No, this photo does not show Kenyan ‘slaves’ carrying white tourists

A Facebook post claims Kenyans working at the Mara North private wildlife park have been made to carry white tourists in sedan chairs. The photo shows a group of men carrying two people in chairs, with the words “Slavery at the Mara” printed over it. But the picture was actually taken in Uganda, where elderly and disabled tourists visiting wildlife parks can pay to be carried.

"Things like this shouldn't be happening anywhere in this Country hata kama wanalipwa (even if they are being paid),” reads the post, which was shared on February 5 in a Facebook group with more than 250,000 followers.

Screenshot of Facebook post claiming to show Kenyan 'slaves' carrying white tourists

Despite saying in the caption that the men pictured are being paid for their work, the post condemns the idea of Kenyans carrying white tourists around as a modern form of “slavery”.

Regardless of where the photo was taken -- and as we’re about to show, it was taken in Uganda -- the sight of black men carrying white tourists sparked debate in the Facebook group.

For some, it evoked memories of colonialism. “Total disgrace to the black man in the world,” wrote one user under the post, which generated more than 160 comments and 300 reactions.

But others had no problem with it. “I would do that happily knowing that I will get 1000 dollars after the job,” another user wrote.

Some of the comments correctly identified the photo as having been taken in Uganda, not Mara North Conservancy, which is part of the greater Maasai Mara savannah region in southwest Kenya.

Ugandan wildlife authorities confirmed that the photograph was taken in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the country’s southwest.

Bashir Hangi, communications officer at the Uganda Wildlife Authority, told AFP he recognised the uniforms and chairs in the photograph. And he said it was common practice for local people to offer to carry tourists who were elderly or disabled to see the park’s gorillas, for a fee.

“This is a very old photo which was taken in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Such lifting services are offered by members of the local community to tourists who get weak or tired during gorilla trekking, the old and the disabled,” Hangi said.

“Community members charge a fee that goes up to $300.”

Lilly Ajarova, chief executive of the Uganda Tourism Board, echoed his comments. “This is a service offered by communities around Bwindi to tourists who fail to see the mountain gorillas due to their physical inabilities."

It’s not a service that’s offered by the parks in Kenya’s Maasai Mara region.

“In our 15 conservancies, we only offer game drive services or tours on foot. But I witnessed this stretcher service in Uganda and Rwanda,” Daniel Sopia, CEO of Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies, told AFP by telephone.

The carrying of tourists had actually been a source of controversy online in Uganda as long ago as 2015 when photos of the practice began circulating.

The same photo was shared widely in December 2016 via a Facebook post captioned: “This must stop. Uganda Wildlife Authority, please find another way of guiding tourists. This is serious dehumanisation!!!!! Not in this age!!!!!!!!” That post was shared 29,000 times.

Mary Kulundu