Opinion: Kenya’s Shame of an Honour system.

By Alex Kamau.

The list of those honoured on Jamhuri day provides an interesting read, a mixture of the marginally deserving, and those who should outrightly not be anywhere near any recognition or association with a national honour.

National Honours are exceptional privileges to be given on behalf of the 45 million Kenyan citizens. They must represent our best national character and collective aspiration as a people and a country. Those receiving them must embody these twin and priceless attributes. 

Honouring politicians and senior civil servants for simply doing a job for which they are very well paid to do is absurdly foolish and a national embarrassment.It demeans and devalues the honours and the country in whose name they are given.

It’s pathetic that our gallant freedom fighters; many of who are now staring and ebbing ever closer to their graves remain unworthy of any recognition or honour. We’ve seen them on TV again and again, looking frail, gaunt and hungry; yet dignified but perhaps suppressing bitterness, wondering why those in whose name they fought too quickly forgot and abandoned them. A society that rewards and honours its thieves, criminals and the mediocre; rather than its gallant heroes will never truly be great.

 I wonder how many Central Kenya sons and daughters would head to the forest were Kenya say to be invaded by Zimbabwe or Rwanda! They would be consciously aware that Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi Wa Ciuri has for 65 years remained a condemned prisoner in Kamiti; as his widow and family languish from one poverty phase to the next. They would be aware too that the wealthiest and largest land owners in Central Kenya are the scions of collaborators and the brutal colonial chiefs, not the fighters. Land they stole rather than worked for. Many would wisely choose to collaborate with Zimbabwe and Rwanda!!!!!

Kenya needs to adopt an honour system that shall serve our country for the next 50 years; because the one we’ve had for the last 50 has only served a selfish cabal, who purport to act on Kenya’s behalf, while perpetuating only themselves and their parochial interests. 

We all recall that President Moi used to honour virtually every cabinet minister with the highest award then – an EGH (Elder of the Golden Heart). Many of those honoured are responsible for much of the dystopian mess in our country today – from the aftermath of Goldenberg, Normalisation of theft, Anglo Leasing, land grabbing and plunder of public resources, tribal clashes and the general decline of standards in public life. 

Presidents Kibaki and Uhuru seem to have changed little. We no longer have public servants but public serpents – and irredeemably corrupt pythons called politicians.

Honouring thieves has normalised stealing and the results is a country where perhaps not a single politician would stand up and honestly decline the title thief; for many of them are there after stealing elsewhere, or to actively steal using their present positions.(Not paying taxes on income/salary is stealing from the Kenyan taxpayers-and the country)

Kenya’s honour system has its roots in the British system where the Queen as head of state, and upon the recommendation of the government in power rewards those determined to have made an exceptional contribution to the British society – from public service, academia, research, literature, the arts, music etc. The British system is not perfect- and has itself been the subject of review in recent years after it was felt honours were being undeservedly dished to celebrities, politicians and civil servants for merely doing their day jobs.

Nobody should be honoured for doing what they are paid to do. Honours should go only to those who’ve demonstrated that there has been service and contribution to country, above and beyond their call of duty. Soldiers who gallantly die at war fighting for Kenya fit this description exactly. They died in our name. They deserve our honour.All freedom fighters should by now have received the highest honour Kenya can give.

Additionally, there need to be fewer honours, given to even fewer and most deserving people, both at individual and in the eyes of the public in whose name the president gives them. It should also be possible to withdraw an honour should a recipient later become say a fugitive or a criminal in future.

The Nobel Prize System has endured since 1908 because the categories are clear (based purely on incontestable merit and phenomenal achievement. Our Kenyan system represents the very antithesis of this. When Professor Wangari Maathai won the Nobel in 2004, even her worst critics were without doubt that she more than deserved it. 

When Professor Wole Soyinka of Nigeria won the Nobel for literature in 1986, it was clear his literary prowess and intellectual curiosity, rather than connections had won him the award. The same would be said of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Fredrick de Klerk- all Nobel laureates.

Kenya’s honour system remains pathetically and woefully dysfunctional – and has only perpetuated the worst in us as a country and a people. I recall only a few years ago, a famous CEO was awarded a state honour for his supposedly legendary skills; only for him to be forced out of the company’s helm, for plunder and bleeding the company to the ground. A once proud and solid company employing thousands now lies on the verge of vegetative bankruptcy. Its CEO glows in sunrise, with an honour given in our name.

Our honour system can be deployed to improve and enhance behaviour and conduct in public life – by shunning the shameless deplorable in our midst. However, so long as it remains a tool to reward the mediocre, the corrupt politicians, tender-preneurs, ethnic musicians, career thieves, paedophiles, gospel-preneurs, drug dealers, and clandes our country’s deterioration into the sorry state we find ourselves in shall only accelerate.
© Alex Kamau is a lecturer in London. akkamotho@yahoo.co.uk

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