FIA supremo samples Kenyan hospitality with song and dance

Jean Todt, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) President (left) is received by Sports CS, Amina Mohamed during the launch of the WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy Project at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on November 24, 2020.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Todt had earlier in the morning launched the WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy Project at Kasarani by planting the first of 19 million trees next to the one he planted two and a half years ago, now blooming fast, at the WRC Safari Rally headquarters.
  • He noted that Kenya was in pole position to do much more environmental work as assistance from the UN-Habitat based in Nairobi is at its doorstep.

The Gospel hit song “Uninyunyizie Maji” by Our Lady of Fatima Kongwea Catholic Choir song brought the house down as International Automobile Federation President Jean Todt wrapped up his first day in Kenya at the Safari Park Hotel Tuesday afternoon with song and dance.

Todt, who has been in Kenya for more than 30 times since 1973, was joined at the hotel’s famous Nyama Choma Ranch stage as he swung and shook a leg to the melodious lyrics.

“I am not here by duty but by pleasure in Africa, a beautiful part of the world to achieve dreams,” said Todt, former World Rally Championship (WRC) co-driver and the quintessential of global motorsport management.

Todt sampled a variety of meats and throughout the late afternoon lunch tapped his feet to the tunes and steps of the hotel’s Safari Cats troupe.

Jean Todt, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) President plants a tree during the launch of the WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy Project at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on November 24, 2020.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Todt had earlier in the morning launched the WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy Project at Kasarani by planting the first of 19 million trees next to the one he planted two and a half years ago, now blooming fast, at the WRC Safari Rally headquarters.

He noted that Kenya was in pole position to do much more environmental work as assistance from the UN-Habitat based in Nairobi is at its doorstep.

The FIA President was meeting the Kenya Government WRC Safari Rally appointed Steering and Organising Committees, top rally officials, staff of the Safari Rally and the Kenya Motorsport Federation (KMSF) directors in a “know each other” gathering.

Jean Todt, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) President (left) and Sports CS, Amina Mohamed palnt a tree during the launch of the WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy Project at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on November 24, 2020.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

He praised Safari CEO Phineas Kimathi and the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage Amina Mohamed for a job well done.

“Thank you dear Amina and dear Phineas for giving me credit (of returning back the Safari in Kenya),” said Todt.

“But I credit you instead,” said Todt amidst an unexpected cough, which he drew a humorous comeback: “This is not Covid. It is the cold from Europe.

Jean Todt, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) President waters a tree during the launch of the WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy Project at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on November 24, 2020.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

“This monster didn’t allow us have the Safari this year. But I am looking forward to next year,” Todt reflected on the coronavirus pandemic that saw several rounds of the WRC cancelled this year.

The Safari Rally was to return to the global circuit this year but the pandemic forced its postponement to next year.

Todt cautioned Kenyan official not to rest on their laurels and let their guard down with the extra time given to prepare the comeback Safari Rally.

“Don’t look at the year back. All the sporting world in the planet is looking forward to the Safari. Take the opportunity of the extra year to make it the best ever,” he warned.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia plants a tree during the launch of a tree-planting initiative by the WRC Safari Rally at Kasarani on November 24, 2020.

Photo credit: Anwar Sidi | Nation Media Group

Todt is also the United Nations Special Envoy on Road Safety and his mission in Kenya is to sentitise everybody of road safety which he termed as deadlier than Covid-19 in claiming lives.

He recalled that as the pandemic has killed over 1.4 million people when the world’s top scientists’ race against time to find a vaccine, a similar number of fatalities through road accidents are recorded annually.

“How can Mr Speed be in the forefront of road safety?” joked Todt as he recalled the UN Secretary-General commenting on his road safety role.

Todt founded Peugeot Talbot Sport WRC team in 1981 before moving to Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 team in 1993.

He succeeded beyond imagination in later years after identifying his “dream team” of seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, designer Rory Byrne and technical director Ross Brawn.

“Covid is claiming older people compared to road accidents which affect the younger ones. It is the responsibility of every single human being. Be my special envoy to advocate road safety. Africa is beautiful but it will be more beautiful with safe roads,” he said.

Kimathi enumerated the long journey towards the WRC which started in May 2015 when, in the company of Kenya Motor Sports Federation director Jassy Rai, Todt met with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi with the President exhorting Todt to help return the Safari to the WRC.

In June, 2016, Kimathi, then newly elected as the KMSF chairman, attended the FIA Sports Conference in Turin, Italy, and through the tenacity of FIA Vice President Surinder Thatthi, he was able to reach the office of Todt where he explained his ambitious Safari Rally project objectives.

Later that year, at another FIA meeting in Vienna, Austria, Kimathi delivered a Kenya Government’s commitment letter on the Safari to the WRC commercial rights holder facilitated by the then Sports Cabinet Minister Hassan Wario.

From left to right: Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi, International Automobile Federation President Jean Todt, Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and Sports Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan during the launch of a tree-planting initiative at Kasarani on November 24, 2020.


Photo credit: Anwar Sidi | Nation Media Group

This signalled acceptance of Kenya’s commitment leading to Todt visiting Kenya on February 27, 2018, who met President Kenyatta and firmed the journey to WRC which was finally cemented on June 21, 2018, when Kenya and WRC Promoter signed an agreement in presence of Todt to run the 2019 Safari as an FIA WRC Candidate Event.

The rest as explained elsewhere is history.

Amina thanked the FIA for having confidence with Kenya and recalled that a meeting between Todt and President Kenyatta which she attended in Kingston, Jamaica finally delivered the WRC baby.

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