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FRANCIS ATWOLI: Celebrate your heroes and heroines whilst they are still alive

In Summary

• This country has had remarkable men and women who ought to have been celebrated when they were still alive. 

• It would benefit one to know that, indeed, they are loved and celebrated in their own country.

COTU secretary general Francis Atwoli
COTU secretary general Francis Atwoli
Image: FILE

“Reverse naming of Francis Atwoli Road”, read the editorial piece by the Star newspaper on 16 June, 2021. In substantiating their claim, the Star editors thought it wise that a man should only be celebrated, in this manner, when they are gone. They argued that it is wrong to name or rename ANY road, public building or structure in honour of a man or a woman, who is still alive, their remarkable achievements and service to humanity notwithstanding.

To put it bluntly, the editorial by the Star newspaper is misplaced. This is because we ought to learn to celebrate our heroes and heroines whilst they are still alive. Indeed, it defies logic to put a claim that one ought to be celebrated after they are gone.

This country has had remarkable men and women who ought to have been celebrated when they were still alive. Of what benefit, if I may ask, is celebrating Wangari Mathaathai, Oginga Odinga, Masinde Muliro, Tom Mboya, Ronald Ngala now? These are people who ought to have been celebrated when they are still alove. Is the Star, for instance, telling us that great athletes like Eliud Kipchoge should not be celebrated?

Even though one might argue, such is done for the sake of immortalization, it would benefit one to know that, indeed, they are loved and celebrated in their own country. Such actions inspire those being celebrated to continue service selflessly and continue doing good for the betterment of society.

Interestingly, the same people who call out the government for celebrating some of the remarkable men and women, when they are still alive, criticize the same government vehemently whenever it emerges that they are not taking care of men and women who have brought this country pride.

A case in point is when it emerged that Conjestina Achieng, a boxer who brought this country pride, had been neglected. Kenyans, in their numbers, took it to social media to call out the government for neglecting Conjestina and not treating her like a great athlete. I wonder what would have happened if they, over and above taking care of her, named a boxing arena in one of the major stadiums after her. Doesn’t she qualify for it?

If our history is anything to go by, President Jomo Kenyatta, President Moi and President Kibaki were honoured and celebrated whilst alive. And as a patriotic Kenyan, I must say, this was a good thing.

I am yet to meet anybody claiming they will not attend a football match at the Moi International Sports Center (Kasarani) simply because it was named after Moi when he was still alive. In fact, thousands upon thousands of Kenyan parents struggle to get their children to some of the “Moi” schools considering their sterling performance in the KCPE and KCSE exams.

The same can be said about Nelson Mandela and other great leaders in Africa. Mandela had many things named after him when he was still alive. And this was to honour a man who had done so much for his country and the continent.

This is why the argument by the editorial is misplaced. There is nothing wrong with honouring great men and women that this country has produced when they are still alive just as much as there is nothing wrong with revieweing and honouring a deceased person.

Lastly, we should learn to also stop the habit of bashing thing for the sake of it. The engagements online on the subject matter, to be blunt, look like criticism that is thinly-veiled tribalism and other “isms”. Most of the criticisms are without doubt thinly-veiled tribalism. This is not good for a multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious society.

Francis Atwoli is the Secretary General, COTU (K)