By Prudence Minayo
Kenya has so many icons who largely go unnoticed. Patrick Njiru dominated the Kenya safari rally back in the days. His unique skill was one so many would talk about.
It is through people like him that we remember the Kenya Safari Rally and the buzz it created.
This ranks among Kenya’s best sports. Thousands of people would leave their homes to go watch as the rally drivers were flagged off from the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC).
He is a real inspiration and there was no mentioning Kenya Safari in the 80s and 90s without mentioning his name. Here is his inspiring story as told by WoK.
He was born on 12th July 1957 in a sleepy Embu village. Today, the 63-year-old does not look a day past 60. He still looks young and energetic, which he credits to eating healthy, drinking a lot of water and avoiding both smoking and drinking.
According to him, he hasnt indulged in smoking and drinking in his life and he abhors drink driving. He said in a past interview that drinking while intoxicated is one way to get yourself in the morgue.
During the early days as he was training to be a driver, they were always warned of the dangers of careless driving, a warning he took seriously.
The former safari rally driver was born and raised in a village in Embu. Growing up, he wanted to become a priest as he revealed in a past interview with Jeff Koinange. This was because he loved helping people and the only person in his village who drove a Range Rover was the priest.
This changed when one day a safari rally driver raced through Embu while they were in church and everyone including the priest went out to watch. That day was a turning point in his life and that’s how the desire to race was born.
After completing his high school, he got a scholarship to study in Japan. This was at a time when most traveled to the United States or Europe for studies but not Japan. All he knew of the country was their action movies. In fact, he was amongst the first Kenyans to get a scholarship to the country.
Arriving in Japan, he saw snow for the first time and learnt to eat raw food. He learnt to speak and write Japanese within three months in the country. One of the greatest lessons he learnt in Japan was honesty as the people of that country are very honest.
Njiru began racing at the safari rally in 1983. He was brilliant on the race and made a name for himself both nationally and internationally.
Patrick raved in the 1987 5,000 kilometers safari really and was the first black man to finish the safari since John Githu in 1979.
He won the group N class with a fourth place in the 1994 safari rally. His final position remains the best ever result by an indigenous driver in safari. Due to his brilliance, he raced in a number of countries including Cote d’Ivore.
In 1995, he became the highest endorsed sportsman after signing a three year deal with BAT.
After the end of apartheid in South Africa, he was used by the South African government to promote rallying as a symbol of blackman’s tenacity to deliver results in an event dominated by white men.
In 2002, he retired from the safari rally. He often takes part in organizing and competing for charity race events, like the November 2011 Race4Change in Kenya.
Return if Safari Rally
Patrick Njiru is a proud man after the return of Safari Rally that has been touted as one of the most toughest races in the world. The event started on June 24 and will culminate on 27th.