Nairobi city has been called ‘Nairobbery,’ a derision portraying a metropolis where criminals were having a field day.
International organisations regularly review the city’s safety status for expatriates.
Yet behind its rotten image, new figures by the UN and the World Bank show Nairobi is one of the safest cities in Africa and across the world.
Kenya publishes few crime statistics, creating a vacuum in public information that has long fuelled rumours and fear.
However, the country files the data with the international bodies that collate information on security.
World Bank’s latest report covering crime in urban Africa and other major cities says Nairobi is among the safest cities in the world.
The Violence in the City: Understanding and Supporting Community Responses to Urban Violence, found the number of murders and other crimes, particularly assault, theft, burglary and robbery, to be comparatively low in Nairobi.
Homicide rate in Nairobi has oscillated at between three to six cases per 100,000 people.
London has a rate of 9.5 per 100,000 people as do many other cities in Europe, putting the continental figures for Europe at nine per 100,000 people.
Major cities in America recorded a rate of between 10 and 11 per 100,000 people.
South America’s stood at 25.9, while South Africa, which features among the world’s most dangerous places to live, was at 50.7 intentional homicides per 100,000 people, followed by Lesotho’s 47.5.
The UN’s World Crime Survey is another compiled from national data sources and corroborated with those from the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat), Unicef, Interpol, and the Observatorio Centroamericano sobre Violencia (OCAVI).
The UN Office on Drugs and Crimes collects the data on countries based on incidents reported to national authorities, police, as well as on detentions, prosecutions and convictions.
It emphasizes homicide as a measure of general crime levels, arguing that it is a proven proxy indicator for all forms of crime and important in determining patterns and emerging threats.
The world has seen a surge in crime in the last two years, connected by the global recession.
Last year, there were some 490,000 deaths worldwide as a result of homicide, representing an average world rate of 7.6 per 100,000.
Last year, Africa’s average for murders was 20 per 100,000.
The UN report places Kigali, Rabat in Morocco and Nairobi as among the safest cities not just in Africa, but in the world, arguing that even though petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and bag snatching are commonplace, serious crimes are low.
The report notes that even though crime has reduced in cities in the US, the country remains amongst the most insecure in the world.
Europe, which has traditionally been the safest region, has reported a surge in crime in the last two years, specifically in burglary and homicide, with an increase in firearms taking the blame for the rise.
Experts say several factors had contributed to reducing crime in Nairobi.
Felix Muriithi of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra), a local think-tank, says the proliferation of security agencies that have invested heavily in state-of-the-art security technology and working closely with the police, has been a contributing factor.
“While today’s gangs and robbers get smart, we find a situation where security agencies are also investing heavily in technology like real-time car-tracking,” he said in an earlier interview.
Prof Edward Mburugu, who teaches Criminology at the University of Nairobi, says stiff penalties had contributed to the drop.
“We have a situation where our police have become very vigilant to punish offenders. This sends the message that no crime goes unpunished, thus keeping criminals at bay,” he said.
Community policing, an initiative between the police and the citizens, had borne fruits and boosted police crackdown on criminals, says Prof Mburugu.
“Since community policing was introduced, and the citizens embraced it, police no longer have to take long before identifying criminals and apprehending them. The citizens have realised that the only way to safety is through collaborating with the police,” he said.
However, against this backdrop of such low levels of violence in global terms, Kenyans still rate crime as a major concern.
The World Bank study found out that in Nairobi, more than half of the citizens worry about crime “all the time” or “very often.”