Marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and an elderly woman who volunteered to cook for political prisoners during the struggle for independence were among 180 personalities honoured for their actions yesterday.
President Uhuru Kenyatta bestowed Kipchoge with the Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (EGH), days after the 34-year-old became the first man to run a marathon in under two hours.
The star athlete’s award during the 10th Mashujaa Day celebrations in Mombasa placed him in a distinguished category of Kenyans.
In his address to the country, Uhuru urged Kenyans to emulate the world marathon record holder.
“His latest conquest shows that through integrity, hard work and commitment to excellence, we can achieve all we set our minds to do. I urge all Kenyans to follow Kipchoge’s example and become shujaas in their respective fields,” said Uhuru.
Kipchoge was among more than 100 other personalities that were garlanded during the day set aside to honour those who have brought honour and glory to the country.
Those recognised included educationists, artists, sportsmen and women, and ordinary Kenyans whose actions, such as fighting against illicit brews and female genital mutilation, and uniting warring communities, have served to inspire generations of their compatriots.
Among them were Mwanatumu Abdalla, who was honoured for cooking for political prisoners during the Mau Mau period, Mary Khavere (popularly known as Mama Kayai) best remembered for her starring role in the comedy programme Vitimbi, and Joseph Katana Ngala for his contribution to the music industry.
Mama Kayai, together the late Ojwang Hatari and a host of other comedians, kept Kenyans glued to their television sets with rib-cracking jokes that spanned generations. Mr Ngala is the undisputed king of bango music, with timeless songs like Nione Raha and Simba.
Freedom heroes Daniel Mulinge Muthembwa and Herman Warui Nguyo, among others, also received State honours.
Zena Hassan Mwachia was recognised as a living treasure.
The sports heroes honoured included legendary goalkeeper Mahmoud Abbas, former Harambee Stars coach Mohammed Kheri, cricketer Martin Suji, swimmer Jason Dunford, and former world javelin champion Julius Yego.
Volleyball star Mercy Moim, boxer Rayton Okwiri, legendary female golfer Rose Naliaka and Rose Tata-Muya, the first Kenyan woman to compete in the world championships, were recognised.
The President also awarded anti-FGM crusaders Sadia Hussein and Pauline Ngimor, de-radicalisation advocate Ahmed Sett, and former Kenya Defence Forces officer Jimmy Musembi Kiilu, who was involved in the Abidjan Kenya Airways disaster rescue mission.
Also recognised were Mary Wanjiru Kimondo, who has helped fight illicit brews in Nyeri County, and Standard Group journalist Patrick Munene Kamau.
Also feted were Col (Rtd) Laban Kamonya for his contribution in numerous peace-keeping missions abroad and locally where he is a peace ambassador, and Robert Mugo Mboi, a career civil servant who served the First Family as a driver and even drove Uhuru to school, and protected the family as he served in the disciplined forces.
But it was Kipchoge’s feat that most captured the imagination of Kenyans at the Mama Ngina Waterfront, where thousands of Kenyans had gathered for the celebrations.
The EGH is second only to the Chief of the Order of the Golden Heart (CGH), which is reserved for heads of state.
Kipchoge is the first sportsperson to receive the EGH, and the only non-political figure on whom it has been bestowed. It was a befitting honour for a man who last week had the world at his feet after he ran a breath-taking race in Vienna, Austria. He clocked 1:59:40, underlining his name in history books as one of the greatest sportsmen in the world.
The Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya is the highest category of presidential awards.
Just before he completed his speech, the President invited Kipchoge up to the podium to receive the award, crowning a colourful ceremony attended by various dignitaries, among them political leaders and diplomats.