When Mzee Kenyatta named race founder ‘Bwana Safari’
What you need to know:
- Commendotore Cecil passed on in 2010 aged 91 in Perth, Australia.
- In his sunset years he was full of nostalgia of “Ol Country” Kenya and saddened with receding hopes of seeing the return of the Safari Rally to the FIA World Rally Championship.
Marchese Enzo Cecil Tanfani or Commendotore Eric Cecil, to his legion of friends, was a great storyteller who would smile broadly whenever two words -- Safari Rally, were mentioned. They were magical and musical.
Commendotore Cecil passed on in 2010 aged 91 in Perth, Australia.
In his sunset years he was full of nostalgia of “Ol Country” Kenya and saddened with receding hopes of seeing the return of the Safari Rally to the FIA World Rally Championship.
Cecil last visited Kenya in 2009 to flag off that year's East African Classic Safari Rally. Such was his influence that he has a book under his name, Bwana Safari by Michael Crouch.
Cecil, who was born and grew up in Kenya was Safari, and Safari was Cecil to a point the founding President of Kenya Mzee Jomo Kenyatta once pulled him aside before the flagging off ceremony of one Safari, and whispered to his ear, “Kutoka leo wewe utaitwa Bwana Safari,” -- from today on-wards you will be known as Bwana Safari.
Cecil founded the Coronation Safari Rally, the precursor to the East African Safari Rally which finally became Safari Rally Kenya, and considered the toughest rally in the world.
He attended every Safari since organising the first in 1953.
He was the chairman of the Safari Rally organising committee for 21 years while serving as the Automobile Association of Kenya chairman, for 35 years.
Cecil relocated to Australia in the 1980s but still visited Kenya annually for the Safari.
His most memorable journey was in 2002 when he was invited as a special guest to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rally together with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and his wife Sarah, who represented Queen Elizabeth II, the British Monarch who passed on last year.
Queen Elizabeth II was indirectly responsible for the birth of the Safari Rally, this year 70 years old.
While visiting Kenya, he would visit old friends places he had frequented in his youth, spending days at the exclusive Muthaiga Country Club that he jointly founded, a last bastion of colonial Kenya, that is even now still out of bounds to ordinary mortals.
It is here that he invited me for a cup of tea and a journey down memory lane on July 9 before the 50th WRC Safari Rally flag off ceremony outside the KICC three days later. This was his second last motorsport public function in Kenya, aged 83.
I learnt from him that motorsport is the oldest organised sports event in Kenya after cricket which was introduced in 1896 in Mombasa by a group of British soldiers.