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A day to honour our warriors

By Kirsten Kanja | October 24th 2021

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta acknowledges cheers from groups of traditional dancers and school choirs at Statehouse, Nakuru. [File, Standard]

Mashujaa Day, 2021, will go down in history as the day Kenyans were finally released from the constraints of the nationwide dusk to dawn curfew, which they had to adhere to for well over a year.

The measure, which was put in place in March 2020 right when the virus had been confirmed in Kenya, devastated nightlife and businesses that operate at night, such as those in the entertainment and transport sector.

When the announcement was made, Kenyans were relieved and saw it as a step in the right direction and which would restore their businesses and jumpstart the economy. This national holiday, which is Swahili for Hero’s Day is used to honour those who struggled for Kenya’s independence or positively contributed to building the nation post-independence.

The day used to be known as Kenyatta Day, after the country’s first president Jomo Kenyatta.

His arrest in 1952, along with five other heroes who fought for independence from British rule was marked and celebrated through the years, with the group being famously known as the ‘Kapenguria Six’.

According to Office Holidays, a national holiday website, the holiday was first observed in 1958 by activists, but quickly grew and was seen as a success by the next year. The six detainees were Bildad Kagia, Ramogi Achieng Onek, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai, Kungu Karumba and Jomo Kenyatta. They were accused of aiding and managing the MauMau movement.

“They were on trial for six months, from December 1952 to April 1953, found guilty and sentenced to seven years imprisonment with hard labour,” The East African reported in 2017.

It added: “Their crime was that, between October 12, 1950, and October 20, 1952, they assisted the management of unlawful society (Mau Mau) and conspired together and with persons not before the court to commit a felony by physical force or by threat or intimidation to compel persons in the Kenya colony to take an oath to bind the persons to act in a certain way.” After Kenya gained independence in 1963, the day became known as Kenyatta Day.

“When Kenya adopted a new constitution in August 2010, several changes were made to the public holidays observed and Kenyatta Day was renamed to Mashujaa Day. The focus of the day was widened to include all those who contributed to the independence of Kenya,” wrote Office Holidays.

Google Arts and Culture website notes that heroes of the country have historically been praised as those who dedicated their lives and contributed to the birth of the Kenyan nation.

“For more than a half-century, many Kenyans stood against British colonisation and rule (1895-1963). The Kenyans in the stories that follow were courageous individuals who fought, bled, and died as free men and women so that today all Kenyans could live as free citizens of a self-ruled nation,” the site stated, before going on to mention freedom fighters and early political leaders who had clear roles in the early days of the nation. A report by Think Africa Press states that Mashujaa Day is an opportunity to reflect on how far the country has travelled through independence while celebrating those who contributed to the struggle. The study further argues that the day has evolved over time to celebrate everyday heroes in modern times, albeit with a look back at the past.

“The emphasis lies not on the recognition of ‘the fathers of the nation’ or inspirational figures of the past, but on modern-day heroes and heroines. During last year’s fete, President Kibaki paid tribute to the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai for her contribution to environmental conservation. He went on to congratulate the country’s finest athletes and marathon runners such as Patrick Makau for breaking the world record in Berlin,” the 2012 report read.

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