What is international about our sporting facilities and airports?

Kisumu International Airport in a photo taken on June 26th 2020. (Collins Oduor, Standard)

Many years ago, a Kenyan radio journalist, while reporting from the scene of an inferno, said the fire was of international standards.

Just to put you up to speed, on August 19, 2000 a train from Mombasa to Nairobi with eight tanker wagons of liquefied gas exploded and caught fire in Athi River.

The fire spread to houses of Kenya Railways employees in and around the Athi River station. Death toll at the scene was 16, though later, some victims who had been taken to hospital with over 60 per cent burns, died and the toll rose.

One last tidbit: The Transport minister at the time was Musalia Mudavadi who said that investigation into the “disaster would be independent and the outcome made public.”

The accident happened late at night, thus, journalists were woken up earlier than usual or some had to abandon their late-night activities, to rush to the scene.

Some might have been groggy, and that is not a crime.

In 2000, some of the mainstream media houses were just venturing into radio business, and a gentleman from one of the new stations, while doing a live link from the scene, declared that the fire was of international standards.

People were flabbergasted — just as they were when the station he was reporting for had declared on the day it was launched that it was the country’s Number One — and were wondering how a fire can get such a classification.

Wonder no more, for, when it comes to classifying buildings and other pieces of infrastructure as international, without any scientific basis whatsoever, Kenyans take the cake, plus the oven and any baking equipment.

To be fair, African nations are notorious for this, and every stadium or airport that can rival a bicycle park, save for a runway, is classified as such.

Why Africans, and specifically Kenyans are infatuated with this nomenclature, beats logic.

Our international airports have fewer basic facilities and safety features than an ordinary bus station in many European countries, yet we consider them so futuristic that we just have to classify them as international.

Of course I want to guess they are classified as such because flights from different countries land there, but not calling them that will not cause turbulence in the aviation sector and make IATA consider them unsafe for flights.

The most boring and tedious international anything is stadium.

Any grounds with a wall, a barley field for a playground, and a cattle track for running, add a few chairs and a mabati roof on some sections, is branded international.

I want to think Kenya has the highest number of international stadiums in the world!

There are stadia in other parts of the world that have hosted the world’s biggest sporting events with participants and fans from all countries, but their names do not have international tag.

That has not dented their reputation considering that they are even touristic sites that earn their owners — football clubs or the cities —billions of shillings from local and foreigners who go there for tours.

Nearer home, the country’s biggest stadia are not even included in the tourism circuit, though it is doubtful if any tourist from Kenya’s main markets will pay to tour Kasarani or Nyayo, unless they are interested in ancient sites.

Just this week, we added another eyesore to our retinue of international stadia. A playground in Kisumu has earned that dubious classification.

Kisumu already has an airport with less and older basic facilities than a German busbahnhof in a small city like Cologne, but it is called an international airport.

Many people have been livid over the new Kisumu structure, and that should not be news because the stadium was not going to live up to the hype the people behind it had built.

It was touted — in my words — as an architectural masterpiece, a futuristic structure with all the modern facilities, and more, that is needed in the 21st century sports world. 

What was presented is far from that though. The people behind it have probably given good reasons why it has turned out that way, but Kenyans are not having any of it.

On a serious note, this international naming culture has to stop at some point: Now.

First, for journalists, it is long and takes too much headline space. 

Then, it adds no value to any infrastructure that has it in its name. Yes, we might want to mean world class, but truth be said, these facilities, like the 2000 fire in Athi River, are not.


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