Kenya had the rare opportunity to host the first beatification ceremony to be held in Africa. Nyeri county geared itself for the event; roads were built, portholes were filled,lighting was provided and garbage was collected. Security was beefed up with more than 1,000 police officers reported to be on duty to ensure all goes well. Sister Irene Nyathaa Stefani’s photo got its place of pride on the front pages of the local dailies. International media had positive news to report on the country.
The three-day event attracted a sizeable number of tourists coming for the religious pilgrimage and to honour a selfless woman who died in service to mankind. In her mission in Kenya, she attended to both World War II soldiers and the locals within the community she lived in Nyeri. It was heartwarming to listen to the older people that interacted with her at a personal level narrate the stories of her generosity and dedication.
At a time when the tourism sector is struggling, each tourist coming to the country is to be celebrated. Whether coming for religious reasons, investment or personal relaxation and adventure, every single tourist is valuable. True, the event was not exactly as envisaged and people came in their tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. Perhaps a reflection of how much we have lost to insecurity and an indication of the long walk to recovery of the tourism sector.
It is clear it is going to be a long walk to recovery and any positive step towards this recovery is worth the time. It is not going to be a quick fix, and we may have to market other attractions outside the usual sun and sand experience. We may also want to give ourselves some reality checks, on every single opportunity we get to ensure we do not repeat a mistake. For instance while Dedan Kimathi University College was reported to be a hive of activity, food vendors reported minimal sales. In fact, going by some reports in the media, some of the vendors would have done better in their usual business places than at the event. And yet, whenever people are, it is expected for food to be not only in high demand, but shortages would be common. It is not clear whether the pilgrims were catered for elsewhere or the food vendors failed to meet expected standards and people choose to go hungry.
Most hotels in Nyeri increased the price of accommodation, although many places reported to be operating below capacity. Perhaps some guests, both foreign and local responded to the earlier reports that accommodation places are fully booked by not making any bookings. The reports that the town will experience massive jams and the advice to motorists to keep off in order to avoid traffic congestion may have kept some would-be guests away. Assured of a positive experience, with organised roads, minimal jams, and suitable accommodation, more Catholic faithful may have chosen to personally witness the occasion first hand rather than through the TV screens.
Regardless, the beatification of Sister Irene and her eventual clowning as a saint will give an additional reason for tourists to not only visit Nyeri but also the country. The Catholic fraternity, her relatives and friends will have memories of the visit to narrate to their children, friends and acquaintances for days to come. It is hoped that some of the pilgrims took the opportunity of being in Kenya to visit other attractions, both within Nyeri and around the country. It is also hoped their experience right from the airport to the event, and their personal interactions with the people in general will make them keep coming in future.
Even by itself, Nyeri is home to some of the most beautiful tourist attractions and famous lodges. The Aberdare Ranges and National Park, the Mount Kenya National Park are well complemented by the Aberdare Country Club, The Ark and the Treetops Hotel, to sample a few. The magic story of the Treetops Hotel, where a young woman ascended as a princess on February 6, 1952 and descended as a queen the following day is fascinating.
Granted, the county has set a new standard of cleanliness, lighting, road maintenance and security consciousness. This makes it a good destination for both tourists and investors whether local or foreign. In fact the benefits of hosting the beatification of Sister Irene have the potential to elevate the county to a new level and a new beginning. When the world gathers in Nyeri again to declare blessed Sister Irene as Saint Irene Nyathaa Stefani in the coming years, Nyeri will have made bigger strides. The potential is immense.
Karen Kandie is a Financial & Risk Consultant with First Trident Capital and a PhD Candidate in Finance at Catholic University of Eastern Africa. [email protected]