A heady mix of diesel fumes, sewage, roasting corn and fermenting fruit fill my nostrils while I sit in quite possibly the world’s most varied queue of traffic; welcome everyone to Africa and more specifically Kenya. A nation I have just returned from and one that it is a nation gripped by the desire to own a car.
A slightly different picture I am sure you will agree from the droughts, famine, disease and conflict you might imagine if you constantly watch charity ad campaigns and the news. Now admittedly yes, Kenya is one of Africa’s more prosperous nations but with so much charitable money making its way there the amount of four wheeled activity really does beggar belief. Traditionally of course Kenya is famed for staggering landscapes and spotting some of the world’s rarest animals on safari and yes I did go there with the prime intention of seeing all those things. The problem is though I am a total looser and couldn’t help turning my trip into a bit of a car safari too.
One of the first things that strikes you about the Kenyan’s is their ability to keep things moving no matter how old they get. There is simple reasoning behind this though, if it means there is a chance of not having to walk miles to work they will take it, that teamed with a climate which means rust rarely occurs, results in monumental amounts of traffic like I eluded too above, but crucially traffic filled with gems from Africa’s motoring past.
Currently in Kenya (and Africa for that matter) it is clear that Japanese brands rule the quite potholed, roads. A quick look at a news report from anywhere on the continent can tell you that, the background will feature at least one Toyota pick-up. Toyota’s unsurprisingly then are abundant, but unlike the UK there’s not a Prius in sight, instead previous generation Corolla’s, Camry’s, Yaris’s, Land Cruisers and the aforementioned indestructible Hilux are common place. 10 year old Toyota’s though are a shade dull; of slightly more interest are the trends that have already passed and the motoring direction that Kenya seems to be going in.
Cars first started appearing on a large scale in Africa in the decades after world war two and the evidence that the Europeans dominated the market is clear. Early Land Rover Defenders still splutter around, many ironically used as breakdown recovery trucks. A love affair with Land Rovers continued when the Range Rover arrived in the 70’s with many early rumbling V8 examples making themselves heard on Kenya’s roads many years after their European cousins succumbed to rust and mechanical failure.
French cars made their way to Africa too in the days of colonialism, so much so in fact that Peugeot built factories in Africa to build its older models to sell cheaply to the African consumers. Take the 1968 Peugeot 504, built in Kenya until 2004! And 1987’s 405 still built to this day in Egypt. Unquestionably then classic French metal is in abundance, with the rarest car I spotted being a 60’s Citroen DS.
Mercedes came to Africa in the 80’s in a big way. Renowned for their build quality the W123 models started a love affair that by my reckoning blossomed going by the amount of big boxy W124’s, 190e’s and newer C and E classes on the roads. It was hard to believe at first but most car parks in Kenya’s capital Nairobi featured at least 5 Mercedes nestled amongst the Japanese saloons and 4×4’s, evidence I think of where the country is headed.
Japanese carmakers dominance of recent years does slowly seem to be slowing. As Kenyan’s get more money the Europeans are once again becoming the cars of choice. Audi’s, BMW’s, the aforementioned Mercedes and ludicrously expensive Range Rovers and Range Rover Sports fill the hundreds of car lots that appear to have sprung up on any piece of land that isn’t being turned into apartment blocks. Quite amusing too is the fact that most of these cars are UK imports, with some still sporting UK tax disc’s and dealer stickers. Government employee cars are also suitably sensible and very German VW Passat’s. Perhaps in an attempt to try and show that officials have a touch of class.
So there we have it a little insight into what my inner geek spotted in Kenya. A country with a chequered motoring past that appears to be heading back to the brands that first rolled onto its shores half a century ago. The way said cars are driven though, that’s another story all together!