Jean Todt, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) President, Tuesday officially launched the WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy Project by planting the first of projected 19 million trees at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
The project initiated by the WRC Safari Rally organisers with the help of the national government, will see 19 million trees planted over the next three years to commemorate the return of the iconic Safari Rally back to the high-profile FIA World Rally Championships (WRC).
Todt arrived Tuesday for a three-day official visit, his first to the country in two and a half years since he was here in 2018 during which time he also met with President Uhuru Kenyatta to drum up support for the Safari's return to the big stage.
"It is a very big honour for me to return Kenya where the support for the Safari Rally is massive. The tree planting idea initiated by Safari Rally and the Government of Kenya does good to the environment of the country. My relationship with Kenya goes back to over 50 years and it say a lot," said Todt in his speech at the ceremony at the WRC Safari Rally's Kasarani headquarters, where he was joined by Cabinet Secretaries James Macharia (Transport) and Amina Mohamed (Sports) along with WRC Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi.
"Accidents kill lots of people especially in Africa where about 25,000 in every 100,000 people die every year because of road accidents. Mostly are young pedestrians. We need to take care of that."
The tree-planting ceremony was also attended by Kenya Motor Sports Federation directors, Sports Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and other top government officials.
Kimathi expressed gratitude to Todt and the Kenyan government for their support for the Safari's big comeback.
"I am extremely happy with CS Amina for the support she has availed to the Safari Rally especially with the tree plantations," Kimathi said.
"It is better to plant trees for better environment than painting a school in the long run.
"Todt is my good friend and has always supported us whole heartedly. We are grateful to him and also the Government where two CSs have attended the function today. Thanks to CS Macharia also," said Kimathi in his speech.
Amina said she felt happy to be working alongside the WRC Safari Rally team, especially after her election to the FIA's World Motor Sport Council.
"I am going to head a team to plant forest of trees in and along Naivasha as part of the Safari Rally preparations to return to WRC status. I am also planning to make sure more trees are planted along the rally routes in and around Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Meru, Embu, Nakuru Eldoret and many more sections," said CS Amina.
With the Covid-19 pandemic throwing global sport into a spin, the Safari Rally and most of the 2020 WRC rounds were either postponed or cancelled altogether since March this year.
The 2021 WRC Safari Rally has since been confirmed to run from June 24 to 27.
It is primarily for this reason that Todt is in Nairobi to assess the WRC Safari Rally's preparations for the eagerly-awaited return to the global calendar in 2021.
The FIA President, himself a Safari Rally veteran having navigated Ove Anderson in the Safari Rally driving a Peugeot 504, is also scheduled to inspect the WRC Safari Rally Service Park at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute Thursday where all activities of the 2021 Safari Rally will be co-ordinated from.
He will later deliver a keynote address on the Kenyan event at the Lake Naivasha Resort, the on-site Safari Rally headquarters.
With WRC Safari Rally engagements part, Todt is also have other official engagements at the United Nations Headquarters in his capacity as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Road Safety, a responsibility he holds close to his heart.
Since April 29, 2015, Jean Todt has been Special Envoy for Road Safety to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The new UN Secretary-General António Guterres also confirmed him in this role in April 2017.
Todt last visited Kenya on February 27, 2018, when he opened the Safari Rally's Kasarani secretariat and expressed his desire to see the return of the Safari rally, dropped in 2002, back into the WRC fold.
He was present during the signing ceremony between the FIA WRC commercial rights holder, WRC Promoter, and the Kenyan government on June 21 in Paris, when Kenya was granted rights to host the 2019 Safari Rally as an FIA WRC Candidate Event.
This paved way for the FIA to observe last year's Safari, held from July 5-7, which the federation's delegates gave top marks thus paving way for the return of the Safari back into the WRC from this year.
Todt personally chose to inform the Kenyan people of the FIA World Motorsport Council's decision to include the Safari in the 2020 WRC calendar through a live video link from the federation's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 27 last year.
The 2021 WRC season kicks-off with the traditional season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo in the French Alps.
It will be followed by Rally Sweden, the series' only pure winter fixture.
Croatia forms the third round and will be held on 22/ 25 April.
It is the opening pure asphalt encounter and will be based in capital city Zagreb.
Portugal's late-May fixture is the first of three hot weather gravel rounds. It is followed in June by Italy and Kenya, which completes the opening half of the championship.
The cancellation of this year's Safari Rally Kenya, one of global motorsport's legendary contests, means the WRC returns to Africa, the world's second largest continent by size, for the first time since 2002.