By Dominic Odipo
In the article published in this column on October 20, 2008, under the headline "Kenyatta Day a false holiday," I wrote:
"October 9,1952 is not celebrated as a national holiday in this country. Most people hardly notice it on the calendar. This is a pity because there is a sense in which this day is even more significant than Kenyatta Day. This is the day Senior Chief Waruhiu of Gachie was brutally murdered on the outskirts of Nairobi.
"Waruhiu was shot in the mouth by a group of men suspected to have been Mau Mau. They disappeared into the rain leaving the body curled up in the car. Waruhiu was no ordinary chief.
"He was the epitome of the Kenyan, or rather Kikuyu loyalist. He abhorred everything to do with Mau Mau and loved almost everything British. He even dressed like the British colonisers and affected to speak like them. By killing Waruhiu, the Mau Mau were making an unmistakable statement to the British and all those who stood with them. From that day on, every colonialist and loyalist was a target".
Reflecting on the real significance of Kenyatta Day, which we mark on October 20th every year, the article continued:
"If October 9th was a national holiday we would all be very clear about what we were remembering on that day. We would be celebrating the victory of loyalism and reaction over real freedom and independence. We would be celebrating the beginning of the end of Mau Mau and all it stood for. We would be celebrating the entrenchment of some of the key political and economic policies that continue to enslave our people today.
"So what do we remember or celebrate on Kenyatta Day? Is it the beginning of the end of Mau Mau? Or is it the abandonment of the basic ideas and principles that underpinned our struggle for real independence?
"Frankly, I do not know."
Excite and inspire
At the time that article was written, I did not know what we were celebrating or remembering on Kenyatta Day. Today, almost two years later, I still do not know what we shall be celebrating when this day rolls round again in a few months time.
There are many little things in the Proposed Constitution of Kenya published on May 6, 2010, which ought to excite and inspire ordinary Kenyans from every corner of the country. Unfortunately, they may not do so because these ordinary Kenyans may not get a chance to actually peruse the draft constitution.
Take Chapter Two, Section 9(3), for example. This section reads as follows: The National Days are:
Madaraka Day, to be observed on the 1st June; Mashujaa Day, to be observed on 20th October; and Jamhuri Day to be observed on 12th December".
If you vote ‘Yes’ at the referendum on the Proposed Constitution later this year, you will, among other things, be doing the following: You will be abolishing Labour Day, which we now mark on May 1, as well as Moi Day which we celebrate on October 10.
And, of particular interest for me, you will be effectively abolishing Kenyatta Day and ushering in a new holiday in its place to be known as Mashujaa Day or Heroes Day.
Changing Kenyatta Day to Mashujaa Day is not just an innocuous and harmless exercise in constitutional semantics. It ought to mark a major shift in the way Kenyans record and interpret their political, economic and social history. It ought to be a major turning point in the identification and enshrinement of a truly Kenyan identity.
It ought to provide a genuine constitutional opportunity for us to define what Kenyan heroism should have been all along, and who among our distinguished compatriots, dead or alive, ought to be recognised and honoured as a true national hero.
Who shall we be recognising and honouring on Mashujaa Day, if the Proposed Constitution is passed at the referendum? Shall we be honouring Senior Chief Waruhiu or Senior Chief Waiyaki? Shall we be replaying the speeches of Jomo Kenyatta or those of Oginga Odinga and Bildad Kaggia?
Shall we honour former President Daniel arap Moi or shall we honour those extremely brave men such as Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia who took him on in what was effectively a last ditch struggle?
Shall we honour Masinde Muliro, Tom Mboya, Dennis Akumu and Francis Atwoli in the same breadth? What about MacDonald Mariga and Dennis Oliech? Could they qualify as heroes worth special mention or attention on Mashujaa Day?
What about the man who might own 100,000 acres of land and decides to put all of it under maize so that he can feed the entire Coast Province?
Before we can identify our heroes, we need to lay down the basic criteria against which Kenyan heroism will be judged. Those who drafted the Proposed Constitution obviously had no time for such details. But with Mashujaa Day they have provided us the trigger that could start this process.
—The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.