By KIPCHUMBA KEMEI
Hundreds of tourists were for the second day blocked from accessing and leaving Masai Mara Game Reserve by tour operators who were protesting over the poor state of the 60 km Narok-Mara road.
The operators who included tour guides and drivers blocked the dilapidated road on Friday using their vehicles and vowed not to open it until they were assured by Roads Minister Franklin Bett it would be fixed within one week.
Most tourists missed their schedules inside and outside the Mara. On Thursday, a similar group of tourists were stranded for six hours after locals who were protesting about the poor state of the same road blocked them at Ngoswani area.
The operators lamented that apart from taking time to access the reserve which also inconveniences their clients, they were being forced to incur heavy operational costs due to frequent break downs.
They also said chartered planes were doing brisk business because most tourists now prefer flying to their destinations, denying them business during the current peak season.
"We have protested over the state of this road for ten years yet nothing has been done to fix it. Why does the Government continue to market Kenya as the preferred tourist destination yet it cannot improve its road network?" asked Andrew Mungatana, the National Chairman of Tour Guides and Drivers Association.
Mungatana also said it was a shame that Narok County Council, the custodian of the reserve, had failed to improve roads inside the park yet it annually collect billions of shilling from tourism activities in Mara.
"The council charges each tourist entering the park 80 dollars and drivers Sh1, 000. How is this revenue being used when the roads inside the park that we use during game drive expeditions are in deplorable state?" wondered Mungatana.
Some placard carrying tourists also joined the protest, saying the poor state of the road was affecting their health.
"Apart from being a blot on the Kenya's image, we are inconvenienced. We have covered only 20 km and I'm feeling tired and sick. This is a matter which needs urgent Government intervention," lamented Manoe Konings, from Mastrich, Holland.
She said Kenya has the best tourist destinations but due to the poor state of roads leading to the attractions, it is losing the market to other emerging destinations.
Some of the placards tour operators and tourists carried read, "Bett Must Resign", "Close Masai Mara Road". Police had a hectic time controlling the angry operators and locals who joined the day long protest.
Tour operators' officials said they were ready to meet expenses including accommodation for Government officials to the reserve for them to experience the nightmares they undergo while driving on the road.
The contractor who was paid Sh390 million to reseal the road abandoned the work after completing 15 km. Machinery have also been removed from the site.
Brooke Ferris from New York USA who is visiting Kenya for the third time said rugged road was forcing tour drivers to detour to ranches outside, prompting resistance from their owners.
"We cannot allow tour vehicles in our farms. It is the duty of the Government to repair the roads," said Josphat Njapit, from Siana Group Ranch.
A former Narok South MP Samson ole Tuya said agriculture and livestock sectors were bearing the brunt of the poor state of the road and pleaded with the Government to plough back the billions of money it accrues from tourism in Mara for its repair.