By Jerry Okungu
October 20, 2010
As I lay in bed to sample Mashujaa Day, I imbibed with interest the names that scrolled on our TV screens. I felt extremely good because unlike in the past, I could associate with Kenyans one would call true heroes. Perhaps the ones that excited me most were the cadre that was outside the orbit of the usual suspects- civil servants, military officers, DOs, DCs, PCs and politicians. This time round, our sportsmen, academia, media personalities, musicians and ordinary peasants took their place of pride among the elite. It was equally thrilling to see the perennial whiners- the Mau Mau veterans and their survivors in the list of honours.
However, there was something drastically wrong with some media stations. It would appear like they had not come to terms with the new Kenya and the fact that this day was no longer a Kenyatta Day. This weakness was particularly obvious with one TV station that took 90 minutes talking about Jomo Kenyatta through the eyes of his nieces, aid de camp and the Mzee’s Social Secretary. One would have expected the media to break with the past and really delve into the other Independence heroes that Kenyans had neglected for nearly half a century.
For me I would have loved it more if some investigative journalist brought me a full expose’ of the life and times of Dedan Kimathi, the real General Mathenge and other Independence heroes we have never showered with praise for fifty years. That one hour on Kenyatta could very well have been for the widow of Dedan Kimathi, that old lady that has kept the memory of her husband alive against all odds.
On Citizen TV, the interview with the late James Kangwana and Hassan Mazoa on how VOK handled Kenyatta’s death was brilliant. Perhaps it was the only aspect of Kenyatta’s story that most Kenyans who were alive then were not familiar with. It was brilliantly told by people who were in charge of the only broadcast station then.
However, bringing Rev Njoya in the studio on Mashujaa Day was a dumper for Citizen TV. Though a good speaker and a revered activist, the good Reverend has the tendency to get carried away and start maligning other political players with claims that are easily disputable in a court of public opinion. Yes, Rev Njoya may have been the first to call for multiparty system way back in the 1980s, but he was not the only one. The likes of Ngugi wa Thiongo had already been thrown into detention much earlier for demanding reforms even when Kenyatta was still alive.
Having said that, we need to define the meaning of National Heroes in order not to get into the trap some media houses fell into this week. And even then, those technocrats that draw up the list of those to be honoured should be careful with the criteria they use to prepare such a list. Let us make this list truly reflective of our diverse society but more importantly, let it not be diluted such that every Onyango, Kamau and Mutiso finds themselves in it.
In my opinion, every political leader, civil servant or soldier does not deserve to be honoured simply because the individual attained the highest office at some point on the land.
In Japan and other Far East countries, leaders commit suicide if they are mentioned adversely while in office. We have cases of prime ministers and cabinet ministers that have taken their lives to preserve the honours of their families rather than drag the names of their families in the mud with prolonged prosecutions. Such leaders are never recognized as heroes.
In Germany today, even though Adolf Hitler is their most famous leader of all time, his atrocities during the Second World War cannot allow Germans to honour him.
It was therefore curious to see names such as Daniel arap Moi being bandied as our heroes after witnessing the devastation he and his cabal visited upon this land for a quarter century. How can we celebrate the Second Liberation heroes that were tortured by Moi’s machinery yet invite Moi to join them in the roll of honour?
Let us agree that when we next search for our heroes, we will look for character, integrity, service to fellow men and sacrifice for the common good; not thieves, land grabbers, fraudsters and people who organized for fellow Kenyans to be tortured, detained and even killed in cold blood. If included, such characters can only make us treat our new heroes with contempt.
Finally, before the next Mashujaa Day, let the media scout all corners of Kenya. Let them go beyond Nairobi and Central Kenya to find more interesting and deserving unsung heroes that all Kenyans can identify with.