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Our freedom heroes and heroines deserve appreciation

Let’s recall some great men, who’ve been

 Fighting for our rights

Let’s recall some great men, who’ve been

Fighting for our rights

Let’s recall some great men,

Who have been fighting for our rights

Let’s recall some great men, who’ve been

fighting for our rights

Recall them, recall them

       -Burning Spear-

‘Perhaps you and I have lived with this miracle too long to be properly appreciative. Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.’[1]

       Ronald Reagan

The old English epic poem ‘BEOWULF’ describes the epitome of a classical hero. According to the legend, a great monster, Grendel, nightly terrorized the great hall of the Danish King, Hrothgar, devouring as many as thirty men in a night. The kingdom was at the mercy of the monster until the appearance of the young BEOWULF. Pledging to save the castle from the monster, tearing off Grendelis and sending him packing to the moors, mortally wounded. When Grendelis mother, the water-demon, began terrorizing the castle to avenge her son, Beowulf again took up the challenge. Tracking her to the bottom of the sea, Beowulf killed Grendelis mother and returned victorious, bearing Grendelis severed head.

In recognition of his mighty contribution, Beowulf eventually succeeded to the Kingship, where he reigned peacefully for fifty years. As an aging King, however, Beowulf saw his people ravaged by a fire-breathing dragon. Again, disaster waited in the wings, as the old man engaged in a long and painful battle. His men deserted him, but Beowulf fought on. Eventually, Beowulf’s sword broke, and the dragon sunk his poison teeth into the old King’s neck, yet Beowulf fought on. In the end, the dragon was slain and the kingdom saved, but the mighty Beowulf had been mortally wounded and died.

Beowulf epitomizes the essential qualities of the classical hero: risking personal sacrifice on behalf of the common good. Yet Beowulf is scarcely alone in this regard. Achilles gave up his life on behalf of the Achaean attack on Troy. In the various legends of the quest for the Holy Grail, Perceval, Galahad and Gawain provide models of sacrifice and loyalty. Robin Hood offers still another example of this classical version. The good book, The Bible, in the book of Acts states that for there to be a testament there must be a testator. In this regard in Kenya we have had folks who have been brave enough to fight for justice, human rights, self-internal rule and democracy. These folks have a testament ideally. Consequently, calling them testators of heroism is called for.

20th of October each year is the day that we celebrate our heroes. It is widely known as Mashujaa Day.  The term ‘hero’ comes from the Greek word ‘heros’ which literally means protector or defender. This day is a public holiday that is meant to honor all Kenyans who have contributed towards the struggle for Kenya’s independence as well as those who have immensely contributed to the country in different sectors and spheres.  Previously this holiday used to be known as Kenyatta Day, named after Jomo Kenyatta, who was the first Prime Minister and then President of Kenya. History has it that he was arrested in October 1952 along with five others namely Achieng Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Paul Ngei, Kung’u Karumba and Fred Kubai on charges of being members of the MauMau movement, a movement engaged in rebellion against Kenya’s British Rulers. The accused are famously referred to as ‘Kapenguria Six.’ The holiday was first observed in 1958 mainly by activists, but quickly grew and was seen as a success by 1959. After Kenya gained independence in 1963, the date was embedded in the law as Kenyatta Day. When Kenya adopted a new Constitution in August 2010, several changes were made to the public holidays observed in Kenya and Kenyatta Day was renamed to Mashujaa Day and the focus of the day was widened to include all those who contributed to the independence of Kenya.

Heroes’ day (or Mashujaa Day as it is widely known) is a day in which we reflect those who made concerted efforts to enable to us live the kinds of lives that we have. In reflecting on their lives, we often pose the question; if they were alive can they be happy with the developments in the various sector of the country? At one time I talked to one of the second liberation activists and he was very candid to tell me that he still has wounds inflicted by the agents of Daniel Moi led regime which he still nurses to date. Shockingly, he informed me that for him he doesn’t see if the struggle he was part of was worth it courtesy of the current events in the country. He informed me that what they envisioned while agitating for reforms isn’t what is happening currently although he is quick to note that at least some positive steps have been made but as a country we are yet to reach the ideal standards the second liberators agitated for.

When Jomo Kenyatta ascended to power over fifty years ago, he stated categorically that he was on a mission to fight three things namely: ignorance, poverty and diseases. The grainy, shaky newsreel footage from December 12th 1963 shows the proud bearded Kenyatta, with his barrel chest and trade-mark fly whisk, waving to the ecstatic crowd, while the almost comically stiff colonial officials watch awkwardly from the back of the stage in their starched and gilded ceremonial dress.  The images can’t hide the sense of optimism and euphoria that swept across the country that day. Almost a century of British colonial rule was over. The years of subjugation had ended. And at last, Kenyans were masters of their destiny, with Jomo Kenyatta promising to lead the way. As noted above, Jomo Kenyatta made a solemn pledge that the new government will tackle three big challenges of poverty, ignorance and disease.

It was a bold statement of confidence in his government’s ability to drive the country towards a more prosperous future and it was a direct jab in the eye of the British who used all three as tools of colonial domination. It was also a gift for journalists half a century on, looking for benchmarks to measure the progress made in that time. So, what of those challenges? One newspaper published a cartoon with two Kenyans-the first, at birth, clutching the three-point list and the second at fifty, angrily looking at a new extended ‘to-do’ list, with poverty, ignorance, disease, corruption and tribalism.  Mashujaa day is a moment for us to decode why over fifty years later since Jomo Kenyatta made the bold statement the same has been realized.

Heroes are the virtues of courage, honor and service to mankind. Heroes care for what is ideal for an array of masses. Researchers George Goethals and Scott Allison suggest three important dimensions in which our perceptions of heroes vary: we view them as moral or competent and possibility both at once; we view them as being born with stable heroic traits or made into heroes by specific circumstances; they inspire us or show great leadership. Research shows that heroes are often leaders and often share some combination of the following ‘eight great traits’: smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable and inspiring. It is unusual for a hero to possess all eight of these characteristics, but most heroes have some of them. Many of these traits are widely studied in the field of positive psychology. The values in action (VIA) Inventory of Strengths is a classification comprising about twenty-four character strengths that fall within six broad virtue categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.

Heroes aren’t after self if that could be a fact then definitely the name could lose its meaning. The broader needs of the community seem to be of intrinsic value to them and they place it as a number one priority. Reminds me of Night’s Watch Oath which states:

I SHALL TAKE NO WIFE; HOLD NO LANDS, FATHER NO CHILDREN. I SHALL WEAR NO CROWNS AND WIN NO GLORY…..I PLEDGE MY LIFE AND HONOR TO THE NIGHT’S WATCH, FOR THIS NIGHT AND ALL THE NIGHTS TO COME.”

Muzahidual Reza perhaps best captures the sacrifice of the heroes in his poem titled: ‘The Sacrificing of the Poor Heroes for the Independence.’

         Either they would be independent or martyred they told

And without weapons, enough food, necessary products

They fully bold

To fight against those armed forces and occupationists

To snatch complete freedom

To ensure the glory of flying in the blue sky, ever open

Keeping pace with the rest of the world

Raising head upwards as independent nation;

And they were firmly confident and right

Within only nine months of violent fight

Their spirited body and mind were able to hunt

Too cruel, unscrupulous rulers’ blood thirsty forces

Then long expected, heart cherished victory came

The undaunted heroes wrote the name

Of an independent loving new brave nation

On the centuries hard stone

But through a fathomless ocean of bleeding

Lots of valuable, harmless, helpless lives losing

Chastity, honors’ of lots of innocent women being violated

And all kinds of huge resources being playfully destroyed.

Many masses especially those in the current generation cannot appreciate the importance of celebrating the heroes who risked their lives to ensure that the freedom that they currently enjoy is reality. They (heroes) had to sacrifice their pleasure and comfort and strive towards making sure that the colonialists grant independence unto the masses in the country. As well, there are Kenyans who were involved in the second liberation during the reign of the late President Daniel Torotich Arap Moi. These men and women fought for ideals and values which were (are still) dear to them.  From fighting for freedom, human rights and justice, our national heroes were extraordinary and are a testament to what we can accomplish as human beings. Through their works and sacrifice, we can live more comfortably as human beings.

All these one cannot be able to appreciate unless he or she has had a date with the history of the country. It has been touted that studying history is studying change. Historians are experts in examining and interpreting human identities and transformations of societies and civilizations over time. One doesn’t need to be an ardent historian for him or her to decode history. Studying history helps us understand and grapple with complex questions and dilemmas by examining how the past has shaped (and continues to shape) global, national and local relationships between societies and people. In appreciating the history of the land, one is able to see the works of the heroes and heroines.

The first generation of liberators lived through a period when colonialists forcefully created segregated native reserves along ethnic lines restricting any integration. The colonial regime created an ethnic-based labor society relying mainly on stereotypes such as who were better house servants, askaris or cooks-thus laying the basis for stereotypical terms of an ethnically divided society. Despite all these efforts to divide them ethnically, the first liberators rose together to fight for Kenya’s independence. Of the first-generation liberators talk of Mau Mau members like Dedan Kimathi, Waruhiu Itote’; Harry Thuku, James Beauttah, Paul Ngei, Ronald Ngala, Achieng Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Esau Khamati Oriedo, Kungu Karumba; Makhan Singh; Jaramogi Oginga; Tom Mboya, among others.

Raila Odinga in his paper ‘Tribute to Real Heroes of our Second Liberation,’ notes as follows: ‘In the year 1990 it was evident that even after 30 years after the country won its independence, it became clear that the ideals that drove our quest for independence were not only unmet, they had also been brutally betrayed and Kenya was marching backwards. Justice was being denied to Kenyans who were being hauled to jail on trumped up charges. By then the Executive shared the same bed with the Judiciary. There was an assault on freedom of thought, information and association. Hundreds of Kenyans were arrested or sacked because they expressed or were suspected to hold opinions that were at variance with those of the government. Corruption was running out of hand, leaving millions’ of Kenyans in extreme poverty, while a tiny elite wallowed in absolute, ill-gotten wealth.

The routine things that we do enjoy today, like walking into a forex bureau and exchanging your dollars or sterling pound for Kenya shillings, turning on your radio or television and tuning into your channel of choice were unheard of then. You could not own foreign currency without authority from the government. You could only listen to or watch the Voice of Kenya. News was what the President and the government said and did. There was no private sector to talk about. The few players that remained were being bled dry by a constant need to carry sacks of money to those in power to stay in business. Instead of rewarding efficiency and knowledge, the regime rewarded sycophancy. The law never provided a level playing field for players in the economy. Foreign investors were pulling out. Local industries were shutting down. People in government began to bring in cheap imports without paying taxes to compete with the very companies producing these products and paying duties.

To start a business, you had to see a minister or a ruling party operative and give out 15 to 25 percent of the value of the bribe. It was a recipe for stagnation, and we did stagnate. We lived in a one-party state. What the ruling party said was mistaken to be government policy and law. It had an all-powerful disciplinary committee before which grown-up men appeared, often on trumped-up charges and wept. It was easy to understand why. The party was the sole avenue for participating in politics and general public life. If you were expelled from the party, you could not be in politics and you could not get a job. The party had a vicious youth wing that was often more powerful than the official security forces. The youth wing could determine whether you held a rally, a Harambee or even conduct a burial ceremony as you wished or not. The ruling party was literally, baba na mama.

Spying and police became a big industry with expenditure on police services, especially in rural areas, expanding greatly. Between 1978 and 1979, the allocations for the Office of the President, which had the responsibility for the police forces, shot up in the category of personal emoluments for the police, Criminal Investigation Department and General Service Unit staff and in the category of GSU transport. This is the system that Kenyans in their anger and valor woke up in 1990 and decided to face the regime head on.’

The movement started with the late Charles Rubia and the late Kenneth Matiba, who agitated for multiparty politics. The late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his son Raila Amollo Odinga joined the movement as well. The other liberators who were part of the movement include Chief Justice Emeritus Dr. Willy Mutunga, Gibson Kamau Kuria, Kiraitu Murungi, Micere Mugo, Atieno Odhiambo, Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Timothy Njoya, John Githongo, Martin Shikuku, George Anyona, Wasonga Sijeyo, Sheikh Khaled Balala, Ahmed Bahmariz, Ok’ongo Arara, Masinde Muliro, Wangari Maathai, Bishop Alexander Muge, Koigi Wamwere, Martha Karua, James Orengo, and Gitobu Imanyara among others. The members of this movement paid heavily. They were arrested, taken to Nyati House, maimed and tortured. What they fought for was realized. Their movement can be deemed as what spearheaded the 2010 Constitution.

The first and second liberation heroes paid a heavy price and the gains are evident and almost convicted even the blind man can see the same. But how have they been treated by the past regimes even the current ones? One can think that by the virtue that the heroes and heroines did great work to fight for what we enjoy now, the government ought to treat them well and care for them. For, after all, most of these heroes and heroines are elderly.

Kenneth Matiba in 2017 was awarded over 500 million shillings by Justice Isaac Lenaola for his suffering during the Moi era by the government. Justice Lenaola awarded Matiba the highest amount given to a torture victim. Matiba was able to prove that he was unlawfully violated by agents of the state prior to his release in 1991. Justice Lenaola as of 2017 linked Matiba’s state of health to the events he experienced while being detained. Justice Lenaola noted, ‘It so greatly affected the business acumen, attention, focus, energy, guidance and leadership that he was giving his companies’. Matiba was compensated for torture and inhumane treatment, covered for medical costs and reimbursed for financial losses. The compensation is yet to be fully settled by the state.

Charles Rubia who died in 2019 spent his last days in the corridors of justice seeking compensation for his illegal detention and torture by the Moi government. Rubia was the first African mayor of Nairobi and is remembered for Multi-Party democracy in the country in the 1990’s alongside the late Kenneth Matiba. Rubia was seeking the highest-ever compensation of Sh 40 Billion.  He had sued the government saying his business, health and family were devastated when he was arrested and detained by President Moi’s regime. Mr. Rubia was arrested twice and illegally confined during the Nyayo era. And during his detention, he suffered from poor health and his family was devastated because no one wanted to be associated with them.

Charles Rubia was first arrested in February 1987 on allegations that he was the financier of Mwakenya and was working in cohorts with church leaders to topple Moi’s government.  He was detained at Nyayo House for five days before he was released. He was arrested for the second time on July 4th 1990 when together with Mr Matiba and Martin Shikuku, they called for a rally at the famous Kamukunji grounds. He was arrested three days before the planned rally.

He served as Starehe MP between 1969 and 1988. On his second arrest, he was detained for about nine months and was only released when his doctor Dr. Dan Gikonyo and government physician recommended that he be released or be taken to hospital because he was seriously ill. Among the investments, he had to relinquish after detention were Peponi School, Rweru General Stores and had to relinquish his directorship at Cooperative Bank as well as Provincial Insurance now known as UAP Insurance. During his detention, Mr. Rubia was forced to sleep on a cold, dusty floor with an inadequate blanket. Because of the cold, he got a chest infection and according to Dr. Gikonyo, Mr Rubia had lost several kilograms when he examined him in detention.

A scan of his head and chest later revealed a tumor in the chest that was pressing the windpipe towards the left and he recommended its immediate removal because it was life-threatening. Mr Rubia initially sued the government demanding KES 325 million for illegal detention but later enhanced the amount to Sh 40 billion. By the time he died, his case was pending in court and so far, no information is available in the public domain regarding his case, maybe his lawyer Dr. Irung’u Kang’ata knows.

On 15th January 2023, Rigathi Gachagua in a tweet noted that he was saddened that Mukami, the wife of Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri had been ill and admitted to a hospital in Nairobi. He tasked Embakasi Central member of the National Assembly Honorable Benjamin Gathiru to look into her situation urgently. The next day, Deputy President visited Mukami Kimathi at Nairobi Hospital and Doctor William Samoei Ruto paid the hospital bill.  Dedan Kimathi’s widow had been detained at Nairobi Hospital over KES 1.3 million bills. She was admitted to Nairobi Hospital on January 5th 2023 suffering from pneumonia and age-related complications had been discharged but was detained due to the bill.

Following the good gesture one was quick to comment as follows:

This is no doubt a wonderful gesture by both President Ruto and his DEPUTY Rigathi Gachagua. I congratulate Ruto for this noble action. For a longtime, the Kenya freedom fighters led by Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi wa Ciuri, have been neglected and forgotten. Maybe the two current leaders, will create a new chapter in Kenya’s history, where Mashujaa day celebrations will incorporate showing respect, honor, gratitude and appreciation for all those who fought for the independence of Kenya. I wish I was close to Ruto; I would plead with him to recommend October 31st of every year as a day to remember Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, so that Kenyans may always be reminded that freedom was not given, but was fought for, by courageous men and women of Kenya. That can be the only way to remind Kenyans the meaning of independence. I am humbled by this noble action.

Is this a good show really? Those who fought for our freedom and independence are left to suffer. Nobody cares about their fate. It took the intervention of one to inform Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua of the issue for it to be addressed. What of those liberators who don’t have contact with those in power? What is their fate? Do we hate them or dislike them? Or we just have a don’t care attitude. These liberators paid a price, and it cannot be taken for granted and or wished away. There is a need to have a conversation on the way we treat or rather deal with the freedom fighters both of the 1st and 2nd liberations. The government should look seriously into the welfare of the liberators. This can include matters of finances; the provision of health-related services to them and their best interests at heart without in anyway presenting a burden to the country. Naming roads after them yet they are living in deplorable conditions and can’t be able to afford basic necessities is a big joke. These people deserve to be cared for.

To truly honor them, we must live our lives in ways that embody what they fought for. What they stood for. Our heroes are symbols of perfection-they represent some of the highest qualities we strive to emulate-courage, strength, selflessness and love. The first and second liberators in this country did a perfect job in ensuring that we have the best lives now. Their lives matter and we have a duty to ensure that their life on earth is worth it and devoid of misery. The least we can do for our heroes and heroines is to support them in times of need.

I end with the following words of Kelvin Mungai:

         MASHUJAA DAY

         M: Million lives were lost

         A: And families were torn apart but

         S: Still our courageous forefather pressed non their

         H: Hearts set on a goal freedom at all cost

         U: Undaunted they fought to regain independence or die attempting

         J: Justice evaded them and they were subjected to inhuman conditions

         A: Atrocities, captured fighters were tortured and women*******

         A: A sacrifice was made so we could enjoy fruits of liberty

         Selflessly they watered this tree with their blood

         Some we never knew made sure we have Kenya today

         Patriotism was their heartbeat as they endured all

         To ensure that our generation lives in peace in this land

Their dreams we never hide our faces behind mask

Of slavery again.


[1] Ronald Reagan sentiments on freedom.

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He is a law student at University of Nairobi, Parklands Campus.