Written by: Ben Oxley-Brown
Kenya might well be the original home of the safari, but it is also a developing country. Days aren’t conducted in sepia. I’m not saying that a safari shouldn’t be romantic, nor am I deriding properties with dates in their name. I’m just saying we need to look beyond nostalgia and see the country for what it is: a country that delivers classic East African safaris, but is also rapidly modernising, with the development stories as potentially compelling to visitors as the sight of a leopard coming in to drink.
Some ridicule Japanese tourists who take the same photographs of England – Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard – and yet are we not guilty of the same in Kenya? We want pictures of proud Maasai warriors, when in fact they’re often in jeans and T-shirts, posting on Facebook.
I think it’s time to give Kenya the space, and curiosity, it deserves. 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 tarmac, there are 50ft high billboards entering the CBD, 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. But Kenya has also grown up – and that’s exciting. There is a buzz of opportunity that exists away from the Ferrari safari and those hell bent on finding the ‘Big 5’ before lunch. 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 also support the largest wind farm in Africa near Turkana.
One can still wake up at sunrise and watch the giraffe poling their way to the waterhole. But this isn’t the whole story anymore. There is a hurdle that needs to be crossed – not a sanitisation 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.
There is a hurdle that needs to be crossed – a realisation that Kenya offers extraordinary wildlife, beautiful warm people and wi-fi.
It’s time to shelve your preconceptions and come visit.