Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge just proved why long distance running should be renamed the Kenyan league with a terrific run that almost reduced the marathon time to under 2 hours! This is the same guy who holds the title of Olympic marathon champion. He is now going against time because competing with other men is starting to get boring. He missed the mark by about 25 seconds but is convinced that it can be done. I hope we get to see him doing it in our lifetime.
Only Ethiopia gives the Kenyans some company in these long races. Occasionally there may be a Ugandan doing the same (that is if they do not claim him or her) but still we have a long way to go to call ourselves peers to these guys on the race track. However when we move to the wild the ground is a little bit levelled.
Yes Kenya still leads as the main safari destination mainly because they saw the value of these things long before the rest of East Africa did. In East Africa, it is only in Kenya that one can see the famous Big Five. Actually none of the above is true. Of recent Tanzania has been attracting more visitors to its tourism sites and also has the Big Five, just like Uganda, and Rwanda.
Yes Rwanda has joined this exclusive club of countries where one can see the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and the rhinoceros. These animals are commonly referred to as the Big Five animals considered the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. The Big Five can also be found in Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I have been blessed to witness Rwanda’s tourism journey from a fringe player to a big league player over the last couple of years. Rwanda’s amazing conservation and branding strategies have seen it emerge as the place you think of when you hear the word Mountain Gorilla and yet DRC and Uganda also have these gentle giants. For a long time Rwanda seemed to be doing badly in a league where neighbours bragged of the Big Five yet Rwanda could only claim three of the famous five beasts.
Lions and rhinos were wiped out by poaching and what can be termed as human-wildlife conflicts soon after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that saw many returnees settling in land belonging to Akagera National Park. This was solved with the park letting go of some land and also setting up an electric fence to stop the animals from straying into human settlements. The park’s management has been so superb that now the Big Five can be seen there.
Soon after the reintroduction of lions from South Africa, rhinos are now also calling Akagera National Park home. African Parks, a conservation non-profit that runs parks and game reserves on behalf of governments in collaboration with Rwanda Development Board and the Howard G Buffett Foundation oversaw the translocation of the endangered Eastern black rhinos again from South Africa. With 20 rhinos, Rwanda can now play in the big league of wildlife tourism but with an extra feather in the hat of the mountain gorillas.
With better conservation and law enforcement against poaching East Africa can truly claim to be the wildlife paradise of the continent. I know the Southern Africans have great parks too but East Africa has the bragging rights to the famous migration of wildebeest and other animals from Serengeti to Masai Mara and also having the mountain gorillas and great birding opportunities.
Even South Sudan that recently joined the EAC has great tourism potential that includes another spectacular animal migration along the Kidepo valley from Uganda to South Sudan. Ethiopia’s tourism sector has also grown in leaps and bounds in the recent years. The wildlife race now looks like the breakaway pack in a marathon race with Kenya and Tanzania leading but closely followed by Uganda, Ethiopia and now Rwanda.
The different East African countries to take tourism more seriously and facilitate both locals and foreigners to indulge in it more for it is one sector whose fruits easily spill over to many people. I am hoping that the Kenyan government can sort out the conflicts in the Laikipia region that have put the tourism sector at stake. I have seen white rhinos in Uganda at the Zziwa Rhino sanctuary in Nakasongola district and I look forward to seeing the black rhinos in Akagera NP.