Taita Taveta, KENYA: The Maili 27 Bridge inside the Taita hills wildlife sanctuary may not mean a lot to many, other than an ordinary bridge with a defunct railway line but that was not the case 104 years ago.
As plain zebras and greater kudus graze peacefully near the spot, the situation is currently a sharp contrast to the situation in the between the years 1914 and 1918 during the first world war when British forces were trying to battle out the Schutztruppe (German Troops) who had occupied parts of Taita Taveta county after crossing into Kenya from Tanzania.
Maili 27 experienced its own share of the war on September 29th, 1914 when German soldiers ambushed a British train that had been transporting food and ammunition to the nearby Maktau camp, an attack which claimed 24 British Soldiers and 3 German soldiers.
At the nearby Mwashoti fort, deep trenches which are traces of what was a once British hideout post are still visible almost 100 years since the war ended.
One would confuse trenches for ordinary ditches caused perhaps by soil erosion but a green plague standing nearby which was set up earlier in the year in memory of African soldiers who lost their lives during the war acts as a reminder of the gunshots that once characterized the area.
Maili 27 and Mwashoti are just some of the unmarked World War 1 memorials from the East African Invasion of the First World War where German soldiers clashed with British Soldiers in parts of Northern Rhodesia (Present day Zambia), Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of Kenya.
The memorials are spread in villages in Bura, Taveta, Salaita , Voi, and Maktau.
According to Flumence Mshila one of the locals from Bura whose uncle fought for the British, Taita residents were only reminded of the potential the sites hold during the commemorations which began in 2014.
“We rely on what our forefathers who acted as askaris for the German and British troops told us.A place like Mwakitau which were the first aircraft in East Africa landed is a shadow of itself” Mshila says.
However, tourism stakeholders like the Sarova Group have been working to promote conservation of those sites and market them as tourist attraction sites.
With an event seeking to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War in Taita Taveta slated for November, the stakeholders argue that Kenya is yet to realize the full potential of battlefield tourism unlike countries like South Africa and Tanzania and Zambia.
According to Willy Mwadilo a battlefield tourism tour guide and the Manager of the Sarova Taita hills game lodge, lack of education and documentation is hindering the preservation of those sites.
“This can be taught as a topic in Kenyan schools, It can be used as a case study in the military and diplomacy because that way this will make people understand the importance of this sites and that war is not good” Mwadilo explains.
Most of the sites were opened to tourists in 2014 when celebrations commemorating 100 years since the war began kicked off.
Tourists seeking to visit such sites begin the trip at the Sarova Taita Hills game lodge which houses a museum with memorabilia recovered from World War 1 battle sites including a daybed salvaged from sunken German warship SMS Konigsberg.
Some of the most visited sites include Maktau railway station , the snipers baobab tree where myth has it that a bitter German widow seeking to avenge the death of her husband killed during the war killed hundreds of British soldiers while hiding at a hollow part of the tree and the Salaita hill which was a hideout for German troops.
Hotels in the region have recorded an increase in the number of bookings during the commemoration period with guests coming in from Britain, India, Australia, and Germany.
However, the stakeholders argue that Kenya has the potential to overtake countries like South Africa, Zambia, and Tanzania which are heavily tapping from battlefield tourism should the government put in more effort.
“ The government is tasked with marketing Kenya as a tourist destination and the only way they can effectively market battlefield tourism sites is when those sites have been preserved and are in a presentable form” The Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers executive officer Sam Ikwaye argues.
In 2015 the former Sports Arts and Culture cabinet secretary Hassan Wario gazette 13 World War 1 memorial sites in Taita Taveta.
However, a big percentage of those sites still remain unmarked and ungazetted.