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 (Heroes) day celebrations happen in Kenya, and what this holiday means for the common Mwananchi:

Mashujaa Day is celebrated on October 20th every year. If October 20th falls on a Sunday, the following Monday will be a holiday. Mashujaa is Swahili for ‘Heroes’ and as such Mashujaa Day is also known as Heroes’ Day. It is a public holiday to honour all Kenyans who have contributed towards the struggle for Kenya’s independence.

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

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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…

When Kenya adopted a new constitution in August 2010, several changes were made to the public holidays observed in Kenya and Kenyatta Day was renamed to Mashujaa Day and the focus of the day was widened to include all those who contributed to the independence of Kenya.

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.

Many institutions bear his name. He upgraded the economic status of the country after independence. But his reign faced dark shadows when three prominent politicians were assassinated. Up to date he is accused of acquiring massive pieces of land. He is Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya.

Mombasa to host 2019 Mashujaa Day celebrations at rehabilitated dumpsite following Uhuru's visit
Mombasa to host 2019 Mashujaa Day celebrations at rehabilitated dumpsite following Uhuru’s visit

Mashujaa Day Explained in a Tweet – 220 Characters:

#MashujaaDay 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 is supposed to celebrate heroes who fought for Kenya’s independence: Click To Tweet

Mombasa to host Mashujaa Day 2019 at rehabilitated Kibarani dumpsite: Mama Ngina Waterfront:

•The Mama Ngina Waterfront Technical Committee briefed the government delegation on the progress, indicating the whole project will be completed in 85 days.

Mombasa will become the sixth county to host the Mashujaa Day 2019 national celebration after Kakamega, Nakuru, Narok and Machakos.

Mashujaa Day 2019 to be held at Mama Ngina Drive, Mombasa – PS Kibicho. The announcement came after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho on Tuesday, July 9, visited the KSh 460 million Mama Ngina regeneration project for inspection ahead of the celebrations.

President Uhuru Kenyatta accompanied by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho visited the Mama Ngina Waterfront project on Tuesday where senior government officials who spoke in confidence said this year’s celebrations will be held
President Uhuru Kenyatta accompanied by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho visited the Mama Ngina Waterfront project on Tuesday where senior government officials who spoke in confidence said this year’s celebrations will be held

The National Celebrations Steering Committee led by chair Interior PS Karanja Kibicho and Tourism CS Najib Balala on Thursday toured the facility, which is 76 per cent complete.

They gave the contractor, Suhufi Agencies Limited, a thumbs up. The park will be on 26 acres.

The Mama Ngina Waterfront Technical Committee briefed the government delegation on the progress, indicating the whole project will be completed in 85 days.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho touring the Mama Ngina Waterfront park on Tuesday, July 9, ahead of the celebrations. Photo- State House
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho touring the Mama Ngina Waterfront park on Tuesday, July 9, ahead of the celebrations. Photo- State House

“We should get it at 85 per cent by the end of this month….We are willing to hand over the project by August 15 to the Celebrations Committee,” the CS said.

However, Najib Balala said some key projects are expected to take 30 days to complete. A special team will be formed to work with the Kibicho-led team from August 1 to plan the Mashujaa Day fete.

Kenya Navy will for the first time conduct the National Salute during 2019 Mashujaa Day Celebrations:

The National Celebrations Committee and Tourims CS Najib Balala at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park construction site on Thursday. Image- JOHN CHESOLI
The National Celebrations Committee and Tourims CS Najib Balala at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park construction site on Thursday. Image- JOHN CHESOLI

The Kenya Navy will for the first time conduct the National Salute during this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations on October 20.

Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho said on Friday that the historic event will be held at the Sh460 million Mama Ngina Waterfront Park in Mombasa.

This has traditionally been conducted by the Kenyan Army or Airforce. “During this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations, our Kenya Navy will showcase their skills in combating enemies at the seas,” Kibicho said.

During the launch of the project, President Kenyatta had issued a 150-day deadline to the contractor, Suhufi Agencies Limited, to finish the project-PSCU
During the launch of the project, President Kenyatta had issued a 150-day deadline to the contractor, Suhufi Agencies Limited, to finish the project-PSCU

The PS, who is the chairperson of the National Celebrations Committee tasked with organising the Mashujaa Day fete, said the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park will provide a good view for the colourful show from the Navy.

“Traditionally, over the world, salutes are received from either a match past of flypast by the military planes. This time, and for the first time in Africa, we are going to have the National Salute from our Kenya Navy,” he said.

Kibarani dumpsite transformed into Mama Ngina Waterfront park:

Mashujaa Day moves to Mama Ngina Waterfront Park This will give the Kenya Navy a unique opportunity to showcase their skills and talents in the water at the Kilindini channel
Mashujaa Day moves to Mama Ngina Waterfront Park This will give the Kenya Navy a unique opportunity to showcase their skills and talents in the water at the Kilindini channel

Mama Ngina Waterfront park will host the heroes celebration. The park is currently under renovation and near completion. President Uhuru and Governor Joho toured the project site and were impressed by the progress made so far. Rehabilitation of the multi-million recreational park was commissioned by Uhuru and Raila in January 2019.

Mama Ngina Waterfront park, previously Kibarani dumpsite, was to be completed in May 2019 but was delayed due to changes in designs. Once completed, the park will give tourists a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean while sampling the local cuisines and products.

Kenya Navy to give National Salute on Mashujaa Day The Kenya Navy will showcase skills in combating enemies at the seas
Kenya Navy to give National Salute on Mashujaa Day The Kenya Navy will showcase skills in combating enemies at the seas

The project, funded by the national government in coordination with the county government, is expected to be done and ready before the October 2019 national celebrations.

Mombasa will become the sixth county to host the Mashujaa Day celebrations which were traditionally held in Nairobi. The other counties that have hosted the event are Kakamega, Nakuru, Nyeri, Narok and Machakos. 

Mashujaa Day 2019 to be held at Mama Ngina Drive, Mombasa – PS Kibicho

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?

#MashujaaDay 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:

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 the Mau Mau Fight or Negotiate for Independence?

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

#MashujaaDay 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:

Faces of Africa – Jomo Kenyatta : The Founding Father of Kenya

Many institutions bear his name. He upgraded the economic status of the country after independence.

But his reign faced dark shadows when three prominent politicians were assassinated. Up to date he is accused of acquiring massive pieces of land. He is Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya.

A Brief History of Kenya Under Jomo Kenyatta’s Rule (1973).

A public domain video: This newsreel film presents a brief history of Kenya and the progress it made under Jomo Kenyatta’s rule. Jomo Kenyatta was a Kenyan anti-colonial activist and politician who governed Kenya as its Prime Minister from 1963 to 1964 and then as its first President from 1964 to 1978. He was the country’s first black head of government and played a significant role in the transformation of Kenya from a colony of the British Empire into an independent republic.

Ideologically an African nationalist and conservative, he led the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party from 1961 until his death. Kenyatta was born to Kikuyu farmers in Kiambu, British East Africa. Educated at a mission school, he worked in various jobs before becoming politically engaged through the Kikuyu Central Association. In 1929, he traveled to London to lobby for Kikuyu tribal land affairs.

During the 1930s he studied at Moscow’s Communist University of the Toilers of the East, University College London, and the London School of Economics. In 1938 he published an anthropological study of Kikuyu life before working as a farm laborer in Sussex during the Second World War. Influenced by his friend George Padmore, he embraced anti-colonialist and Pan-African ideas, co-organising the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester.

PHOTO | FILE Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his son Uhuru. With them is former President Daniel arap Moi (centre). NATION MEDIA GROUP
PHOTO | FILE Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his son Uhuru. With them is former President Daniel arap Moi (centre). NATION MEDIA GROUP

In 1946, he returned to Kenya and became a school principal. In 1947 he was elected President of the Kenya African Union, through which he lobbied for independence from British colonial rule, attracting both widespread support and the animosity of white settlers. In 1952, he was among the Kapenguria Six arrested and charged with masterminding the anti-colonial Mau Mau Uprising. Although protesting his innocence—a view shared by later historians—he was convicted. He remained imprisoned at Lokitaung until 1959 and then exiled in Lodwar until 1961.

On his release, Kenyatta was appointed President of KANU and led the party to victory in the 1963 general election. As Prime Minister, he oversaw the transition of the Kenya Colony into an independent republic, of which he became President in 1964. Desiring a one-party state, he suppressed much political dissent and prohibited KANU’s only rival, the leftist Kenya People’s Union, from competing in elections.

Powers from Kenya’s regions were redistributed to its central government. He promoted reconciliation between the country’s indigenous tribal groups and its European minority, although his relations with the Kenyan Indians was strained. His government pursued capitalist economic policies and the “Africanisation” of the economy, with non-citizens prohibited from controlling key industries.

Mashujaa Day Celebration - Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and ex-Mau Mau fighters show -how it was done
Mashujaa Day Celebration – Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and ex-Mau Mau fighters show -how it was done

His system of UK-funded land redistribution favored party loyalists and exacerbated longstanding tribal tensions. Under Kenyatta, Kenya joined the Organisation of African Unity and the British Commonwealth, espousing a pro-Western and anti-communist foreign policy.

His regime faced border conflicts with Somalia and an army mutiny in Nairobi. Kenyatta died in office, and was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi; his son Uhuru later became Kenya’s fourth president. Kenyatta was a divisive figure; prior to Kenyan independence, many of its white settlers regarded him as an agitator and malcontent, although across Africa he gained widespread respect as an anti-colonialist.

During his presidency, he was given the honorary title of Mzee and lauded as the Father of the Nation. His rulership was criticised as dictatorial and authoritarian, of favoring Kikuyu over other ethnic groups, and of overseeing a growth in corruption and cronyism which have generated long-term problems for Kenya.

Further reading:

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