As the buzz around the just concluded 2023 WRC Safari Rally simmers down, discontentment over preferential treatment has started to emerge with Kenyan drivers feeling slanted.
With 19 Kenyan drivers participating in the event, President William Ruto and his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua and Sports CS Ababu Namwamba graced the event. The spectacular affair saw thousands of Kenyans troop to Naivasha to witness as world champions battled for the top spot on the podium.
However, after the top drivers were awarded, their Kenyan counterparts were left to award themselves, something that irked the group.
On his part, Issa Amwari, a Kenyan who emerged position four in the WRC/KNRC stage and was driving a Mitsubishi lancer Evo X, says that it was quite humiliating to have to be given an award by casual officials and not, at least, the rally’s CEO.
“It was a good thing to have the President and the top officials at the Service Park. It would have been better to have him, or at least, some top rally official award us. That was not the case. I got my award after all the big guests had left – I was basically awarded by my own navigator,” he said.
Joe Kariuki, who scooped the sixth position WRC/KNRC category, who drove Subaru N14 and was navigated by John Ngugi, says that there is a need to encourage more Kenyan drivers to take on the sports, but says there are challenges that hinder their success.
“The rally was a great initiative for us and we really enjoyed it. However, we feel that we were not given the same recognition as others, because as soon as the big boys left, everyone including officials were not there. We were left to award each other,” says Joe.
“It is challenging to secure sponsorships, especially for lesser-known drivers. We hope that the government, in particular, can provide more support which is morale boosting. It is a great feeling when you get to the podium to be awarded and we hope to inspire the next generation of drivers,” he says.
The drivers have laid the blame squarely at the feet of the WRC/KNRC top officials who they say treated them in a manner that was absolutely undignified, thoroughly unprofessional and a manner which lacked the most basic human decency.
“It was a total shame at the podium. Soon as they had conferred the awards to these big shots, alongside the President and all the media present, we were left to scramble amongst ourselves for awards. It was total chaos – you cannot believe that my navigator John Ngugi and I were left stranded on stage as a female usher passed our award to us,” Joe lamented.
“We went through all the required regulations and passed all the tests. We were at the practice, we paid the money any driver was required to pay to enter the competition. I don’t understand how, after the visiting drivers had been awarded, we were just left stranded, confused at the podium,” he said.
“I’m born and bred in Naivasha. When we arrived here, hundreds of my Naivasha fans came out screaming my name. And after it all, do I have to receive my award from a casual model? Not even, at least, from my area Governor? What happened to recognising homegrown talent?” Joe lamented.
Another driver Andrew Muiruri has also blasted the prejudice shown to other drivers after he and his compatriots were left to fight heavy traffic on their last lap to the Service Park, battling with crowds and other motorists, for over 45 minutes.
“As we were leaving Hell’s Gate, on our way to the final spot, we realized that the road had been opened up and now, we had to struggle with crazy traffic as we fought to reach Service Park. Ordinarily, the road should be closed off until all drivers have cleared out but after the top drivers with better cars had crossed that area, they no longer manned the road leaving us struggling with exceedingly heavy traffic like ordinary drivers. We had to overlap as we feared our fuel might run out,” he said.