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Our heroes and heroines deserve better

By Alexander Chagema | January 5th 2017

Brazil’s footballing history is incomplete without one name; Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Popularly known as Pele, he ruled over Brazilian and world football for years and still is a brand name today.

Similarly, Muhammad Ali left an imprint on America’s rich sporting history. His name is synonymous with modern boxing, a game he patronised for decades until the Pugilist Parkinson disease made him take his foot off the pedal.

In the same vein, Kenya’s footballing history is incomplete without Joe Kadenge. As a little boy growing up in Nairobi, the first name that registered in my mind as a brand was Joe Kadenge, arguably the greatest footballer in Kenyan history. We had estate teams and everybody believed becoming a “Kadenge na mpira” was the coolest thing on earth.

Kenya has indeed raised quite a number of great footballers and today we can proudly talk about Victor Mugubi Wanyama, Dennis Oliech and Divoc Origi doing the country proud with their exploits in European leagues. We bask in their glory as a country until the glory wanes and instantly we too, abandon them.

The great Joe Kadenge, the man who did duty for Kenya is an ailing old man in need of financial support to foot his growing medical bills. He is nursing a number of aches from bruises and knocks he took in the name of Kenya and while reciprocal action would make him feel appreciated, none has been forthcoming.

And he is not alone in this predicament. In her day as a great female pugilist, a lot of people in influential positions took pride in being associated with Conjestina Achieng. Too many hard knocks on the head and her mental health got adversely affected.

The Boxing Association of Kenya and the Kenya Amateur Boxing Federation, including the Government have abandoned her care in the hands her poor bewildered mother and family. No amount of pleas seems to register with those they are directed at. That is how we treat our heroes, starting with freedom fighters.

The real freedom fighters languish in poverty as the offspring of homeguards who never broke a sweat then today sweat profusely from gorging themselves on other people's toil and suffering.

Kenya lacks tangible greatness because it treats its great sons and daughters shabbily. Look at Mukami Kimathi, the widow of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi and tell me whether successive governments have been kind to her and many others who braved humiliation and torture to set us free from the yoke of colonialism.

In the past when the Government was unable to lend a hand, the true, unadulterated spirit of harambee came in handy until politicians hijacked it. While the spirit is still there among Kenyans, lack of competent political steerage is suffocating it.

Given direction by those in authority, let us be a nation and a people that mind those who have over the years done this country proud; etching it firmly on the world map.

There are pessimists who will argue that our sportsmen and women should have made investments in their day, but they would be wrong.

If today a trained primary school teacher earns Sh18,000 per month and a doctor gets paid Sh35,000 per month, how much did civil servants, much less a player, earn 40 years ago?

Even today, paying allowances for national team players is a major challenge for the Government. Kadenge, who represents many, has had almost no recognition after retirement except for a short stint as the national team coach.

This is unlike Pele, who has been in the limelight all through. It is unlike Ali who did not die in penury. He did not die because of lack of medical attention, his time had simply come because he got the best money could offer.

Even while suffering from Parkinson disease, Ali either featured or officiated in bouts. In the 1990s he was awarded the Spirit of America Award, the 1999 BBC Sports Personality of the year, the 1999 Kentucky Athlete of the year award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

On the other hand, Pele was not only made the Extraordinary Minister of Sport in 1995, he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 1997. He went on to become UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and World Player of the Century in 1999.

Today, betting is not just in vogue, it is a craze among Kenyans. While not under any obligation to football players in Kenya; by helping needy former greats like Kadenge who popularised football, betting firms, some which sponsor the English Premier league, will be giving back to society.

Help make these people feel their sacrifices and dedication were not in vain.

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