Kenya’s flag is divided into three colours – black, red and green embossed with a Maasai shield and spears. Each stripe represents a part of this evolving country and its worth remembering that the flag is not divided into 1 third safari scene, 1 third beach and 1 third unrest which might more accurately portray the layman’s impression of this iconic country.
Kenya might well be the original home of the safari but it is also a developing territory and not stuck in aspic, days are not conducted in sepia and all this harking back to bygone days is borderline ridiculous. I’m not saying that safari shouldn’t be romantic and I am not deriding properties with dates in their name – I am saying look beyond the pantomime and see the country for what it is. Celebrate the history without pretending life hasn’t moved on. Some may ridicule Japanese tourists who seemingly all take the same photographs of England and yet are we not massively guilty of the same in Kenya? We want to see wildlife and proud Maasai warriors and pretend that they are not on Facebook. We want to learn a smattering of Swahili and ignore the fact we are sitting in $100,000 Land-Cruisers. Nostalgia is not what it used to be.
I think it’s time to give Kenya the respect it deserves. It is evolving faster than most Western countries and the leap to digital has been embraced. There is still a massive dichotomy on the ground. This is still a land of pastoral nomads – governed by grass, grazing and goats but there is also a capital city with every amenity you can find in London. The roads are suddenly tarmac, there are 50 foot high billboards entering the CBD and you can order a Caesar salad to go.
It is almost 20 years since my first tentative trip to Kenya and it pulls at my strings in a way few other places can. Kenya has changed. It has grown up in many ways and it is exciting. There is a real buzz of opportunity and the safari and tourist spheres are just one part of that buzz. Away from the Ferrari safari and those hell-bent on finding the Big 5 before lunch is a triptych of landscapes – rugged mountains, harsh deserts and rolling green plains. There is modern agriculture supplying green beans into Waitrose in the belly of the planes that carry our suitcases. The winds that kite-surfers come to experience on the Indian Ocean continue overland to support the largest wind farm in Africa near Turkana. A jigsaw puzzle of a country with an identity crisis – the rest of the world only sees what it wants to see and the cheap headlines spewed out by the media. Life on the ground is very different – waking up at sunrise with clouds in my coffee and looking at a backdrop of giraffe poling their way to the waterhole – the developed world is a million miles away from this wilderness of 52 separate tribes.
There is a hurdle that needs to be crossed – not a sanitization of safari as found in parts of South Africa with fences and guarantees but a realisation that Kenya offers extraordinary wildlife, beautiful warm people and wi-fi.
It’s time to shelve your preconceptions and come visit.