Tuesday, 21 August 2012

International camel racing derby to be held in Kenya

By David Musyoka
Past Camel derby race

Kenya will later this month organize an international camel racing derby in the northern western part of the country as part of the efforts to open up new tourist attractions aimed at increasing revenue and number of visitors the country receives.

The Samburu Maralal Camel Derby will be held from Aug. 24 to 27 as Kenya seeks to diversify its tourism offerings from the traditional beach and wildlife game."The derby will help showcase other tourism offerings in the area including the three national game reserves and the rich culture of the people of northern Kenya," said Muriithi Ndegwa, the Managing Director of the Kenya Tourist Board in Nairobi on Friday. The derby will also showcase cultural activities, the most prominent being two weddings that will let the visitors get the full glimpse of some of the most ethnic practices by the local communities.

People of Samburu area are traditionally pastoralists although groups like the Kenya Red Cross have started promoting subsistence farming to help people diversify their food sources. The subsistence agriculture is done through irrigation with water from Lake Turkana.Samburu people and other pastoralists are renowned for preserving their traditional cultural practices from food to dressing, which are an attraction to tourists from local and foreign markets.The camel derby will be open to professional and amateur riders. Amateur category is reserved for the tourists while the professional category is reserved for the morans, the name given to young men from the pastoralist tribes of Samburu, Turkana and the Maasai.

Camel is one of the most valued animal among the pastoralist communities. It can withstand long hours without water, a scarce commodity in the pastoralist regions that are largely arid and semi-arid, can walk for long distances becoming valuable transport for the often migrating communities. The animal has nutrient rich milk that is very valuable in areas that suffer from food shortage, and its meat is highly valued and expensive. The camel also fetches far higher price compared to other livestock like cattle, goats and donkey.

The camel derby has so far attracted nationals from 24 countries, according to the Kenya Tourist Board. The derby is also used to bring local communities together as part of peace building efforts in an area that has suffered from fatal cattle raids.Morans from different communities stage cross-community raid for livestock to pay dowry and this precipitates a cycle of such raids in revenge attacks. But the practice that was a cultural norm has now been infiltrated by organized criminal networks that have introduced arms used in raids. The stolen livestock is then sold even across borders to Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda. "We encourage morans from different communities to participate. By that, they create rapport amongst each other and this has helped to bolster peace, promote friendship and create better intercultural understanding," said Moses Lenairoshi, the Chairman of the Maral International Camel Derby, which organized the camel race.

The money raised from the derby is used to improve social services in the area by constructing schools, hospitals and boreholes for water. It is also used to create awareness in the area about early marriage, a cultural practice that leads to girls being married off at the age of about 12 years and therefore missing school.The camel race is among several organized races across the country that use domestic animals for racing competitions. In the historical heritage town of Lamu in the Kenya's coastal region, donkeys that are the main mode of transport in the island that is a World Heritage Site are used for racing competition during the Lamu Cultural Festival that will be held in December this year.

In Nairobi, a race involving goats is also held annually at the Ngong Race Course, the same venue for the horse racing competitions. In western Kenya, bull-fighting as well as cock-fights are popular cultural practices, being promoted by the Kenya Tourist Board.  (Xinhua)

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