Why having the World Rally Championship in Kenya is well calculated design

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021 02:45 | By
A competitor in the Equator Rally in Naivasha last month. Photo/PD/Edwin Otieno

By Muthoni Ngunjiri

When the first car vrooms away from the KICC to mark the official start of the 2021 WRC Safari Rally on Thursday June 24, not many Kenyans will match President Uhuru Kenyatta’s pride and satisfaction.

In flagging off the first car off the ramp, Uhuru will mark the culmination of a long journey in which he has been personally involved in lobbying to bring the world-famous event back to Kenya.

He will also be celebrating the fulfillment of a promise he made to Kenyans in the Jubilee Manifesto (2013-2017). He promised to support the Kenya Motorsport Federation to ensure Kenya gets back the Safari Rally in the WRC calendar.

And ever since he stepped into the country’s top office, Uhuru has worked effortlessly to realize this dream, appearing to take personal charge in a passionate bid to fulfill his promise to Kenyans.

He started off by establishing the WRC Safari Rally Project in which he is the patron, with retired rally driver Phineas Kimathi as CEO.

The government then invested heavily in funds, security and other support for the sport as Kimathi and his team engaged in protracted shuttle diplomacy around the world to make a pitch for the event’s return.

On his part, Uhuru went out of his way and used his position to meet with International Automobile Federation (FIA) President Jean Todt in Nairobi and abroad to push the reinstatement bid.

The huge investment appeared to pay dividend when FIA allowed Kenya to hold a WRC candidate event in July 2019.

The three-day event, which Uhuru personally oversaw, was well managed and satisfied the organizers as Kenya’s hopes of hosting the iconic WRC Safari Rally once again inched closer to reality.

Unsurprisingly, it was the head of state who personally broke the news to Kenyans when the Safari Rally was eventually officially reinstated in the WRC calendar on September 27, 2019.

“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," Uhuru stated.

“This process has taken us seven years and 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 FIA WRC 2020 Calendar,” he proudly announced.

While the scheduled 2020 edition was postponed as a result of the Covd-19 pandemic, the President has remained steadfast in his quest and even traveled to Naivasha to watch the Equator ARC Rally in April this year.

With the 2021 WRC Safari Rally now safely in Kenya’s hands, Uhuru has moved to avoid a repeat of the unfortunate scenario that saw the Safari lose its WRC status in 2002 due to lack of government support.

Speaking at State House, Nairobi, last week, he urged local motorsport enthusiasts who will be attending the four-day rally to behave well to avoid endangering the event’s future.

My hope and my prayer is that the manner in which we shall conduct ourselves over the next few days will be such that everybody will accept and understand that the Safari Rally is now here and is here to stay, and we're not likely to lose it. But that will depend on not only with how you all perform, all the agencies involved will perform but how Kenyans themselves will behave,” Uhuru said when he presented brand new rally cars to young Kenyan drivers at State House, Nairobi.

He at the same time urged sponsors not to treat this year’s edition as a one-off event and instead mark it in their annual budgetary calendars in a bid to help the government maintain the rally in Kenya.

Notably, Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed was in 2020 elected into the World Motor Sport Council, a key governance organ of FIA. Her entry into FIA’s management enhanced Kenya’s presence in the global motor sports governing body.

In her acceptance speech, Amina hailed Uhuru’s determination in bringing the Safari Rally back into the WRC.

Project CEO Kimathi, says the return of the Safari Rally was a remarkable achievement, especially given that most African countries have unsuccessful tried to regain world status and are only participating in continental events.

“The Safari has its own chapter in motorsport’s history and we appreciate the huge commitment the Kenyan Government has made in restoring it to the top table of world rallying, as well as the support from FIA President Jean Todt,” he said, noting that the event is a big economic driver and is bound to boost Kenya’s economy.

The Safari Rally 2021 is projected to attract over 70 million TV viewers in 150 countries, making it one of the most watched global events this year. This will put Kenya on the world map.

The Kenyan government has dedicated two internets redundant lines to serve the media, among them the WRC+ TV that will cover some sections live. Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) will be the official WRC local broadcaster.

Ms Ngunjiri is an economist and political analyst. [email protected]

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