Let's remember the true heroes of freedom

By - Jan 1st 1970

When Barack Obama became the 44th US President and he came to Kenya, the one person who fascinated me the most did not merit mention in the media. We never got to know his name and he didn't get to grip Obama's hand in greeting. When Air Force One was rolling down the tarmac at JKIA, snipers perched on trees and rooftops, every eye locked on the door to catch the son of the soil stepping down in Kenyan soil, no one knew of his existence.

But the moment rolled down to a stop, this figure of anonymity stepped forward and anchored Obama's aircraft to a halt by placing pieces of wood or plastic or whatever it was behind the wheels of the massive plane. The cameras caught him for a fleeting second and moved on to other things.

I have often thought about that man. What was his name? Where does he live? Who is his wife? Do they have kids? How much is paid? Why was he the one selected to perform a duty that is unspecialized and that virtually anyone, including an MP who has never opened his mouth in parliament, can do?

It goes without saying that Obama will remember many things from that visit, but the man who stopped his plane from rolling into the stinky Nairobi River will never be one of them. And to us, he remains a faceless inconsequential dot in the big web of history.

Saba Saba riots of 1990

And so it is with those who have unwittingly watered the tree of freedom with their blood. According to a UNHCR online report, the Saba Saba riots of 1990 "lasted four days and left 20 people dead, many others injured, and more than 1,000 people in jail."

People. 20 people. They must have been men; young men, because women and the elderly take a cautious approach to life. Those 20 people are not considered heroes of the freedom struggle. Their photographs do not exist. No one knows who they loved, how they were, whether they were married, or had children, or what their favorite meals and vices were. Outside of the immediate circle of family and friends, those 20 merited nothing more than a newspaper headline before they sunk into the bottomless pond of history and vanished without a ripple.

The 2008 post-election violence has no heroes, either. An MP almost became the immortal face of the "struggle" but it turned out that he was shot in broad daylight because he was bonking a traffic policeman's girlfriend. So we are stuck with hundreds of anonymous and faceless victims shot, hacked, speared, burnt, and raped to death. Again, outside of immediate family and friends, no one remembers their names, or cares. Not even Ocampo or Fatou Bensouda can name one victim.

I hear eerie drumbeats of war, advancing boots, cocking guns, the kweng-kweng of sharpening machetes, and the cries of protest and freedom. When the teargas melts, the rivers of blood cake on dusty roads and the undertaker carts the dead to the house of the dead, the departed will join the faceless peasants who have fired up the flames of freedom with their sweat, blood, and tears.


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