On Wednesday, 20 October 2010, Kenya marked her first Mashujaa Day, set aside to commemorate our bygone and contemporary heroes, the men and women whose deeds and sacrifices have made Kenya a nation worth living and dying for.

Renaming Kenyatta Day was a bold move. To date, Jomo Kenyatta remains an icon, the Father of the Nation, the Light of Kenya, a Pillar of Strength, a Demigod, Untouchable. He has been etched into our collective memory and strides the annals of history. Verily, he has achieved immortality.

But there is more to the man than meets the eye. Not all is flattering. His stature has been tarnished by his fabulous wealth, ambiguously acquired during his reign. The aura of his personality was meticulously woven into a cult. Under his watch, many of our finest heroes – Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya, Kung’u Karumba, Gem Argwings-Kodhek, Ronald Ngala, J.M Kariuki – were assassinated, or alleged to have been. Yet there remains reluctance, even among the most critical, to point a finger at Mzee and cast a shadow of doubt over his integrity. Such is the power of veneration. And perhaps it should so be. Kenya needs her heroes.
It is said that not everyone is destined to become a hero. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is merely the most prominent name on the list. So who are the Chosen, our Mashujaa? Ultimately, it is the Nation and History that will  decide.
Our earliest and pre-colonial heroes –  Orkoiyot Koitalel arap Samoei. Mekatilili wa Menza. Waiyaki wa Hinga. The Great Laibons –  Mbatian and his son Lenana. Ezekiel Apindi. Moraa Moka Ngiti. It is heartwarming just to contemplate their names.
Our freedom heroes and post-colonial leaders: Dedan Kimathi. The Kapenguria Six. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Masinde Muliro. Jemima Gecaga. Pio Gama Pinto. Harry Thuku. Gem Argwings-Kodhek. Ronald Ngala. J.M Kariuki. Robert Ouko.
Our academics – Ali Mazrui. Bethwell Ogot. Wangari Maathai. Mike Boit. Ratemo Michieka. Tom Odhiambo. Yash Pal Ghai. Florence Wambugu. Richard Leakey. Calestous Juma.
Our scribes and cultural heroes – Ngugi was Thiong’o. Grace Ogot. Meja Mwangi. Fadhili William. Daudi Kabaka. Fundi Konde. Super Mazembe. Maroon Commandos.
Our sports heroes – too many to enumerate, from Kip Keino through Shekhar Mehta, Steve Tikolo, McDonald Mariga and Humphrey Kayange to Jason Dunford.
And our everyday heroes – Kimani Maruge, who went to school at the age of 84. The traffic cop who won’t take a bribe. The mama mboga giving you a better deal on the sukuma. The wanajeshi, risking life and limb to defend our borders and keep the peace in nations far away. And millions more.
I am glad we have Mashujaa Day. It allows, nay, obliges us to reflect on the deeds of these men and women born or bred of our soil, and compels us to achieve the same high standards of patriotism. To build this Nation.

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