On Saturday we flew to the Masai Mara for lunch, then flew back home in the afternoon. How decadent! I hear you cry. ‘It was!’ I answer, but just let me explain. We went along to lend support to a campaign organised by businessmen in Kenya who wanted to take a photograph of as many happy looking business people as possible standing in the Masai Mara with the underpinning slogan ‘Kenya is Open for Business!’, thus passing on the message that tourists et al are safe to return (which they most certainly are). The British Business Association of Kenya, the East African Association and the American Chamber of Commerce (Kenya) clubbed together to raise funds via corporate sponsorship for displaced Kenyans.
To quote from ‘Business Daily Africa’ last week, the BBAK chairman Stephen Mills said:‘In the last two months approximately 200,000 tourism and associated sector employees have been laid off or had their salaries cut. That means statistically, in an extended family culture with up to ten people relying on every worker’s salary, over two million people have been economically disadvantaged.’
I’m not sure how much money was raised last weekend. Before the event there were grand promises made by the organisers of raising millions of shillings for the charitable trust and of many hundreds of people attending to appear in the photograph. In fact we were around two hundred, which in my opinion wasn’t bad and is more than enough people to make a point. We paid a lump sum to the organisers and for that we were flown into the Mara by Air Kenya, welcomed by ululating Masai women, were split into small groups of four or five and taken on a leisurely game drive by banks of smart safari vehicles with open sides or roof hatches, then transported to the recently interior redesigned Fairmont Lodge for a fabulous lunch and the kids had a swim in their icy cool pool. We were very well organised and the whole day went smoothly and if I may say, rather stylishly.
Next were a few short speeches, most notable the one by Nagib Balala, new Minister for Tourism in the grand coalition government, ODM party member and supporter of the now Prime Minister Raila Odinga. He touched on events surrounding the December election and said something that irked like,
‘We had to take to the streets in our fight for democracy. Even I was on the streets.’
‘I know you were,’ I thought.
Immediately crystal clear TV images sprang to mind of Balala in January wearing his smart ‘dry clean only’ suede jacket, joining the throng of demonstrators in Nairobi’s city centre, then diving into a swanky black range rover with darkened windows when the tear gas came raining down. I also remembered the image of Nagib wearing white robes peeping out of the doorway of a mosque in Mombasa fleeing yet more tea gas clouds during another of the infamous ‘days of action’ that were held us in their thrall of terror for six weeks or so. At that point I decided that a final visit to the very nice loo in the luxury lodge was time better spent than listening to political spin. We are all thoroughly sick of politics now.
We posed for the photograph in t shirts covered with the logos of the corporate sponsors and the free red hats that had been allocated to us. ‘Hummer’ rather hijacked the whole thing, by having its logo printed in huge black letters across the front of our shirts, dwarfing everything else. Hummers are becoming so popular here in Kenya that they have almost surpassed Mercedes in street credibility around these parts and that’s saying something! Hummers were also provided to transport politicians, ambassadors and big wigs to the photo shoot. The hoi polloi did not get a look in.
We were happy with the free tshirts and hats. Handing out tshirts and hats is a very popular pastime in Africa as they are produced at every occasion and given out liberally. During the run up and after the election, I worried that the orange ODM and blue PNU shirts would have to be set aside because to wear them might provoke adverse reactions, but now with Kenya’s grand coalition firmly ensconced in power, Kenyans can get good wear out of their free tshirts and hats whatever the colour or slogan and they can be worn with impunity.