Tour drivers want road to Mara repaired

The road to Maasai Mara on February 11 2011. Photo/PHOEBE OKALL

Tour drivers and hotel owners have renewed calls to have roads leading to Masai Mara Game reserve improved.

This, they said, will enable tourists visiting Kenya to have an opportunity to watch the spectacular wildebeest migratory trend in ahead of the onset of the peak season next month.

Vice chairman of the National Tour Drivers and Guides Association Andrew Mungatana and the association’s chief executive Joseph Ole Parpai said the 40-kilometre section of the Narok-Sekenani stretch was almost unmotorable.

They spoke in Narok town at the weekend. The drivers accused the government of ignoring key road despite their economic importance and asked the ministers of Roads, Tourism and Transport to visit the area to asses the situation.

While the completion last year of the 87-kilometre Maai Mahiu- Narok road brought some relief, another 96 kilometres to the main gate is in a bad state.

“The state of the road was worsened by the long rains and the contractor that moved to the site last month is doing nothing as he is ill-equipped,” claimed Mr Mungatana.

The drivers said they were forced to divert to people’s farms, a situation which they said had led to conflict between them and the local community.

“It is a shame when tourists are blocked by weapon-wielding locals who are rightfully protesting that our vehicles are disturbing their livestock and trampling on their pasture,” said Mr Parpai.

“We are also incurring high maintenance costs which are driving us out of business,” said Mr Mungatana.

The protest by the drivers came even as the government predicted record earnings from tourism for the second year running.

Tourism minister Najib Balala said earnings from the sector will rise by 20 per cent this year, up from the Sh74 billions earned in 2010 with a sizeable amount of this money coming from the Maasai Mara.

It also came at a time when Narok County Council announced it had switched to electronic ticketing in a bid to shore up its revenue and seal corruption loopholes.

County council clerk Pius Mutemi said the council will earn a record Sh1.5 billion from Maasai Mara Game Reserve this financial year which will surpass the record set in 2007.

Mr Mutemi however absolved the council of blame on the drivers’ concerns saying their mandate was to maintain roads within the park which he said were in good condition.

Narok and Trans Mara county councils get more than 80 per cent of their revenue from the wild life resort.

The local authorities gain from the reserve by charging gate entries, royalties in the lodges as well as balloon settings and airplane landings.