Mashujaa Day: Meaning, History and Why it was changed from Kenyatta day

Have you ever wondered about the genuine reason why Kenyatta Day was changed to Mashujaa Day?. I decided to dig out the real meaning, history, and reasons why Mashujaa day celebrations happen in Kenya, and what that means for the common Mwananchi:

This quest begun with questions: What is the significance of other holidays like Moi Day, Madaraka Day and Jamuhuri Day to the common mwananchi? Are some holidays in Kenya irrelevance? This is a brief history of Mashujaa Day and A Look Into the Future: What Mashujaa Day will Look Like in 10 Years…

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The Genuine Meaning behind Mashujaa Day and it’s Significance to the common Mwanaichi?

The Date today is 20th October 2018 also known as Mashujaa Day: A day set aside to celebrate and pay respect to the heroes who fought for Kenya’s independence.

The word Mashujaa is a heavy Swahili word that directly translates to Heroes. There was a trail of blood, betrayal, and suffering of innocent people and selfless heroes before we could claim our freedom as a nation. That is why we celebrate Mashujaa Day every year.

Why was Kenyatta Day changed to Mashujaa day in 2010?

Mashujaa Day was initially called Kenyatta Day. It was supposed to be a day to celebrate all heroes but with his name on it, it quickly became a special day set aside for Kenya’s 1st President Jomo Kenyatta.

When people talk of Mashujaa Day, Moi Day, Jamhuri Day, and Madaraka Day almost always also come in mind. Maybe it’s because of one thing that shares in common: Time to rest, party, drink, spend time with family… whatever you do to celebrate.

Mashujaa Day Explained in a Tweet – 220 Characters:

#MashujaaDay2018 There was a trail of blood, betrayal, and suffering of innocent people and selfless heroes before we could claim our freedom as a nation. Mashujaa Day celebrates heroes who fought for Kenya’s independence: Click To Tweet

History: A Trip Back in Time: How People Talked About Mashujaa Day 20 Years Ago

This day is connected to the arrest and detainment of 6 independence movement leaders. The Kapenguria Six: Kung’u Karumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia, and Achieng’ Oneko.

Their charge was the holding of membership in the outlawed Mau Mau Movement. They are famously known as the Kapenguria Six because they were supposedly detained in Kapenguria. Arresting the Kapenguria Six fuelled the struggle for freedom and catalyzed the fight to send the white settlers back home…

This day is connected to the arrest and detainment of 6 independence movement leaders. The Kapenguria Six: Kung'u Karumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia, and Achieng' Oneko. Click To Tweet

However, there is a huge disconnect between what happened in the hideouts of the freedom fighters and the reality told today. With several conflicting stories, what we study in our history is a biased trunk of a much bigger elephant.

As much as we talk about the Shujaa’s, it is sad that most of them did not live to see the fruits of freedom. Not because of the white man’s gun but our very own. Even after independence, the struggle seemed to continue a little differently as much as it does today.

With heroes dying as poor people and their families living in not so good conditions, the common Mwananchi is left confused. Is this what a hero looks like? Did we get what they fought for? If they would resurrect right now, would they be proud of what their struggle has achieved?

#MashujaaDay2018 History: A Trip Back in Time: How People Talked About Mashujaa Day 20 Years Ago Click To Tweet

MauMau: Did they Fight or Negotiate for Independence?

It is largely know that the Man Mau fought for Kenya’s freedom. However, scholars and critics have always shared one question:

Did the Mau Mau Fight or Negotiate for Independence?

Was Man Man a Treacherous cult based on the oaths administered and sworn secrecy to death? Or was it a well-organized liberation unit? Was it an ethnic rebellion outfit or a national effort towards independence.

Did Kenya finally gain independence due to the great guerrilla warfare, or was there a secret negotiation deal reached through diplomatic agreements?

#MashujaaDay2018 It is largely known that the Man Mau fought for Kenya’s freedom. However, scholars and critics have always shared one question: Did the Mau Mau Fight or Negotiate for Independence? Click To Tweet
Mashujaa Day Celebrations - Tom Mboya Statue with Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga - Tom Mboya Avenue Nairobi

Mashujaa Day Celebrations – Tom Mboya Statue with Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga – Tom Mboya Avenue Nairobi

What is the meaning of the name: Mau Mau?

School History Textbooks, make this even more complicated. They give almost outrageous and widely varied definitions of the meaning and origin of the name Mau Mau.

One source says it means: Mzungu Arudi Ulaya Mwafrika Apate Uhuru (Swahili for The white man should go back abroad for the African to gain freedom).

Another says it is a reverse wordplay of the Kikuyu word Uma (meaning: get out) this would be said to warn the fighters of a threat.

All this suggests that the name came from the Kenyan people. However, Ngugi Wa Thiongo suggests that the name Mau Mau was coined by the white man. It was named so because they (white settles) considered it meaningless and weak.

According to Ngugi Wa Thongo, the white settlers called them ‘Mau’ was because the did not want to refer to them as they truly were: Land and Freedom Army. Calling them that (Land and Freedom Army) would add to the Mau Mau clout and indirectly endorse their (Mau Mau) agenda. (I will not even question this logic right now, that’s an entire article for another day)

Uhuru Gardens Freedom Statue National Monument - Mashujaa Day Celebrations

Uhuru Gardens Freedom Statue National Monument – Mashujaa Day Celebrations

The Beginning of the Mau Mau Rebellion and Fight for Independence:

It is said to have started in the early 50’s in 1952 when the white settlers took away land form the people in Central Kenya, mostly Kikuyu.

By the time Kenya was getting independence, the trail of blood left thousands of Innocent Africans dead. The cost of the rebellion was over Ksh 8 billion in current rates.

Although some people, including Ngugi Wa Thion’go, are quoted describing Mau Mau as an African Movement that aimed to drive out the white settlers and give the land back to the people, not all people agree. Jomo “Johnstone Kamau” Kenyatta is one of the people who disagreed with the Mau Mau.

He was openly an advocate for non-violent negotiation with the white settlers. It is said that Kenyatta thought violence like what Mau Mau advocated for, would slow down the process of independence.

Mashujaa Day Celebrations - The Kapenguria Six were- Kung'u Karumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia, and Achieng' Oneko

Mashujaa Day Celebrations – The Kapenguria Six were- Kung’u Karumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia, and Achieng’ Oneko

He thus decided to take the infamous choice to hold negotiations in a string of conferences that saw him travel abroad to the Lancaster House in London. This is where the constitution of Kenya was forged.

In 1964 after Kenya Gained independence, Jomo Kenyatta referred to Mau Mau as a disease that had been eradicated and should never be remembered. Kenyatta was clearly not a core member of the Mau Mau.

However, the plot gets twisted when he was arrested by the white settlers and found guilty. His crime was the management of the Mau Mau rebellion. This was overseen by a Judge named Thacker in a court proceeding that did not have any jury.

We have not yet brought in the rest of Kenya and the plot is already thick. With even more twists and turns, the accuracy of Kenyan history recorded in textbooks and learned in school is subject to question.

Mashujaa Day Celebrations - Jomo Kenyatta at a rally after which he was arrested and detained

Mashujaa Day Celebrations – Jomo Kenyatta at a rally after which he was arrested and detained

The First Handshake: Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (video)

Fast forward, and there’s a political divide between the two political dynasties: Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta and his Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

It is said that arrangements to settle the scores were in the pipes but ended up being nipped at the bud when Kenyatta died: Watch this:

Enough Already! Things About Mashujaa Day We’re Tired of Hearing

During Mashujaa Day and other public holidays, Kenya has a tradition of a majestic show of the might and security we have. This is usually an air show with the fighter jets, a procession of the army and navy.

The jets usually fly from the Laikipia Air Base in Nanyuki to Nairobi for the showcase. Today, 20th October 2018, Mashujaa Day will be hosted at Bukhungu Stadium in Western Kenya’s Kakamega County.

Kakamega County is the 5th county, after Nakuru, Nyeri, Machakos and Meru County, to hold this annual event. This came after Uhuru Kenyatta suggested that every county should be a host on a rotational basis with the aim of sharing the experience to all Kenyans.

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Hosting in Western is a sign of equity to the ethnically diverse Kenya. Different people get to host the celebrations which have in the past been restricted to Nairobi and her outskirts.

Of course, the roads have been fixed and street lights erected but you already know that always happened when the president visits.

He is expected to be joined by Namibian President Hago Geingob. Right now, people across the world are complaining about the rate of poaching in Namibia after a video of white hunters gunning down an elephant on camera surfaced online.

Mashujaa Day Celebrations - Namibian President Hago Geingob Inspects the Gurd at State House

Mashujaa Day Celebrations – Namibian President Hago Geingob Inspects the Guard at State House

Why almost Nobody Cares About National Holidays like Madaraka Day

One common misconceptions about National Holidays in Kenya is that people actually take time to do what the holiday suggests. I think the same heroes we are celebrating would want us to celebrate tangible things like Affordable healthcare for all or Accessible education.

For example, how do you remember and celebrate heroes with a history so complex and classified, that you don’t really know them? How many heroes can you name and tell their story? Which source did you read about them from? Was it reliable?

Again, one of the demands for leaders as Uhuru Kenyatta goes to Western is that he should address the poor economic state of affairs. The people clearly seem to know their priorities. The leaders are interested t know the progress Uhuru Kenyatta made for the region during his campaigns.

Even our own constitution did not clearly define national holidays until the promulgation in 2010. Eve with that aside, there’s a general loss of nationalism and people are focussing on the present and future prospects.

Mashujaa Day Celebrations - Dedan Kimathi Statue Kimathi Street Nairobi

Mashujaa Day Celebrations – Dedan Kimathi Statue Kimathi Street Nairobi

Then let’s talk about the cost! How much money is spent on these holidays? Well, I doubt you have that answer. The sad thing is that it comes from your own pocket through taxes. I still wonder what the people we are celebrating would say about this?

With the current economy, many businesses still open and operate as usual. The unemployment rates leave people with wage based jobs where time directly translates to money so people decide to make a few extra shillings.

For the salaried workers, this is a time off. Since the holiday system in Kenya is not well planned, whenever there is a special day like this, people take it as time off work to rest or party.

The sense of Nationalism has been reduced by reacting to circumstances. These National Holidays pass with automated text messages from corporate institutions offering lower interest loans and a series of speeches that the common Mwananchi may not even understand.

Ooh, and any airtime you buy for one of the local communication companies will be refunded as long as you use it all the next day. Haha, not sure if that’s a genuine patriotic donation or an undercover up-sale.

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What is the difference between Madaraka Day and Jamhuri Day?

Jamhuri day is set aside to commemorate then day Kenya gained independence. Jamhuri is a Swahili word that means Republic. We celebrate Jamhuri Day in Kenya on the 12 December every year. Madaraka Day is celebrated on the 1st June of every year to honor the day Kenya attained internal self-rule.

There has been a constant evolution of holidays in Kenya. Some of which are irrelevant. The two are basically celebrating the same thing but hey, we need a distinct day for each feat.

For example, very few people care to know the difference or similarity between Madaraka Day and Jamhuri Day. Why? Because the only thing that matters is the free time to rest from the daily toil. The two are basically celebrating the same thing but hey, Kenya needs a distinct day for each feat.

That would be perfectly okay if the common Mwananchi understood all this perfectly. Having one major celebration for independence will save funds and clear some dust on understanding.

Mashujaa Day Celebrations - A Demonstrator Stands off with a police truck spraying itchy water

Mashujaa Day Celebrations – A Demonstrator Stands off with a police truck spraying itchy water

A Look Into the Future: What Will the Mashujaa Day Industry Look Like in 10 Years?

Where Will Mashujaa Day Be 1 Year From Now? It will be 2019 and political alliances will be a little clearer. There will still be time so uncertain will be looming.

1 year from now, the people, on the other hand, will still be paying more taxes and struggling to support the expensive lifestyle of the leaders who are meant to be making their lives easier.

In 10 years time, Mashujaa Day will either be totally ignored or will commemorate new crop of heroes. The state of the nation is clearly ripe for change right now and you can feel it boiling within Kenya’s tummy like lava in a volcano.

In 10 years time, if we let it flow out, we will have new leaders standing up for the genuine independence of Kenya and her people. This time not from white settlers for us to gain land.

We will be seeking freedom from our very own brothers and sisters with the aim to get back our voices, gain mental independence and courage to stir progressive action.

We won’t have to have two different days to celebrate the same thing like we do with Jamhuri Day and Madaraka Day. Instead, we will be sure of when we became free because it will be clear to all and not subject to what a few people decided to write down.

What Will Mashujaa Day Be Like in 100 Years? I would like to know but it heavily depends on what we want it to be next year… 

Mashujaa Day Celebrations - Freedom Fighter Dedan Kimathi is handed his leopard-gazelle hide regalia

Mashujaa Day Celebrations – Freedom Fighter Dedan Kimathi is handed his leopard-gazelle hide regalia

Know more about Mashujaa Day and Kenya’s History by Watching These 3 Videos:

Further reading:

    1. Mau Mau and Kenya: An analysis of peasant – Wanyubari Maloba
  1. A Revolution Betrayed – Ngugi wa Thiong’o