Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kibaki’s day out at Maasai Mara

President Kibaki, in the company of his immediate family, views a herd of wildebeest when he toured the Maasai Mara game reserve on Sunday. Photo/PPS 

By LUCAS BARASA

President Kibaki was among tourists who turned up to witness the magical annual wildebeest migration that has been declared one of the seven wonders of the world.

Every year, Maasai Mara National Reserve is invaded by herds of wildebeest, migrating across the plains in their thousands.

A casually dressed, relaxed and jovial President Kibaki declared that the country had healed from the post-election violence. “It (violence) was only for a moment. We are now back to normal life,” the President told a journalist from a local TV station in a rare interview.

The President, who was described as Tourist Number One by Tourism minister Najib Balala, said he was at the Maasai Mara to witness the migration, welcome and tell the world it was time to visit.

Chatted freely

“I welcome everybody here to see for themselves. It is not enough to be told... Everybody who comes here will like it... We are very happy with this... It is wonderful to be here,” he said.

President Kibaki joined other tourists in a game drive to see the wildlife and said that the Government was committed to protecting animals and conserving the environment.

The President, who was accompanied by his grandchildren and other family members, chatted freely with other domestic and foreign tourists.

Also present were Cabinet ministers George Saitoti (Internal Security), Noah Wekesa (Forestry and Wildlife), Mr Balala, Kenya Tourist Board managing director Ongong’a Achieng’ and Kenya Wildlife Service director Julius Kipng’etich.

The President also had refreshments and signed a visitor’s book at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge.

However, his usually heavy security detail maintained an unusually big distance as the President interacted freely with tourists, journalists and other dignitaries.

It is the first time that Kenya’s President joined other tourists to witness the migration.

Mr Balala called on the Government to allocate more resources to market and boost tourism in the country.

He said that the President’s attendance on Sunday showed that there was peace in the country and urged tourists to come in large numbers.
Prof Saitoti assured tourists of adequate security.

The reserve is in Kenya’s south west and merges with the Serengeti of Tanzania on the border of the two countries.

Massive shoulders

During this time of the year, over 1.8 million wildebeest or gnu, 600,000 zebras and over 200,000 Thompson’s gazelles move between the two parks.

The wildebeest is an antelope of the genus Connochaetes. It is a hoofed (ungulate) mammal with high, massive shoulders and a thick neck, which supports a large head. Both males and females have long curved horns.

The Ministry of Tourism and KTB have been engaged in massive campaigns, marketing the country as best tourist destination in the world especially after the effects of the post-election violence.

More than 1,000 people were killed and 350,000 others were displaced following the two months of chaos over the disputed presidential election results.

The violence adversely affected tourism with many visitors cancelling their visits to the country. Tourism is Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earner.

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