WHO IS A HERO? Kadenge’s plight triggers debate on who qualifies to be a national icon

Former Harambee Stars players (from left): Mahmoud Abbass, John Bobby Ogolla and Joe Kadenge during Mashujaa Day celebtations on October 20, 2015. [PHOTO: FILE]

Just who is a national hero or heroine? It is a question that has come under sharp focus after President Uhuru Kenyatta visited ailing football great Joe Kadenge on Sunday at his Mariakani Gardens home in South B, Nairobi.

President Uhuru donated Sh2million to Kadenge, medical insurance for him and his wife and promised to get him a house, besides directing that the 82-year-old be moved, in the meantime, from third to ground floor of the Nairobi County house.

Uhuru’s gesture touched off a debate as what to earns one heroic status even as he called for the actualisation of the National Heroes Council as provided for in the Kenya Heroes Act 2014.

The organisers of the legend’s fundraiser and subsequent visit by the Head of State, led by former Kenya Breweries midfielder Sammy Sholei, say they have been inundated with calls for assistance from other sporting greats.

Footballer turned beggar. James Mbidha, a former professional footballer popularly known as Spinks who has turned to begging due to bad health that deterred him from continuing with his career. (Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard)

The Kenya Heroes Act 2014 establishes a 13-member National Heroes Council, which is to formulate criteria for the identification, selection and honouring of national heroes. The council is also empowered to provide for the categories of heroes.

President Uhuru Kenyatta recieve a a ball from former Kenya International player Joe Kadenge when he visited the ailling Legend at his house in Mariakani Gardens Estate in Nairobi on Sunday, Jan 8, 2017. [PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO/STANDARD]

Part IV of the Act reads: “The council may, from time to time, by notice published in print and electronic media, call for proposals for nomination of suitable persons to be recommended for declaration as heroes.”

But since the Act has not become operational almost three years since enactment, it has been left to individual effort of sportsmen and women to rescue their own.

“Our gesture, and particularly myself as a former footballer just like Kadenge, was to help the old man. Little did I know it would open a flurry of calls for help,” Sholei said.

He added: “We have been assured by the Cabinet Secretary in charge that Sh300 million has been set aside to help our heroes and heroines.”

Sholei and the respected BBC journalist and Joe Kadenge’s biographer John Nene said it was time to recognise sporting heroes.

Nene, who has written the legend’s biography, 'Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend', said only through a defined process that heroes and heroines will be identified.

“The National Heroes Council is the one to come up with the definition. They may want to look at what each nominee has done for the country say at global competitions like the Olympics, Africa Cup of Nations or World Championships,” Nene said.

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