|Sarova Taita Hills Manager Willy Mwadillo (left) shows visitors World War I memorabilia collected in the Taita area and displayed at the World War I Museum opened at the hotel on Saturday. [PHOTOS: MAARUFU MOHAMED]|
By PHILIP MWAKIO
TAITA TAVETA COUNTY: Kenyan tourism is set to receive a boost with the introduction of battlefield tourism in Taita Taveta County where some of the most brutal battles between German and British forces were fought during World War I (WWI).
The concept has acquired relevance and a sense of urgency as the world prepares to mark 100 years since the start of WWI in Taita Taveta which pitted forces from German ruled Tanganyika against British forces protecting the British colonies in Kenya, Uganda and Somaliland.
Battlefield tourism according to industry analysts specialises in tours of battlefields, cemeteries, memorials and related historic sites all around the world.
“It is different from war tourism, which involves visiting active war zones often at great personal risk — and usually has a touch of thrill-seeking or voyeurism about it,’’ Willy Mwadillo, one of Kenya’s first trained battle field tourism guide said.
Mwadilo, a manager at Sarova Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges in Taita Hills Sanctuary, says battlefield tourism focuses on historic battlefields where the fighting is long past and is much more strongly linked to heritage and commemoration.
“This kind of tourism gained momentum in the wake of WWI,” he said.
The first wave of pilgrims to the battlefields of Northern Europe were mostly relatives who went to search for the grave of a loved one. The purpose of their visit was to mourn, seek closure, and honour their dead.
Taita Taveta has arguably one of the most evident reminders of WWI.
It is here that much of WWI was fought between 1914 and1918.
“It is for this reason that we also aim to entice living relatives of those gallant men who fought and died to come and visit the sites of war,’’ Mwadillo said.
To celebrate this event, tourism stakeholders in Coast region have lined up a series of activities that aim to trace and follow the routes through which men conscripted to fight for both the British and German forces battled far away from the killing fields in Europe. Renowned hotelier and historical conservator, James Wilson, who authored the famous book, Gorillas of Tsavo, documenting the first 22 months of the war dubbed the East African Campaign, is working closely with the Sarova Group of Hotels,Taita Taveta County government, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) and the National Museums of Kenya to hold the 100- year celebrations.
Other more popular destinations which have reaped big from this kind of tourism include the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium, and the civil war battlefields of the United States.
To this day, there are trenches, remnants of artillery with clear dates of manufactur and mass graves in Voi, Taveta, Bura, Salaita and Maktau (a trading centre located on the Voi–Taveta road which is said to have been the first airfield in East Africa.
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In the border town of Taveta is to be found the first District Commissioner’s office which is also more than 100-years-old and a number of graves that have been taken over by the Commonwealth War Commission.
In the Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge is an exhibition of the WWI artifacts collected from the British empire and German colonial force battlefields, forts and campsites during the East Africa campaign.
These include military paraphernalia like spent bullet cartridges issued by Crown agents manufactured in various Indian arsenals and British telephone insulators used by the Germans on a telephone line from Mount Kasigau to Lake Jipe around 1915.
In an encasement is to be found a shell of a Martini Henry rifle barrel, glass shards from hair oil bottles used by Indian troops, a collection of bottles and stoppers which were collected from various British forts, 20 Hales bomb tail fins, tent pegs, horse shoes and a unique collection of brass metal keys, assorted tunic buttons and British and Indian military insignia, among others.
The now collapsed Voi-Taveta railway line was purposefully built to serve as a supply route to British forces as they tried to consolidate their positions on the battlefield against the invading Germans who occupied Tanganyika, present day Tanzania.
Food supplies and or ammunition came from the port of Mombasa and passed through Voi Railway Station.
Mwadillo says that battledfields hold an immense fascination.
“The knowledge that these stretches of ground were scenes of immense tragedy and destruction seems to captivate the mind of anyone interested in history or human drama,’’ he said.
This, he added, has led to well developed battlefield tourism in the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa.
The inaugural trip to the Taita battlefield scenes by war veterans and relatives of those who fought during the war and are still alive is expected to take place on Novermber 11and 12 with 40 old comrades making the trip from UK and Germany.
“We are at the same time reaching out to the country’s top tourism marketer, KTB, to partner with us as we aim to jump start this highly potential new concept that will put Kenya on the global map as a preferred destination with myriad selections for the traveller,’’ Mwadillo said.