Our real mashujaa are unnoticed but always hold Kenya together

President William Ruto takes a lap of honour during Mashujaa Day celebrations held at Kericho Green Stadium. [Benjamin Imende, Standard]

This year’s Mashujaa Day took place in Kericho County. The decision to rotate the national holiday around the different counties was patriotic and judicious as it honours the role every community played in the independence struggle.

It also recognises new heroes and heroines emerging all over the republic and bring honour to the country in a variety of disciplines.

That is the rationale behind Mashujaa Day celebrations but unfortunately the day often takes a different shape. There will of course be special honours for athletes and artists but the biggest winners are almost always the political and well-connected elites who long to have those letters behind their names to make up for the ones they missed out in the more competitive academic arena.

Giving awards and titles has become a bit of a sham, as the list frequently reveals those well connected to the top brass rather than those well connected to the grassroots and the suffering masses. Moreover, fellows have been honoured while still facing criminal charges in court.

I am not aware of grantees ever being obliged to return awards or have their titles removed after falling from grace and landing in prison.

Even in different arenas some folk openly campaign for nominations and votes, further damaging the value of such awards. As such, there is a valid case for not awarding anyone while still in office and some might say when still alive. Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her democratic and human rights work in Myanmar, or Burma as it was then. However, when she finally ascended to office with the military, she did nothing to prevent the Rohingya genocide in 2017/8.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia won the same Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 and the following year waged a war on the people of Tigray that led to starvation of up to half a million of his citizens.

Admittedly, there are honorees fully deserving and who remain an inspiration to our world and that list includes the late Wangari Maathai awarded in 2004.

The DRC gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege, was recognised by the Nobel team in 2018 and hopefully he can bring that humanity and compassion to his new calling as he stands for President in DRC elections this year.

Yet while Mashujaa Day is a national event, it is also a wonderful opportunity to recognise and be inspired by the heroic and generous people where we live.

Instead of focusing on the greed and corruption that is enslaving us, it is a time to give attention to the good and beautiful around us.

This week I had the privilege of meeting an amazing woman, Lisa, who has devoted the past two years to raising funds to establish an Occupational Therapy Centre in Kikambala, Kilifi to treat children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other disabilities.

This was her extraordinary generous response to losing her daughter to Covid two years ago. She spent the past week interacting with some 150 parents whose children benefit from that service.

Indeed, every last one of those mothers too are heroic as their needy children require 24/7 care and receive little or no support from the county or national government.

Those who fill the gaps in accessing services and justice do amazing work for those in greatest need.

My day was spent in the presence of one of my own heroes, Prof Yash Pal Ghai, who most appropriately for a humble man celebrates his birthday on Mashujaa Day.

Yash represents everything that was good and inclusive in the constitution making process.

His integrity, legal knowledge, patience, endurance and deep humanity left a lasting imprint on the Bomas delegates and on the final document.

The moral fiber of the country may be torn apart with corruption and greed but there are wonderful people in every sphere who are holding the country together, bearing witness to service, mercy, change, professionalism and a better Kenya. Take note and thank them this weekend.