, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 20 – Being the first national holiday after the August 27 promulgation of the new Constitution, Nyayo stadium was jam packed with Kenyans who had come to witness the first Mashujaa (heroes) Day.
Both the young and old gathered here as early as 7am probably in a show of solidarity with Kenya’s heroes or out of curiosity to mark this national day.
For the first time in the history of the country, national heroes – from the Mau Mau war veterans, top athletes, sports men and women as well as musicians considered as the country’s heroes – were honoured.
Those present at the ceremony marched in front of the dignitaries and all Kenyans present led by the wife of slain Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, a former Mau Mau leader who was executed in 1957.
Gabriel Omolo, a 70 year old former musician entertained the nation amidst cheers with one of his hit songs “lunch time.”
The song about casual workers who normally eat maharagwe (beans), but at the end of the month, on payday, they have some money to eat chapati and Ng’ombe (beef) was a hit in Kenya in the 1970’s.
The former musician was among those celebrated as heroes in the music industry.
Veteran politician Martin Shikuku said the day was remarkable because the real heroes were, for the first time, honoured.
“I think they were very honoured, remembering them, mentioning their names is a good beginning but more should be done to remember these people,” Mr Shikuku said.
Mashujaa Day (formerly Kenyatta Day) will now be commemorated annually in honour of Kenya’s heroes.
Nairobi Metropolitan Minister Njeru Githae said: “I would like to thank the planners of this day. We saw Mau Mau heroes were here, football heroes, musicians both new and old were here and that is what should be happening. I saw the real heroes of Kenya and this is just the first step.”
An 87-year-old-former Mau Mau veteran who had also attended the event said for the first time the government had recognised them.
“We have been recognised because even the people who are in London have heard this is Mashujaa Day and the government recognises us,” he said.
However, there were mixed reactions from a cross section of Kenyans over the renaming of the day to Mashujaa Day.
While many welcomed it saying it gave recognition to all people who fought for the liberation of the country, others felt the day would not make any fundamental changes in the heroes’ lives.
“There is a difference because previously Kenyans recognised only Kenyatta (Kenya’s first president) but now we are recognising every legend,” said one Kenyan.
“Now that it has been changed, it is a pride of Kenya but it will not have much effect because people are not even focused on those holidays; they are too busy,” said another Kenyan.
Edwin Esituma proposed the setting up of a fund to support the surviving freedom fighters and their families who had in the past lived in abject poverty.
“Money is not very important but there is a way these heroes can be remembered by helping their families all round not just giving them a little money but look into their needs socially, economically and other ways,” Mr Esituma said.
He also said there was need to entrench these heroic contributions in our schools curriculum to ensure they were passed on to the next generations.