. I see many American tourists walking around with money almost hanging out of their pockets—totally oblivious to their surroundings & to the possibility of theft—or worse.

I think you should expand your website to include "stories" & perhaps add more suggestions for tourists, as they're not—for the most part—even aware that there's a very high probability that they will lose something in Kenya! The 680 has also tried the "delayed laundry" trick & it's something that would be very easy to overlook until you are on the plane or wonder where your clothes got to when you get home!

Kenya is a wonderful country to visit—but that's all nullified by having to be "on guard" 24/7 the whole time you are there! Everyone is IN ON IT—so there's nobody to complain to except your Embassy & then they tell you that "it happens all the time"!

2005-05-28 – from my own travel report:

The kids had their experience with that old Kenyan custom of taking little things from the luggage, particularly money. They had some money in purses in their small backpacks, and they went outside without them while a lodge employee was cleaning up in the tent. They came back unexpectedly, and the employee asked them to stay out of the tent for a few minutes until he was finished.

This was their luck. He was apparently frightened enough to put the money back into the purses and the purses back into the backpacks, but since they looked very similar, he mixed them up and put the money back into the wrong purse. The kids, of course, noticed this. One found his purse in an unusual position and missed KSh 10,000, the other had KSh 10,000 too many. I must admit that I found this funny.

Of course I had advised them that money should always be on the body, never unguarded in a tent, but children never believe their parents and have to collect their own experience.

My computer bag was also opened. The guy apparently had no clue that one has to close the zippers in exactly the same way as they were before opening them.

I keep finding these little thefts strange. They guy may take KSh 10,000, or perhaps much less, in the hope that it remains unnoticed, but the fact alone that I report this here can cost the Mada Hotels chain, to which Fig Tree belongs, many times more than that amount, if only a single tourist reads this or hears other complaints and decides to take his business elsewhere.

Not that it would help much, as the same thing apparently goes on in all lodges I know.

2005-06-17 – a friend wrote:

I see you enjoyed your holiday in Kenya despite the annoying theft all visitors have to put up with. The last time I was there they took my iPod while going through the luggage scan, if you can believe that—I was inconsolable for days.

2005-09-17 – Timothy, a Kenyan now living in the US, wrote:

I am a Kenyan and have been in America for 5 years now. As of fact, I am aware of all the problems that most tourists go through while in Kenya. As I grew up, I had to go through this. As one grows up in a very unfriendly neighborhood, one learns to adapt and get ways to deal with the problem. For example, to carry money around. Leaving money behind is the worst idea.

Often, Kenyans have a presumption that 'foreigners' have lot of money with them and leaving any money in bags would the worst decision. Carrying the money with you is not safe either. Just putting the money in the pocket is almost like advertising it. There are some people who have perfected themselves in stealing money from others pockets. My advise would be one should enquire from the hotel management—make sure is the management—whether they keep money for tourists and if they do, deposit with them only enough money incase of anything. I would advise one to carry credit cards and get money as one need it. Remember to get the phone number to call incase you lose the credit card. As a caution, credit cards cannot be used anywhere. In case of the city I am from—Nairobi—you can get ATMs all over the city. As you go to the rural areas please have cash ready. Nobody value credit cards there.

If you are carrying cash, do as I used to—stashing lot of money I may had in my socks and carrying any cash I might have used in a my safest pocket. With the right kind of socks, you can carry a lot of money and at the same time be safe from anything that may happen on the way. Be cautious though if you opt to do this. Do not get money from the socks as people watch. Use the bathroom or any other place where people are not seeing. Someone might be watching. Always put some money in a position can reach it quickly incase you will be paying for something.

Another tactic you may try is to go as a group always. It is hard to steal from a group of people. Do not be carried away with events, landscape or even however different people may look. Make sure you are always aware of what is in your pocket. Also as another precaution, do not carry with you expensive stuff. Being in Africa the way you are always is good enough. Do not try to make yourself even expensive.

It is a shame that despite how beautiful the country is, people make it hard for others to enjoy nature which is for all of us to share. I would like to provide more help if I can in any way. Email me and will see. Thanks

Thanks, Timothy, for this interesting insight from someone who has grown up in Kenya.

2007-05-15 – Ben Singer wrote:

Just reading your interesting experiences with theft in Kenya, a country I have lived in full-time for nearly two years now.

It surely is a big problem, not only for foreigners. It is an even worse thing for locals, who might earn between $50-$200 dollars a month, to lose a mobile phone or a significant chunk of money. Thieves here will even take someone's shoes if they seem valuable. The classic street-thuggery tactic: A large person with a wooden or metal bar chokes the victim from behind, actually lifting them off the ground while accomplices take shoes, wallet, phone and anything else not attached.

It's happened to me, and while I didn't lose my shoes, it was not nice being left unconscious on a Nairobi street with no money or phone.

But I think you have gotten something a bit wrong in your assessment of the Kenyan “attitude” to theft. It is certainly not seen as something OK here by the vast majority. When thieves are caught on the street, and they often are, there is inevitably a mob scene. At best it ends in a savage beating, but more often in death for the accused thief. People are stoned to death, or doused in gasoline and set on fire, especially in slum areas.

It might seem that the attitude towards stealing from foreigners is more lax. But not necessarily. I witnessed a European couple once get a bag snatched by an unsuspicious looking middle-aged Kenyan woman. She was quickly chased down by a crowd who beat her mercilessly, kicking her in the face, pulling out her hair etc. They might have killed her, had a police officer not casually strolled up and taken her away.

In the end a thief is a thief, and people here have a lot of pent up anger and rage towards such people, regardless of if they have been harmed by the specific thief.

What I think is:

a) Locals have become inured to it in a way. This might seem to contradict a), but it is simply like Aids or malaria in much of Africa. A terrible costly thing that is so common that people live with it, unless there is an obvious perpetrator that was seen committing the crime, people just sigh, and say “pole sana” and get on with it.
b) Theft is a terrible thing to most Kenyans, most of whom have little to begin with. The idea that someone could in an instant take something that cost you months worth of salary, and could threaten your or your family's ability to eat is awful.
c) The prominence of theft and carjackings etc. in Kenya stem from a combination of poverty, and ineffective policing and perhaps some lack of a moral grounding for a recently urbanized and disaffected, unemployed youth that are far from their cultural and family homes, and the moderating influences of traditional African village life.
d) When an obvious thief is caught, he is punished without mercy or waiting for the authorities. This is also partly due to the ineffectiveness of the police and justice system here: corrupt, slow and overcrowded with outdated technologies, few resources and old laws.

Not a great situation is it. But it has been worse in the past, so perhaps things are looking up.

I haven't ever lost anything from my home or a hotel. And I haven't been mugged in over a year. Let's toast to that!

2011-04-18 – Amina wrote from Nairobi:

Thank you very much for starting such a useful website! I am a Somali living in Kenya for the past 20 or so years. I have experienced my fair share of exploitation and theft. Locals perceive Somalis as rich people with dollars and gold, who have acquired their money from piracy or something similar. I had a carpenter who wanted to be paid $250 (about KSh18,000) for just building a couple of shelves for me. He told me, "I can see you're Somali. These should cost you nothing."

One thing they keep forgetting is that we know our accounting and some of us know how much we carry. I once had $1,150 (KSh10,000), with which I wanted to go to the market and purchase my monthly grocery. The money was in my purse, and I had my purse in the living room. When I left and went to do my shopping, I realised KSh1,000 were missing and a separate KSh100 note.

I did not say anything to my smart househelp, I thought I would catch her on her way home that afternoon. In the afternoon I called her and confronted her. She said she did not see it. I checked her purse and there was nothing, just KSh50. The next step was to check her clothes. I gave her a towel and told her to strip in front of me with the windows closed. I checked her bra. (They sometimes hide valuables there such as money or gold chains, rings.) Again nothing. I cheked her plastic wig hair, told her to open her mouth. My head went racing, I felt she kept it somewhere in the house and would collect it on another day. She was in front of me while I checked the entire kitchen, outside laundry area, under every item. It took us about an hour or so.

An idea came to me that she could have wrapped the money and thrown it over the back fence, and she would go around the house when she had left the 'secured' compound. I opened the backdoor and started hunting for paper, anything … and there it was, in a small vaseline container. She had wrapped the money in a small piece of newspaper, cleverly put it inside the tiny container, and thrown it over the fence.

My backside of the house is relatively secluded, with a distant dirt road. I took the money, paid her the remaining dues, and fired her.

Once I was followed when entering a City Hopper bus from the station opposite the Hilton. One man sat next to me, and he was carrying a huge piece of cardboard. The cardboard somehow blocked my purse, which at that time was on my lap. (Never leave your purse on your lap.)

A few minutes later there was a commotion in the bus. I think he had an assistant, who was making noise that he had lost his wallet. It happend too fast. At the time when the bus stopped, I was looking out the window. My purse was quietly grabbed from my lap, they both left the bus and the bus moved on. I realised this only when it was already too late.

Strangely my personal contents (it had my ID, gym card, an appointment card for my doctor) was given to me by a neighbourhood taxi driver a month later. Nothing else was found. … These should cost you nothing … You people have money … Just look at the buildings in Eastleigh (a Somali neighbourhood in Nairobi).

I have lived and worked in Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia. Theft in these countries is almost nonexistent. Theft is a shame in these countries, and you will hardly ever experience it. While living in Eritrea I remember, a year ago I left $200 in my sweater, which I completely forgot. The househelp found it and gave it to me. I was very shocked, this has never ever happend to me in Kenya. Now that I am back in Kenya, I have to be very cautious. I have previously lost a lot of valuables. Unfortunately in Kenya people perceive all foreigners as moneyed people, whether you are black or white. I have heard Sudanese, north Africans, Ethiopians complain too.

Maids and security

They mostly work together. Househelps with small children and boyfriends will mostly take everything, compared to older women who do not have young children or a man to clothe. Some of my former househelps' favored items were

I remember purchasing over 100 spoons, handkerchiefs, socks (for my husband) on my last trip abroad. I counted recently, and there are less than 30 of each item.

I just recently recruited a new househelp who has been 'saved'. It doesn't really make a difference, I realised, whether saved or not … theft is theft. I made it clear to her that i know each and every item in house. I keep a book for the kitchen with an inventory list of all my remaining spoons, forks, serving spoons, knives, plates, glasses, oven dishes, etc. I do ratios for the tea/food she will receive each week.

I have a book for my laundry. I count the number of items to be cleaned, ironed, and returned. She will tick yes for the returning items.

I have another book for my clothes and bedsheets, pillows, bed covers.

It's a terrible life to live, but you just have to be very, very cautious. They assume that you will get more of the items they took from you, and you will not notice a KSh1,000 note, when you're carrying KSh20,000.

ps: Never fall for the "I need school fees for my children" scam or, "Mum just died. I need money to travel back home."

Keep safe – Amina

Amina later added:

Hopefully when you return do travel to the Independent Republic of Somaliland (thats were my family is originally from). Every time I visit there, I am never scared of wearing my gold jewellery. Women in Hargeisa wear their gold with pride, without fear of it being stolen. Even the poorest women.

Money exchange happens on the street. You can see countless men sitting by the road side with money on the table. I have seen people carrying money on wheel barrows through Hargeisa city. Stealing, lying, conning, deceiving is looked down upon in the Somali culture. You will never be respected, once you are branded a thief. In strict muslim countries your hands are chopped off and your mouth branded with a hot iron for lying.

I can never carry valuables like that in Kenya. I remember back in the 90s my ear was almost torn into pieces by a local thug who snatched my earrings! I bled terribly and had to go to the hospital to have it stiched.

I never wore my jewellery again in public. I was young, and living in the Somali neighbourhood of Eastleigh. Gold for us is just not about money, it is our culture and pride just like similar things are in any other culture.

There are so many things I find very puzzling in Kenya, not just the theft issue. I have been to slums in Eritrea and low-income neighbourhoods in Somalia, but it is nothing like the Kenyan slum. It doesn't mean if you are poor that you have to sleep with rubbish next to your house. I remember Eritrean women in a slum in Asmara that got together and cleaned the streets. The slum was clean! Houses were smelling of incense.

Thanks for the letters! If anybody has any interesting information to add, please send me an email.

Copyright @ 2000-2017 Hans-Georg Michna.


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