Football legend Joe Kadenge, who died at the age of 84 last weekend, has been celebrated and immortalized as one of Africa’s leading pioneer footballers, with tributes coming through from across the continent as Egypt hosts the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
Kadenge ranks up there with the likes of D.R. Congo’s Pierre Ndaye Mulamba, Afcon’s all-time leading scorer with nine goals netted in the 1974 edition, also held in Egypt. Mulamba died on January 26 this year in Johannesburg at the age of 70.
Back home, (crocodile) tears are being shed for the Kenyan legend who made the beautiful game popular in the country, with screams of “Kadenge na mpira” through veteran broadcaster Leonard Mambo Mbotela’s lip microphone clinging onto the minds of even those who didn’t appreciate the game.
Sadly, many of the well-heeled now mourning the legend didn’t even bother to chip in when Mzee Kadenge pleaded to be assisted in settling his medical bills.
But full credit must, however, go to President Uhuru Kenyatta for at least visiting the ailing legend at his city home and comforting him with a donation of Sh2 million besides calling for him to be granted a waiver of any National Hospital Insurance Fund obligations.
Ironically, as Mzee Kadenge struggled to raise as little as Sh40,000 down payment for hospital admission, politicians will, with lightning speed, summon the approximately Sh5 million required for the football legend’s July 20 funeral.
And they will be at Mzee’s home in Vihiga County with platitudes galore, as they narrate to mourners how well they knew Kadenge, and how “immensely he contributed to national cohesion” through association football. “We should respect our heroes,” they will say, “and grant them assistance when they are alive because they have made our country proud.”
Yet these very politicians failed to show up at Nairobi’s Railway Club when ex-Harambee Stars midfielder Sammy Shollei and friends arranged a harambee to help offset the Kadenge’s medical bills.
What happened to the Kenya Heroes Act of 2014?
Why should we wait for our legends to waste away, unleash tributes and shed crocodile tears, graveside, upon their deaths?
This year alone, we have lost three legends, with pioneer track stars Naftali Bon and Nyandika Maiyoro having passed on after painfully pleading for assistance to make ends meet and to settle paltry hospital bills.
Similar tales of neglect
Currently, Robert Ouko, a member of Kenya’s 4x400 metres relay gold medal-winning team at the 1972 Munich Olympics, is critically ill and his medical bills are being painfully borne by his family, fellow legends and the younger athletes he inspired.
With Julius Sang having died in 2004, Ouko along with Charles Asati and Hezekiah Nyamao are the remaining members of that historic 1972 quartet, and their stories are similar tales of neglect and lack of appreciation despite all they did for country.
Yet they deserve to be cared for like national treasures they are.
Despite the fact that the Kenya Heroes Act of 2014 provides for the constitution of a 13-member National Heroes Council — which, according to Section 4 (c), should “administer State assistance to national heroes where necessary” — no such assistance has been forthcoming.
Not even for 81-year-old Wilson Kiprugut Chuma, who watches each sunrise by the grace of God at his Kericho home, too frail to mingle with village mates and narrate his exploits at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics where he bagged Kenya’s first ever Olympic medal — a bronze in the 880 yards (now 800 metres).
Such a shame for a nation that has earned global acclaim through the world-beating performances by these very athletes who are only celebrated in death, as will be the case at Mzee Kadenge’s burial in Vihiga next week. Sad indeed. Such a shame!