Mkombe was an inspirational man, always smiling, extraordinary with children and with an exuberance for Africa's wild places that we all share.
Mkombe Mniko was born in the late 1960s near the village of Shirati on the shores of Lake Victoria, where he spent his childhood years before heading to Nairobi to join a teacher training college. Whilst on holiday back in Tanzania in the early 1990’s Mkombe had volunteered to join a team of casual workers, tasked with preparing Ngorongoro’s rim-side airstrip - manually scything the tall grass. He immediately stood out, cutting way more airstrip than the rest, smiling and chatting all the while. He duly caught the attention of Mark Houldsworth a young Scot who at that time was just embarking on his own safari career working with Ker & Downey Tanzania.
A friendship was born that day between two of Nomads' eventual founders as Mkombe quickly became an invaluable wingman to Mark, first in the Serengeti, and then latterly when Mark and his new wife Milly moved to Tarangire and on to Sand Rivers Selous. In no time Mkombe was taking quiet control of the crews in whatever camp they settled in, his tremendous work ethic, easy manner and permanent smile making friends and earning respect from all he encountered. He improved his English, taught himself to drive and steadily grew his wildlife knowledge and in no time he had started guiding clients at Sand Rivers, mastered boat driving and become a legendary fisherman (not hard for a son of Lake Victoria). He was an immediate hit with guests and crew alike.
In the late 1990’s Mark, Milly and Mkombe moved back up to the Serengeti to start their Nomad Safari Guide operation in earnest. With just two old Land Rovers and a pile of secondhand safari kit, they developed the first shared use mobile camp to shadow the Serengeti migration. This later became Nomad's Serengeti Safari Camp, which still faithfully follows the path of the wildebeest throughout the year, although it’s a lot more comfortable these days. From the outset, they hoped to create a showcase for the top Tanzanian guides and it was Mkombe who identified the best talent, brought them on board and inspired them with his own knowledge and expertise. This team developed a reputation we work hard to maintain today and still champion as the single most important factor in any safari experience.
His fabulous way with people soon earned Mkombe great popularity in safari circles and he built up a network of his own supporters, on several occasions visiting tour operators & guests in Europe and beyond. Having brought together the original guiding team, Mkombe now pioneered our vehicle micro-finance scheme - a key feature of Nomad operations today, and was the first of many guides to proudly drive his own customized safari car. He repaid the loan quickly and gradually built his own small fleet, all the while continuing his successful guiding career.
It was around this time in 2003 that Nomad Safari Guides merged with Nomad Safaris and Mahale Ltd to become Nomad Tanzania as it is today. Suddenly Mkombe found himself in the illustrious company of Richard Bonham, Roland Purcell and Bimb & Lizzie Theobald, already established amongst Tanzania’s bravest safari pioneers.
Meanwhile he had a son with his wife Martina, a young local girl from the village whom his parents had identified as being an ideal match. He was a proud husband & doting father and so it was a huge blow to him when his young son, Houldsworth James Mniko took ill and died before he was even one year old. It was a further tragedy that Martina herself died not very long afterwards.
Determined not to become bitter at his ill luck, Mkombe instead developed a fabulous rapport with children on safari and, as such was immensely popular with families from around the world. In the same vein, he went above and beyond in his role as godfather to Mark & Milly’s only son Archie, always seeking him out between safaris and ensuring his football skills were honed at an early age. It was then with some surprise but huge excitement that Mkombe learned that he was in fact the father of another son of his own who had been kept secret from him, by a previous relationship, in fact not just a son but a grandson as well. Once the truth was out, he showered his newfound family with love and care and gave them every opportunity he could to advance in the world. Having discovered a whole new layer of happiness in his life it was tragic that in 2008 Mkombe took ill and passed away after a short illness.
Mkombe has left behind a legacy of wonderful memories and his contribution to the Nomad family has been immense. He exhibited the enthusiasm and child-like excitement for being in wild places that we carry with us to this day and we’re proud that this little corner of the Serengeti that he loved so much, should carry his name.