“We photographed that important symbol of Kenyan history, the Nyayo Monument, which still adorns the back of the Kenyan 100-shilling note, and also took a look at the few surviving administrative buildings which still remain from the British colonial period. We also trekked eagerly out to see the parliament building, but it turns out to be an ugly socialist-realist structure and, what’s more, it’s forbidden to photograph it.
As it happens, though, I didn’t spot these signs – after all, who’d think a parliament couldn’t be photographed? Anyhow, I snapped a couple of pictures, and a passing pedestrian told us it was forbidden in this area. It was probable the same guy who told the soldiers standing guard at the next corner, because a few minutes later they came after us, determined to quash our conspiracy against the Kenyan state.
We were led back towards the parliament by a heavily armed private, and on the way I asked him what nefarious purpose he imagined we might have in taking a photograph of the building. He wasn’t interested but handed us over to his superior, who “deeply regretted” having to pass us on up to the next man up the chain of command, who was stationed on the other side of the Kenyatta International Convention Center. We had to wait for a while, so in the meantime, we went up the tower to take a look around. We had a good laugh with the soldiers stationed there, and it was hard for me to imagine that 50 meters away we were still under suspicion of crimes against the state.
It’s worth pointing out that from the top of the tower they don’t seem to mind you taking pictures of the parliament courtyard. I’ve seen enough of the world to know what a powerful effect a little cash can have, and as soon as we entered the command hut it was perfectly clear that the only thing they were interested in was a little financial lubrication. What I hate most in such situations is all the playacting and beating around the bush, until we, at last, learn what relatively small amount they had in mind.” (2017)
1. The Kenyans – both Christian and Muslim – are quite conservative in terms of social customs and etiquette. Kenyans are surprisingly modest (at least compared to many West African peoples) and extremely polite. Tourists are, in turn, expected to be polite to them – say thank you when appropriate, express your respect for the local culture, and the locals will return that respect. They smile a lot, as should visitors, and extend a hand when meeting someone for the first time. Don’t be surprised that Kenyans don’t often make eye contact. This is no dishonor, but rather an expression of modesty and respect.
2. Women and girls visiting Kenya should not dress provocatively outside the confines of the hotel. Shoulders and upper arms should preferably be covered, especially in predominantly Muslim areas. Of course, in tourist areas, there is more flexibility in terms of what dress is tolerated.
3. In Kenya it is offensive to point your finger at a local. It is also considered rude for couples to engage in gestures of affection outside the hotel, so it’s best to save the kissing for the hotel room.
Any remark suggesting that a Kenyan lacks intelligence is likely to provoke the strongest of responses.