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Uhuru Gardens to be spruced up to reflect nationhood

By - | October 20th 2012

By Lillian Aluanga–Delvaux

It was on these grounds that the nation’s founding father, President Jomo Kenyatta, planted a Mugumo tree, marking the spot where the national flag was first hoisted.

The grounds, sandwiched between Wilson Airport and Carnivore Restaurant along Nairobi’s Lang’ata road, are also ingrained in the country’s annals as the venue where Kenya’s first independence celebrations were held on December 12, 1963. In later years, the same grounds would hold monuments marking Kenya’s 20th and 25th anniversary.

And now should everything go to plan, the 63-acre Uhuru Gardens may have an addition to the works of art displayed on the grounds. That addition will be in the form of a monument erected on the 10 acres of land set aside to honour national heroes and heroines.

It has been five years since a taskforce that collected criteria and modalities of honouring national heroes and heroines handed in its report. But in that time, little has changed on this portion of Uhuru Gardens also known as ‘Heroes Square.’

Save for a wall erected around the land reserved for national heroes and heroines, there isn’t much that marks out this section of the grounds endowed with acacia trees and open grasslands.

On this day a youthful group clad in flashy costumes and high heels is practicing dance moves to music blaring from the speakers of a mobile van.

Suitable contractor

It is one of several that hire Uhuru Garden’s grounds for video shoots. Besides such groups, it is perhaps picnickers, wedding receptions, corporate and other social events like birthday and graduation parties that add life to the grounds on weekends.

But the grounds may just record higher numbers from the current trickling flows should the monument and other facilities like a research centre and library documenting heroes and heroines works and histories be put up.

“The process of identifying a suitable contractor to undertake the work is already at an advanced stage,” says Uhuru Gardens Site Manager Joyce Kinyanjui.

Should that process be completed, then the country may be well on its way to implementing proposals contained in a 2007 Report of the Taskforce for countrywide data collection on criteria and modalities of honouring national heroes and heroines.

According to the report, the National Heroes and Heroines Square should be the highest symbol and point of reference of the perpetuity of the country’s nationhood. It should also depict the national core values, goals and principles to which all Kenyans aspire. It is also expected that the site be revered and treated with respect by those working, visiting or entering the Square.

“We are hoping to at least have a fountain and some artwork at the Square by the end of the year. But this is only a small phase of a huge project that will cost over Sh100 million,” says Director of National Museums Sites and Monuments Hassan Wario.

But even as preparations to lay the groundwork for erecting a monument on the site get into full gear it is worth noting the report lists some reservations on the choice of Uhuru Gardens as the ideal site for a national heroes square.

This includes the fact that it is juxtaposed between other monuments, thus diluting its significance. The Department of Civil Aviation is also said to have had reservations on the site owing to risks posed by tall structures on aircraft path. Some quarters also felt that emerging residential developments around the site may depress symbolic value and quality of the grounds as a location for national heroes and heroines. It was therefore recommended that a district heroes and heroines square be established at the site.

National focal area

Wario however says Uhuru Gardens remains the site identified so far for hosting Mashujaa or heroes Square.

“This will serve as the national focal area. The historical significance of Uhuru Gardens was seen as befitting to keep the memory of our heroes and heroines,” he says.

Besides building of monuments to honour heroes and heroines, the report proposed that such persons be accorded high respect by the Government and society, have histories depicting their works published and have stadia, streets and even buildings named after them.

Initial proposals to bury the country’s heroes and heroines at Heroe’s Square were abandoned when the public made it clear that communities preferred to bury these individuals in their ancestral lands. Such persons, however, are to be given a State burial.

Among heroes who have had statues erected in their honour within the city centre are Tom Mboya, a prominent politician and former Minister for Economic Planning, assassinated in 1969. A statue of Dedan Kimathi, a leader of the armed liberation struggle by the Mau Mau also stands along the city’s Kimathi Street.

Other heroes recognised by the State include Koitalel arap Samoei, Kisoi Munyao and the Kapenguria six; Jomo Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai and Kungu Karumba.

Although dozens more remain unrecognised for their efforts in various fields, it is hoped that establishment of a National Heroes and Heroines Commission, whose functions would include keeping a register of all national heroes and heroines and their respective dependants would set in motion the process of identifying them.

Other functions of the commission, as proposed by the report, will include management of all national and district heroes and heroines squares, as well as the process of identification selection designation and declaration of heroes and heroines. The commission is to be headed by a chairperson appointed by the president for a period of five years.

Persons holding political or public office are barred from being members of the commission or any of its committees.

But to date, the commission is yet to be established and a Draft Bill on National Heroes and Heroines is yet to be debated and passed into law. Dr Wario says it is crucial to have the commission set up in order to fully implement recommendations made by the Taskforce.

“The National Heroes Bill was first presented to Parliament last year but has been held up since,” says Wario. National Heritage Minister William Ntimama has made known his intention of tabling the Bill in Parliament. If passed into law, then the legislation will provide concrete guidelines for the Government on the best way to identify, honour, and reward national heroes and heroines.

Establishment of a national register of all genuine liberation struggle veterans, for instance, would see them and their surviving dependants earn an ex-gratia lump sum payment. A special emergency fund would also be established for veterans who are still alive. But the modalities of implementing all these proposals would require an effectively working commission.

Among issues addressed by the Prof Vincent Simiyu-led taskforce was the rationale for the proposed national heroes and heroines honour system. The report proposed two categories of heroes and heroines; national and community, as well as functional areas with relevant requisite qualities from which such individuals may be identified.

Propose names

These include the country’s liberation struggle, religious leadership, indigenous knowledge, cultural values and practices, sportsmanship, scholarship, peacemaking, entrepreneurship and industry, professionalism and research and peacemaking. A special case for people with disabilities was also proposed.

Any member of the public is allowed to propose the name of a person to be considered for nomination as a national hero or heroine.

These names must however be channelled through the district heroes committees and can only be made once every five years.

Those to be considered for nomination as national heroes or heroines must have several attributes including patriotism, vision and integrity.

Displinary measures for heroes or heroines alleged to have committed a disgraceful act include the appointment of a tribunal by the commission to look into the allegations.

If found guilty, the commission may choose to forgive and warn the individual, maintain their heroes award but withdraw privileges they are entitled to or strip both the award and privileges.

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