Yesterday’s Heroes, today’s heroism

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October 27, 2010 By Andrew Maina

Yesterday’s heroes and today’s heroism Just yesterday, Kenya got a taste of one of the new features of our new constitution. Kenya got a new public holiday, or to be more precise, a re-launched one.

Yesterday, what had been known until then as Kenyatta day, a day to mark the beginning of a colonial state of emergency that would see the future founding father of this country along with 5 others (collectively known as the Kapenguria six) arrested and charged with running of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. Under the new constitution this public holiday has been renamed Mashujaa Day. This was in order to celebrate all the various heroes who participated in this freedom struggle as well as those who have shown great acts of heroism to get Kenya where we are today.

Why this change of holiday? For many years the narrative of the broke freedom fighter/activist/ sports personalities has been part of Kenya’s political discourse. From the sad fate of the late Bildad Kaggia, to the uncelebrated Gor Mahia team of 1987 (winners of the Africa Cup Winners Cup) our newspapers and magazines regularly runs sob stories about how great achievers in all manner of fields often go unrewarded and unrecognized by the state, the citizenry and even the very people who benefit directly from their sweat. Can a single public holiday really be enough to change a nation’s attitudes to those that pay that high price for to achieve what they did? Should they receive some kind of state pension, a piece of land (as some surviving MAU MAU veterans told the TV stations that interviewed them?)

Considering that approximately 80% of Kenya’s population is 35 of younger, many of those named in the various speeches made by dignitaries were just that, names. However there were several contemporary heroes who were feted during the celebrations, with many being part of a procession that was held at the Nyayo stadium where the celebrations took place.

Though it may be fairly straight forward to say, with the older generations, this fellow was a hero for enduring so much suffering agitating for independence, it may not be so straight forward to say who is a hero in this society that we grow up in. Or at the very least the criteria used for those that fought for political independence. Wityh that in mind, what makes one a hero and what is the purpose of heroism in facing the challenges of a 20th century Africa?

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