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Where is the place of heroes when villains are celebrated?


Tom Mboya funeral service at All Saints Catheral Nairobi July 1969. [File, Standard]

In well-organised societies, national heroes are feted and villains named, shamed and punished. If the situation was ideal, Kenyans would be holding their breath, waiting to know who will make the cut when the next bunch of freshly minted heroes will be announced on October 20.

This has not always been the case. There was a time when there was an attempt to recognise and reward gallant servants of the State who went out of their way to serve humanity.

Then, after the colonial government deployed its forces to go and fight His Majesty's enemies in what was later described as the European War, it did not abandon those who fought bravely.

It is against that background that Captain H W Turner called on relatives who had lost their loved ones in line of duty to submit their names so they could be celebrated. His notice read, "With reference to general notice no 1168 published on page 942 of the official gazette dated October 20, 1920, it is announced for general information that applications for the award of the British War Medal and Mercantile Marine War Medal by next of kin of a deceased member who served at sea during the late European War will now be considered."

Turner was looking for veterans who had fought in the danger zones and paid the ultimate price and wanted their relatives to furnish the details.

The military wanted widows, widowers, children or parents of the veterans who had died in line of duty to submit the details of the soldiers to be recognised.

In the event parents, spouses or children of the departed soldiers were unavailable to make the applications, paternal or maternal grandparents were encouraged to apply.

But this apparent transparency in rewarding self sacrifice, heroism and patriotism by the colonial government was only applicable to white soldiers because most Africans were forgotten.

While thousands of white soldiers who had fought First World War between 1914 and 1919 were gifted huge chunks of land in the white high lands and provided with cheap African labour among other incentives, their black counterparts returned with the much-hated Kipande (identity card) to find their land taken by the government which was now demanding taxes from them.

At the same time, Africans who died during the war only had their names scripted on crude boulders placed in social halls while remains of the white soldiers were interred in manicured war veteran graves which are still well maintained to date.

Perhaps this year, the real heroes and veterans will be honoured and public enemies shamed. There has been instances when people of dubious character and repute have been given State commendations while real heroes and heroins are ridiculed.

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