Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the powerful 2021 Safari Rally at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre on Thursday.
Kenyans lined up on busy highways to catch a glimpse of the rally cars being driven by not only Kenyan drivers but also world rally champions who had never rallied in Africa before.
Kiprop Kihara, one of the many rally enthusiasts who stood on the highways to watch the racing cars, told Anadolu Agency: “I am rooting for team Kenya. Our guests have never been to our roads, which are challenging to navigate. I wish all drivers a successful rally.”
Tabitha Joan Nduku, another spectataor, told Anadolu Agency: “I am taking an off from work because of the rally. Most of the activities are over the weekend, but I can’t wait to be part of this historic moment for Kenya.”
The World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari rally is back in Kenya for the first time since 1992 and will see competitors battling it out at the 48,000-acre (1,9425-hectare) Soysambu Conservancy against a backdrop of giraffes, wildebeest, elephants, zebras, lions and leopards among other wild animals.
While flagging off the vehicles, Kenyatta said that over the years the rally has maintained its rough and tough reputation. He welcomed the rally back to Kenya after nearly 20 years, noting that many industries had been affected by the exit of the WRC from Kenya.
“In 2002, Kenya’s safari rally was dropped from the WRC and downgraded to the Africa rally championship, adversely affecting the sport as well as the sectors related to the motor industry that had flourished before for many years. I look forward to witnessing the expertise of the rally drivers in the coming days,” he added.
Kenyatta said the government is using the race to spread awareness of road safety in Kenya and the adverse impacts of road accidents.
The rally has attracted a lot of local and foreign tourists, Kenya’s Minister for Sports Amina Mohamed told local media, adding Kenya is set to earn more than 6 billion Kenyan shillings ($55 million) due to the event.
Kenya’s Safari Rally was notorious for being the toughest route in the series renowned for almost impassable, hard to traverse, open, soft, bumpy, rocky and gravel roads.
The return of the World Rally Championship to Kenya and Africa comes 19 years after being removed from the calendar due to a lack of finance. The iconic rally was first held in Kenya in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
The mythical Safari Rally in Kenya will run through June 27.