The list of recipients of the coveted Head of State Commendation this past Jamhuri day shook the hell out of me when I first saw it.

While I have never paid keen attention to the list in previous years, the 2017 list contained numerous individuals who have made little (if any) contribution toward fostering patriotism, national unity, the rule of law, democracy, human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusivity, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the rights of the marginalized.

The list stinks to the high heavens with names of government sycophants and is sufficient proof of the existence of the awful gangrene of cronyism within governmental ranks.

According to the provisions of State Commendation Act, state commendations are supposed to be awarded to persons who exceptionally work to make our country better.

I expected human rights defenders, scientists, thinkers, public intellectuals, people of outstanding integrity, exceptional teachers and civil servants among others to feature in the list. Perhaps our good doctors who risk their lives every day while working in areas of our country that are troubled by insecurity or the first responders in times of tragedy. I was expecting a list of exceptional entrepreneurs who are keen on advancing social enterprise in our country.

Or perhaps public intellectuals who are resources of sound information and who challenge Kenyans to rise up and think better. But no! The list is replete with the likes of Dennis Itumbi, Pauline Njoroge and Robert Alai, well known online terrorists who have mastered the art of misinformation.

This unfortunate list of state commendation recipients exposes what really matters in this country. Apparently cherishing the truth or applying one’s God-given brain to provide solutions is of no consequence at all in Kenya. What we are communicating to young people is that in this country, one can only be recognized when one is in the ruling party’s good books. It doesn’t even matter what you do. You can kill, maim, rape, terrorize and spread falsehoods and still be awarded a head of state commendation because after all, it is not what you do to make the world a better place that counts but what you do to serve the sectarian interests of the ruling regime. I, ladies and gentlemen, have a problem with that.

Our country is battling serious challenges. Just recently, we suffered a disastrous period of drought. Lives were lost, animals died and communities suffered. Instead of rewarding those community leaders, innovators and people who are on the frontline of innovation aimed at mitigating the adverse effects of climate change, we chose to award those who called our chief justice and the judiciary “wakora”.

We awarded people who have published falsehoods about other people for selfish reasons. We are awarding online Nazis who have ruined marriages, destroyed people’s self-esteem and turned Kenya’s online space into a toxic wasteland. We applauded people who repeatedly put the truth to death and spread deceit without batting an eyelid.

The fact that Kenya is facing an upsurge in cases of cancer is one that is becoming apparent for all to see. The disease has become a huge burden to ordinary people who are forced to raise money and travel far and wide to seek treatment and sometimes in vain. There are Kenyan doctors and researchers who are working hard to tackle the disease head-on.

Instead of awarding such noble men and women who are doing incredible things to make our country better, we have opted to award people who just stood in the line to vote and were randomly captured on camera eating githeri. No accomplishment, no achievement, nothing worth writing home about except just eating githeri! But in Kenya, that is more than enough to earn one not only a plethora of attention but also a state commendation. If you were looking for proof of the fact that those in charge suffer from a poverty of ideas and are in a deep love affair with mediocrity, look no further!

We have teachers who are going beyond the line of duty to change the lives of their students. We have social workers, spending time in the slums counselling victims of rape, torture, trauma and all the evils that are found in many slums.

We have lawyers who are taking pro bono work for those people who are wrongfully accused but cannot get money to hire an attorney. We have Willy Kimani who was murdered in cold blood and his body dumped in a river. How about Chris Msando who paid the ultimate price for electoral justice in this country?

How about the likes of Ashura Michael, who are fighting for the cause of the disabled and have sat with world leaders to chart the way forward?

We have many heroes in this country. Journalists who are committed to telling the truth for the sake of humanity. Scribes who have rejected plum state jobs and brown envelopes because they believe in the calling to make the world a better place.

How about civil society workers who are focused on improving the world by fighting food insecurity in rural areas?

How about Kenya’s Joyceline Jepkosgey who broke six world records in six months in 2017?

How about Kisumu Girls’ Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Purity Achieng, Mascrine Atieno & Ivy Akinyi, who were the only Africans who participated in the 2017 Tech Challenge in Silicon Valley and got international recognition for inventing an anti-FGM app?

How about the late 14-year-old Esther Neema of Moi Girls Nairobi who was safe outside a burning dorm in her school but upon realizing that her friend might have been trapped made a selfless and courageous decision to go back into the burning dormitory to find her friend (she died but her best friend survived).

These are the real heroes and heroines that the list of state commendations refused to acknowledge but No!! Away with such selfless souls! Give us the githeri eating internet sensations! Give us the expert online rumour mongers!! Give us crooks and thugs who thrive on destroying lives!! Give us the lords of all that is mundane!! Give us Barrabas that we might crown him with a state commendation!! We shall revisit.

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Author: Dannish Odongo

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