With 2 missing Indians 'killed', is Kenya safe?

Mohammad Zaid Sami Kidwai and Zulfiqar Ahmed Khan, who went to Kenya in April to help with President William Ruto's social media campaign, were killed by the DCI (Directorate of Criminal Investigations) unit, Ruto's aide Dennis Itumbi said in a Facebook post.

The report on two Indians missing in Kenya for more than 90 days, and their subsequent "killing", as claimed by the Kenyan President's aide last week, has raised questions on the safety of Indians living in and travelling to the East African nation.

Mohammad Zaid Sami Kidwai and Zulfiqar Ahmed Khan, who went to Kenya in April to help with President William Ruto's social media campaign, were killed by the DCI (Directorate of Criminal Investigations) unit, Ruto's aide Dennis Itumbi said in a Facebook post.

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The now-disbanded Special Service Unit was alleged to have been behind several cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of both citizens and foreign nationals.

India has described as "very disturbing" the events surrounding the abduction of its nationals in Kenya and the subsequent lack of information in the case.

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"I've spent one year and seven months in Nairobi and from that, I can say Nairobi is pretty much safe for Indians. However, always have a local Kenyan person to accompany you and keep your car windows shut," Atul Jha, who lived in Nairobi from 2016 to 2018, said.

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"Kenya has a big community of Indians. It is safe for Indians or any other expatriate to live and work here," Om Sharma, who keeps travelling to Kenya for work, told IANS.

In a 2017 incident that led to widespread outrage in Kenya, a 32-year-old businessman of Indian origin Bunty Shah was shot dead by the police inside his home in a case of mistaken identity. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

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Bunty Shah belonged to a Gujarati family that owns Bobmil Industries Ltd, a mattress manufacturing company in Nairobi.

In a similar case recently, Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif was shot dead in a "case of mistaken identity".

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But what shook the Indian community was a 2013 terrorist attack on Westgate centre in Kenya by al-Shabab militants, which killed three Indians, including an eight-year-old boy, and left many others injured.

One of the victims, 40-year-old Sridhar Natarajan was working with a pharma firm, the boy Paramshu Jain was the son of a manager of the local Bank of Baroda branch. The third victim, Sudharshan B. Nagaraj, was from Bengaluru.

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In the 2008 violence that erupted after former President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential election, looting of Indian shops were reported in Kenya.

As such, there is no official travel advisory from the Indian side and hundreds of Indians are doing business and jobs in Kenya.

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However, a US government advisory released this month says that crime is high in Kenya, and incidents of armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping and muggings are seen in Nairobi and Mombasa.

"Local police are willing but often lack the capability to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents and terrorist attacks," the advisory noted.

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An Australian travel advisory updated today said: "Don't walk around after dark. If you live in Kenya, invest in strong personal security measures... Attacks could occur at any time and with little or no warning".

Close to a lakh people living in Kenya are Indians, and they wield considerable political and economic power. The Indians also make up the 44th tribe in Kenya.

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The tourism board in Kenya wants a 40 per cent increase in Indian tourists to Kenya, and wants Bollywood filmmakers to shoot in the African country.

During the last 10 years, the Indian market has grown to be the third largest tourism source market for Kenya representing a market share of 7.3 per cent of total tourist arrivals into Kenya.

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Records show that 31,983 Indian workers came to Kenya in the early 19th centrury as indentured labourers.

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They worked as traders and farmers on the railway system that the British were building in east Africa.

The majority of Indians trace their ancestry to the regions of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Punjab. There are also large numbers who originate from Maharashtra, Odisha, Goa and Tamil Nadu.

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Most are found in the major urban areas of Nairobi and Mombasa, and are mainly engaged in construction, metal and retail businesses. Some work in banks. They also own vast tracts of farmland in the countryside.
 

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