With Kadenge’s death, time has come to reward sports legends

A casket bearing remains of former football legend Joe Kadenge, during his memorial service at Friends Church, Ngong road in Nairobi, on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. [David Njaaga/Standard]

Last Wednesday’s requiem mass for the departed Kenya football legend Joe Kadenge ended with some good news that Nairobi’s City Stadium will be renamed after him. The football icon, famously associated with the popular catch phrase “Kadenge Na Mpira” died a fortnight ago, aged 84.

Kadenge, seen as the father of football in Kenya was an inspiration figure in local soccer, which unfortunately has been run down since his exit from active playing. As a result of his success on the pitch, he boasted a lofty position in the country’s footballing scene dating back to pre-and post-independence days.

Therefore, the impeding renaming of the City Stadium to Joe Kadenge Stadium is a welcome gesture which has come late though. Nevertheless, we can say it is better late than never. The move to rename the stadium is a befitting honor for the departed hero who deserved more recognition when he was alive. It’s unfortunate that successful governments saw no importance to honor Kadenge in a country where football enjoys a fanatical following.

Though the former Harambee Stars legend epitomized the pride of Kenya football, he never lived a gratifying life. He struggled financially. To make the ends meet, he was a taxi driver at some point in his post-playing era. In early 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta visited him at his South-B home in Nairobi.

The President donated Ksh2 million to settle the accrued medical bill and also offered Kadenge a comprehensive medical cover. Therefore, it’s a pity that Kadenge’s life struggles encapsulates the sad story of how our sports legends have failed to earn the recognition they deserve from those in power.

Instead, we live in a country whose political leadership is known to reward political rejects, perpetrators of corruption, and all manner of undeserving Kenyans. This is the reason why sports legends like Kadenge were never accorded the honor that befit their important contributions to the nation. If Kadenge was born in a country that cares about the welfare of its sports legends, he would have led a better life.

His statue would have been erected at the entrance of the City Stadium which is now being renamed after him. As the emotions surrounding Kadenge’s death ebb in the next few weeks, as a country or government we need to seriously rethink how best to honor our sports legends.

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It is a great irony to shower our sports heroes or heroines with praises when they have died, yet when they were alive we did little to recognize their contributions in nation building. Sadly, it is a well-documented fact that Kenya’s history of rewarding its sports heroes is replete with embarrassment. In fact, quoted in the press, Siaya Women Representative Christine Ombaka has pointed out that we have this habit of celebrating heroes after Jamhuri Day.

In this vein, parliament should fasttrack the proposed Kenya Heroes Bill to ensure that the sporting legends are rewarded for their fine contributions to the nation. I hope Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula will keep their promise during Kadenge’s requiem mass to push through the Kenya Heroes Bill.

The Bill proposes the criteria for identifying, recognizing and honoring national heroes and heroines. It recommends the creation of a 13-member National Heroes Council to be mandated with the responsibility of identifying and recommending heroes or heroines for national recognition.

There is no doubt that national recognition of legends like Kadenge and others will definitely spur the growth of the sports sub-sector in our country.

In a positive note, embracing the culture of recognizing sports legends will act as a pivotal springboard to inspire upcoming talented Kenyans to pursue careers in various sporting activities. The culture of care-free attitude towards our sports legends is shameful and must come to an end.

— The author is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Journalism and Corporate Communication at USIU-Africa. [email protected]

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Kenya football legendJoe KadengeKadenge Na Mpira