There’s nothing new about government ministers being wheeled out for a bit of WRC glad-handing. Flesh pressed and pictures done, they’re usually back behind the fender-mounted flags and tinted windows before anybody can ask them anything remotely resembling a tricky question.
Not Kenya’s cabinet secretary for sport, culture and heritage. Not Amina Mohamed. One of the most senior politicians in Uhuru Kanyatta’s government sat down with DirtFish to talk us through the importance of the Safari Rally.
“This is so important for all Kenyans,” she said, “It’s not just about the Kenyan government – this is part of our heritage. We all grew up with the Safari Rally. It used to take place at Easter, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, it was Safari weekend.
“Apart from going to church on Sunday to celebrate Easter, this is what people did. We packed our families into cars or buses and we kept up with the Safari Rally. It’s something we feel we lost along the way and now we’re reclaiming a piece of our heritage.”
While the Safari Rally has continued to run in some shape since its departure from the World Rally Championship in 2002, it’s never drawn anything like the sort of exposure it once did. Until this year. Granted, the July event will be a shadow of its former self in terms of mileage and competitive challenge, but it will still bring the eyes of the motorsport world back to Africa.
Mohamed’s delighted at the opportunity to educate the next generation in the ways of the Safari.
“We have,” she added, “a generation of young people who have not experienced it, only heard of it. For us it will be a convergence of generations: your grandfather saw it, your grandmother saw it and now you will see it and, with a little bit of luck, get involved with it.
“It’s because this is so important to the population that the government is investing heavily in it and we hope as it becomes more entrenched and we do more we hope we can emulate the business model Finland has.”
A government minister who not only grew up with WRC fever, but understands the contemporary commercial and sporting aspects. Mohamed’s well versed following her trip to Jyäskylä last year.
She continued: “As well as the government investment, we also have a lot of corporate interest, some of our banks are sponsoring some of the events and parts of the rally. I am absolutely impressed with what I saw from Finland. If we’re able to create a service park [like Finland] and attract the number of people Finland has we would have succeeded. This is our dream.”
Mohamed was present at last year’s candidate event and since then she’s seen the excitement building and building.
“People came out for that in [candidate event] huge numbers and were very, very excited. Sport unifies, it will bring the Kenyans and the region together. For a lot of people, 2002 is still in their memory, but it’s like it had passed and we’re bringing it back now. Trust me, the excitement is palpable for this.”
And that excitement is shared out of Africa and around the world.