By Amin Kef Sesay
On Sunday 16 February 2020 the 13th edition of world’s largest amateur car rally, known as the Budapest to Bamako race in which 700 individuals participated ended up in Freetown. All the participants made their way through four European and four African countries before reaching the country’s capital. The choice of ending the rally in Freetown has helped in rebranding Sierra Leone as a peaceful nation contrary to the notion of a war infested and instable nation.
They were welcomed by President Julius Maada Bio, the Hungarian Honorary Consul, Hungarian Honorary Consul to Sierra Leone, Jihad Eter and the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs ,Memunatu Pratt.
President Bio in addressing them stated: “We note that through your curiosity of the unknown, you have identified with causes that we care about too. We have identified education as a core priority and we are pleased that participants will be donating educational materials. We are also pleased that our concerns about the effects of climate change align with the outcomes of this B2B rally,” he said.
The President went ahead to disclose various touristic sites which the participants may be interested to visit while in country.
On her part the Minister of Tourism, Memunatu Pratt said that she was excited about the President’s commitment to the growth of the tourism industry in the country. She added that because of collaboration, they had been able to position tourism as a centre of the New Direction Government. She noted that the country was peaceful, stable and was now a destination for tourism.
What has been established is that the rally is not celebrated for its speed but rather for its endurance and navigation of remote areas, and ultimately its charity that helps raise money for West Africa. Conspicuously, as they drove through mapped out routes their vehicles and bikes were covered in dust after a gruelling 8,063km journey dubbed ‘The World’s Last Great Adventure’.
Successfully, the participants covered the last 83 km in the Budapest – Bamako rally to reach the finish line at the National Stadium.
According to what was understood, the rally began back in the Hungarian capital, Budapest on 31 January. Its 700 participants travelled through four European countries (Hungary, Slovenia, France, and Spain) and through four African countries (Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea – Conakry) before entering Sierra Leone.
“It is a very difficult rally, it is a challenging rally, it’s not a timed event, it is [a] navigational and endurance event; you have to take care of your car for two weeks and you just have to make the best of your team and just try to deal with whatever conditions come your way,” said Andrew Szabo, the Hungarian-born founder of the Budapest-Bamako rally.
“This rally is all about going on an incredibly long adventure and a long drive where every day is different. You go through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, where you cut through the Sahara, where you cut through the sand dunes of Mauritania, get through the Sahel belt of Senegal, head down to Guinea and finally arrive here to the tropical [and] beautiful beaches of Sierra Leone,” he said.
For most of the rally members, the rally is about adventure and charity. “We just [came] up with this idea that we should participate in the next Budapest Bamako Rally,” recounted Szaboccs Safian, also known as Safi, who calls himself the ‘butterfly man’ and is a member of team 161.
Safi and his team members decided to participate because “it [would] be fun basically to drive all the way from Europe down to Africa where we actually work a lot … we really enjoy staying here but [this] would be a new experience for all of us to come together.”
“Yes we are actually supporting a charity you know because with the Gola Forest there are a lot of fring[e] communities and some of the communities formed together a kind of educational programme,” added Safi when explaining what else drove them to participate in this year’s rally. The organisation they support is called EduKids, which is run by an international board, he explained.
While the charity is unable to save the forest directly, the idea is to educate future generations “so they will understand why conservation and bio-diversity is also important.”