What you need to know:
- The government appointed the World Rally Championship Safari Rally Steering and Organising Committees and gave a three-year deadline for the team to attain WRC status, a tall order by all means.
- However, this team not only fulfilled its mandate in two years but was also able to attract corporate sponsorship from KCB Bank, Safaricom, Toyota Cfao and Kenya Airways and staged one of the biggest open air sports parties in Africa in 2021.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of Safari Rally Kenya, a long journey undertaken by a handful of people that highlights the government’s role in returning the iconic event back to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar.
By legalising and funding the WRC Safari Rally Project through Kenya Gazette Notice Number 181 of November 1, 2017, only four months after Kenya successfully hosted the World Athletics Under-18 Championships in Nairobi, the government confirmed the country’s capacity to organise major events.
The government appointed the World Rally Championship Safari Rally Steering and Organising Committees and gave a three-year deadline for the team to attain WRC status, a tall order by all means.
However, this team not only fulfilled its mandate in two years but was also able to attract corporate sponsorship from KCB Bank, Safaricom, Toyota Cfao and Kenya Airways and staged one of the biggest open air sports parties in Africa in 2021.
Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi single-handedly engaged former International Automobile Federation (FIA) President Jean Todt and then WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla on the sidelines of the FIA Sports Conference in the Italian industrial city of Turin in June, 2016, to give Kenya a chance to prove its worth.
Jubilee Government pledge
Because the government was ready to step in and meet all conditions while the sporting arm of a soon-to-be-government-constituted body would organise a world class event.
Former FIA Vice President for Africa, Surinder Thatthi, who was representing the Africa motorsport ruling body in company of Kimathi, confirmed Africa’s desire to help Kenya return to the WRC.
Todt, unlike Ciesla, understood the Kenyan story very well having been a competitor who co-drove Ove Andersson in the 1973 Safari in a Peugeot 504 to third position.
He was the Peugeot Safari team boss in 1985 and well known to now retired President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Kimathi re-united with Todt, who had the previous year pledged his personal commitment to help President Kenyatta fast-track the 2012 Jubilee Government Manifesto pledge of returning the Safari Rally’ back to the the WRC after FIA stripped the event its global status for lack of government’s support alongside safety and sponsorship concerns.
The Safari was by then attracting over 500 hours of television airplay in over 200 countries, a component of publicity the government was unable to exploit to tout Kenya as a tourism destination and gateway to East and Central Africa.
The government of Mwai Kibaki had extended financial grants to the Kenya Motor Sports Limited (KMSL), later re-named Kenya Motor Sports Foundation (KMSF) in 2003 and 2007, respectively, without success.
Similar efforts were made by the KMSF and rally driver Patrick Njiru who engaged the then Interior and Co-ordination of the National Government Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo.
So, by the time Kimathi, who had been elected as the KMSF chairman only three months prior to the Turin meeting, arrived in Italy, he already had a clear roadmap to engage the government in a structured way using the World Athletics Under-18 Championships template for accountability on finance and procurement.
The government had always kept away from the toxic politicking of the sporting federations, and it had previously managed to host the 1987 All African Games by solely appointing people from the private sector and independent institutions with assistance from representatives of sports federations and its technocrats.
It had employed the same strategy in the 2007 World Cross Country Championships, again with remarkable degree of success while federations struggled organising regional and continental championships.
Kimathi also managed to negotiate with the FIA and WRC Promoter to extend the Promoter’s Agreement for the Safari to remain in the WRC until 2026 with support from President William Ruto.
Kimathi returned home and co-ordinated with the FIA and the WRC Promoter for the final draft Cabinet Memo which approved the establishment of the WRC Safari Rally Project on November 1, 2017, through Kenya Gazette Notice.
Kimathi was appointed the chairman of the Organising Committee, secretary of Steering Committee and the Chief Executive Officer to establish a secretariat at Kasarani Stadium with a work force of civil servants seconded by the government in accounts and procurement. departments.
Yours truly was tasked with creating a media department, Helen Shiri handled the Event Secretary docket and George Mwangi the technical aspects.
Sheer luck and sacrifice
These three also doubled up as members of the Organising Committee. It was sheer luck and sacrifice for this team which went without salaries for 22 months.
Even with all these hardships, the team, which was later joined by volunteers, remained steadfast to the 2020 deadline, and the only addition at the secretariat was a homeless dog “Safari” which became part of the WRC Kasarani family.
Gradually, things looked up for the better in June, 22, following the signing of the Event Promotion Agreement between the Kenya Government - represented by then Sports Principal Secretary Peter Kaberia - the CEO of the WRC Safari Rally Project Kimathi, also the Chairman of the Kenya Motor Sports Federation, and the WRC Promoter in the presence of FIA President Jean Todt.
However, structures for other departments were established from 2019 and more professionals employed after the SRC released the circular to manage the Candidate Event crucial test rally which birthed the 2020 WRC Safari Rally that was delayed for one year due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Former President Kenyatta took a personal initiative of engaging Todt and remaining always fully briefed on the progress of the Safari from 2017.
He invited Todt for a meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, where he was on a State Visit in July, 2019, to firm up the announcement of the return of the Safari Rally to the WRC calendar on September 27 of the same year.
President Kenyatta made the announcement from New York where he was attending a United Nations meeting.
He also managed to negotiate with the FIA and WRC Promoter to extend the Promoter’s Agreement for the Safari to remain in the WRC until 2026.