A month ago, US President Barack Obama honored 21 citizens with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian citation presented to individuals for their meritorious contributions in a wide range of disciplines including music, the arts, science, philanthropy, civil service and others.
According to the White House brief, these are people who “helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”
Among them were two world-class sportsmen, basketballers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan, internationally-acclaimed innovators and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, film stars Tom Hanks and Cicely Tyson, and musicians Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross, among those known to Africa.
It was a mixture of all that is good for America and the world. The White House presentation was dignified, and was washed down with a lot of laughter and tears. It is a yearly presidential ritual.
This week in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta honored some individuals with Kenya’s own version of citations “in recognition of their distinguished and outstanding services to the country.”
Other than the notable men and women in uniform, most of the names on the list were of ‘regular, not-so-distinguished’ folks – civil servants, politicians, and sycophants – some of whom are not known beyond their own villages.
For example, what “distinguished and outstanding service” have some of the politicians given to the country other than doing what they were elected to do?
In fact, some of them are famous more for their perpetually hateful and tribal tendencies than for exemplary behavior that inspires unity and hope. They are invariably incendiary and divisive and display no respect for the common good. They deserve no commendation from the people of Kenya.
Similarly, by selecting nondescript individuals from the Executive for decoration is an abuse of common sense. Unless the citizenry is told what their outstanding qualities are, it would not be easy to convince anyone that they deserve any honors.
According to the National Honors Act of 2013, persons meriting conferment must be individuals who have exhibited exemplary qualities, actions or achievements of heroism, sacrifice, bravery, patriotism or leadership for the defense, benefit or betterment of the country or a county.
That is why, in naming individuals, we have to be told in a summary form what each one of the recipients has contributed to make Kenya better, socially, culturally, or economically. We want to know how they made the list and why they deserve to be honored.
In the past, we have had instances where those named were found to have been involved in criminal activities including corruption and fraud. Being a cabinet secretary, a politician, a civil servant or even an officer in the uniformed service alone should not be enough to qualify.
The system we use to choose these citizens is unsatisfactory and appears skewed. A Cabinet Minister who has been in the office for a year only cannot be judged to have rendered “distinguished” service to the nation.
My view is that each recipient should be thoroughly vetted and their ‘merits’ must be justified.
We have teachers in the most difficult parts of our country who are sacrificing their comfort and lives to impart knowledge; doctors, scientists, and young innovators who wake up every morning and spend all their lives trying to make a difference to others; ordinary Kenyans in our villages who work quietly to help others deal with disease, hunger and misery, who are more deserving of the commendations than the elite names we see year after year.
And that is my say.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.