What you need to know:
- This sense of optimism involved the top leadership, led by President Kenyatta with corporates, notably the KCB Bank, Kenya Airways and Toyota Kenya coming forward to support the Safari’s return
- The return of the Safari was headline news worldwide even in remote locations, underlying the appeal of the Safari, one of the highly-storied single sporting events in the world since 1953
- Several factors, including the weather, favoured the Safari which not only confirmed that it had lost none of its original flavor but was also a very much part of the 21st-century culture social media penetration
Today marks yet another milestone, the fourth anniversary of the return of the iconic Safari Rally to the high-profile Federation Internationale de’ I Automobile (FIA) World Rally Championship (WRC).
On this day at 11 hours GMT in 2019 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), President Uhuru Kenyatta announced via a live video link direct from the United Nations headquarters in New York where he was attending a heads of state meeting the return of the Safari Rally back to the WRC after an 18-year absence.
“Before my Administration assumed office in 2013, I made a promise to the people of Kenya, to return the Safari Rally back to the International Automobile Federation World Rally Championship family. This process has taken us seven years,” said the former President as government officials, rally fans and sponsors broke into celebration.
“It is my pleasure today to announce to the people of Kenya and Africa that this process has been concluded and the Safari Rally has been included in the International Automobile Federation World Rally Championship 2020 Calendar, marking the return of the World Rally Championship to Kenya and Africa, after 18 years of waiting.”
His speech was shortly followed by a solemn assurance by the then FIA President Jean Todt, third in the 1973 edition navigating Ove Andersson in a Peugeot 504, who had been instrumental in helping Kenya actualise its dream since his first public pronouncement on December 12, 2016, at Serena Hotel during a stopover through Nairobi on his mission in Africa as the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Road Safety.
The Safari could not be held the following year following the global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which was a blessing in disguise as this gave the organiser ample time to plan, and check all components designed to deliver a world-class event in 2021.
This sense of optimism involved the top leadership, led by President Kenyatta with corporates, notably the KCB Bank, Kenya Airways and Toyota Kenya coming forward to support the Safari’s return.
The return of the Safari was headline news worldwide even in remote locations, underlying the appeal of the Safari, one of the highly-storied single sporting events in the world since 1953 when a group of drivers mooted the idea of a long-distance event to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II who became Queen while on holiday in Nyeri the previous year.
Everybody, including foreign drivers, concluded that 2021 was a journey into the unknown. Could it rekindle its well-documented history as the toughest and most unpredictable event in the FIA WRC calendar for aeons?
The Safari was a resounding success, attracting a record 58 entrants including 91-year-old Sobeslow Zasada, third in the 1973 edition. Several factors, including the weather, favoured the Safari which not only confirmed that it had lost none of its original flavor but was also a very much part of the 21st-century culture social media penetration.
When audit reports were released, the Safari performed incredibly well in all departments with the WRC Promoter releasing an incredibly positive media report which indicated that the Safari was the most watched WRC event in the history of the championship on Facebook since 1973.
The Safari was well covered in all major search engines and about every major news outlet in the world including 150 Linear TV stations in 150 countries. It was reported last year that the Safari is now contributing Sh63 billion to the GDP and generating free publicity worth Sh4.5 billion.
This was achieved amidst stiff competition from major publicity gobbling global sporting events in the month of June namely the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, the Tour de France cycling competition and the Euro 2020.
So impressed was the FIA which extended Kenya’s license in the WRC until 2026. As if to take a cue from Uhuru, President William Ruto has embraced the Safari with admirable zeal, including riding in a rally.
The fourth anniversary of the WRC Safari Rally is a celebration of life for everybody who has been part of this great journey. This day also falls on the birthday of Hellen Shiri, the WRC Safari Rally Event Secretary, a hard-working and tenacious lady who has been part of the revival journey. Happy Birthday “Headgal” and the Safari which is 70 years old this year.