Mashujaa Day is celebrated in Kenya every October 20th.
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It is also known as “Heroes Day,” as the Swahili word “mashujaa” means “heroes.” It was originally called “Kenyatta Day” in honour of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, but the name was changed after the 2010 constitution was adopted in an effort to expand the day’s meaning from honouring only those who took part in the independence movement from Britain to honouring all of Kenya’s heroes.
While the day normally falls on October 20th, if it lands on a weekend, it is moved to the following Monday so workers still get a day off.
The day’s original background was the arrest of Jomo Kenyatta and five other independence movement leaders by the British colonial government on October 20th, 1952. They were accused of holding membership in the revolutionary Mau Mau Society and are affectionately remembered as the “Kapenguria Six” based on the detainment centre where they were kept. Their arrest was considered such an important moment in the struggle for freedom from foreign rule that October 20th became a national holiday.
Mashujaa Day is typically celebrated with an event at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi. A military parade takes place with troops wearing colourful uniforms reminiscent of the red, black, and green on the Kenyan flag. You can witness the inspection of the honour guard, hear the president of Kenya give a speech much akin to a U.S. State of the Union Address, and watch motorcades roll by or even skydiving displays.
Besides attending the official festivities in Nairobi, four other things to do in Kenya during Mashujaa Day are:
- Visit the monument (statue) of “the Father of the Kenyan Nation,” Jomo Kenyatta. It is located in downtown Nairobi at the Kenya International Conference Centre. He seems to overlook the busy city around him, as if keeping a watchful eye on the nation he essentially founded.
- Stop by at Uhuru Park in the CBD of Nairobi. In the background, you can see towering skyscrapers. In the middle of the park is a small, artificial lake where some go boating. The park is also a centre of local skateboarding on the weekends, so if you enjoy watching that sport, here is the place to be. Finally, you can see a beautiful fountain and several important monuments in Uhuru Park, including the National Monument, which features four figures raising a very large Kenyan flag, and the Nyayo Monument, which honours the very controversial president Moi, who ruled from 1978 all the way to 2002.
- Tour Nairobi National Park, located four miles south of the city. An electrified fence marks the boundary between big city and wildlife sanctuary. This is a fairly small nature reserve, by Kenyan standards, but its nearness to Nairobi makes it highly accessible. Inside, you will find all manner of African migratory animals, but the rhino population is particularly impressive here.
- Get out of Nairobi and visit Lake Nakuru in the far north at the Ugandan border. It is a lake that sits at a very high elevation in the midst of the African Rift Valley. It is surrounded by parklands that protect it from development. There are many animals to see here, including wild warthogs, baboons, black and white rhinos, and a large stock of birdlife. The most distinctive and colourful sight at Lake Nakuru, however, is the vast quantity of pink flamingos that wade and hunt for fish in the lake’s shallow, muddy waters.
The heroes of Kenya fought to protect both its people and the natural environment so that Kenya could prosper in the future as an independent African nation. Attending official Mashujaa Day celebrations in Nairobi, visiting important monuments, and touring some of Kenya’s famous wildlife are all things to do in Kenya on October 20th.