How the Safari Rally came to be in Kenya

Trendsetter daredevil rally driver Joginder Singh aka the 'Flying Sikh'. [File,Standard]

For those born in the 70's and late 80's, the word Safari Rally is not new. 

It was a motorsport event that was followed keenly not just on television as is with the millenniums presently, but through radio broadcast. 

What was more captivating was the challenging terrain, demanding conditions, and adventurous spirit of the drivers participating. 

The event demands exceptional driving skill, endurance, and mechanical reliability from both drivers and their vehicles.

It was the job of the radio broadcaster to paint the picture of the event and leave us in awe, literally. We had big names like Ian Dancun, and Patrick Njiru, not forgetting the trendsetter daredevil Joginder Singh aka the Flying Sikh.

The Safari Rally was first held in 1953, then known as the East African Coronation Safari, organized to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Over the years, it has evolved into one of the toughest rallies in the world, earning the nickname "the toughest rally in the world."

It then gained international recognition and became a part of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 1973, joining the ranks of other prestigious rallies like the Monte Carlo Rally and the Rally Finland. 

It attracted top drivers and manufacturers from around the globe who were drawn to the unique challenges presented by the African landscape.

In Kenya, the organisers ensure that the sport is more captivating from the rugged and unpredictable terrain, which includes rough gravel roads, muddy tracks, and, river crossings.

Unlike in the past, the rally has for years now been held in Naivasha, Nakuru County, thanks to the vast parcels of land at the Loldia Ranch in Ndulele Conservancy, with stages extending over hundreds of kilometers through the scenic but challenging landscapes.

Between 1953 and the 1960s, the rally was been held in Naivasha, Nakuru County for years initially organised as a rally event covering the rough and unpredictable terrain of East Africa. The inaugural event took place in 1953, covering a distance of around 3,200 miles through Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. 

One of the VW Beetle that once participated in the rallies at display in a Kakamega mall. [Harjit Kaur Jandu, X]

Safari Rally Comeback in Kenya

After a hiatus from the WRC calendar, the Safari Rally made a highly anticipated return in 2021, marking its comeback to the international stage. The revived rally continues to enjoy more publicity with the advent of technology and social media.

The event has managed to retain its iconic status, offering a unique and demanding challenge to drivers amidst the scenic backdrop of Kenya's landscapes.

We now have helicopters hovering over the fast cars as the dust billows from the ground, and journalists get the best real-time aerial shots- not forgetting the crowds it attracts from local and international rally lovers.

This year's rally has a lineup of 29 drivers who will be tasked with navigating the natural obstacles and the hazards posed by wildlife such as elephants, zebras, and antelopes that can wander onto the rally route. 

However, it has seen its fare challenges that affected its format, routes, and regulations due to safety concerns and the environmental impact. 

This greatly affected the structure of the rallies as well as alterations in the routes. Sponsorships also played a huge role in the continuity of the rally.

Overall, the Safari Rally in Kenya holds a special place in the history of motorsport, combining adventure, endurance, and skill in a way that only a few other rallies can match.

A plaque of the VW Beetle. [Harjit Kaur Jandu, X]