Best Known as Kenya’s most prestigious camel race, the Maralal Camel Derby is an annual event that normally takes place just outside of Maralal town, a remote desert outpost in Samburu county. Initiated by the late Malcom Gascoigne, who was the proprietor of Yare Camel Camp, this derby has been ongoing for 23 years now with the support of the Samburu community who participate fully in the running of the event. The event has so far attracted numerous organizations taking the sponsors role; the Kenya Tourist Board, Safaricom (largest mobile phone service provider), Kenya Commercial Bank, Samburu County Council, and many others.
Maralal derby has grown into a great social event and is now recognized as a serious international sport with participants from New Zealand, Mexico, America, Canada, Australia, England, France, Spain, Japan, China, Sweden, Holland, Italy, South Africa, amongst many other countries having raced over the years. The event also brings together several nomadic pastoralist ethnic groups; the El molo, Dassanech, Boran, Pokot, Samburu, Turkana among others. These communities engage and discuss about the various challenges that face them as pastoralists such as education and environmental issues.
This year’s Maralal Camel Derby took place from 30th August to 1st September under the “Promoting peace through culture and sports” theme. The event featured camel races for amateurs and professionals, peace marathons, bike competitions, traditional dances, cultural shows (cultural manyattas and traditional ceremonies displays), culinary show, stalls showcasing curios and handicrafts among other cultural exchanges from a wider array of traditional neighboring ethnic groups. The derby serves to educate people on the many benefits of camels therein promoting better camel husbandry among the Kenyan people. It also helps in conservation of nature by creating awareness of the rapid onset in the desertification of Kenya. The local community has not been left behind either, the Maralal camel derby has helped sensitize them towards diversification of livelihoods thereby highly boosting their economy.
The fun-filled derby is primarily a camping weekend however those not so keen on camping, Yare, Maralal Safari Lodge, and many other hotels in the town provides you with alternative accommodation. The races are often flagged off by local dignitaries with jockeys making sure their camels don’t steer off the course into other directions as many normally do. Along the race route, supporters line up to cheer on their jockeys with many awaiting at the final stretch. The derby has grown to include a 10km and 5 km fun run; the latter is for the physically challenged, and a cycling race – with mountain bikes racing over a demanding course. The cycle race also attracts its share of dedicated professionals on world-class bikes, as well as local amateurs on bikes that in some cases never see the end of the race.
The Maralal Camel derby is quite a refreshing cultural festival and if you are visiting Kenya around the derby time, don’t miss out!