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Explainer: Privileges that come with presidential awards


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On Sunday, Eliud Kipchoge, the first human being to run a marathon under two hours, was among hundreds of Kenyans who received presidential awards for their distinguished service to the nation.

Kipchoge became the first athlete to be feted with the Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart, Kenya’s highest civilian honour.

The quest for the head of state award is not for the fainthearted, and Kenyans have questioned how some past recipients— some considered ‘socialites’ and ‘slay queens’— qualified for such honours.

So, why are these awards coveted and what privileges and entitlements come with them?

According to the National Heroes Act, a person recognised as a national hero or heroine is entitled to:

  • Invitations to national and community functions as a state guest.
  • Having cultural festivals, concerts, exhibitions and sports events organised in their honour.
  • Having towns, institutions, open parks in urban areas, roads, streets, estates, stamps and notable landmarks named after them.
  • Award of medals, insignia, commendations, certificates and such other commemorative as may be determined by the Heroes Council from time to time.
  • Issuance of such postage stamps, scarves, mementos, utensils, apparel and artefacts as may be determined by the Council from time to time.
  • Publication of books depicting their respective roles in Kenya’s history or the social life of the society, which shall be part of the educational curriculum.
  • Being accorded financial assistance from the National Heroes Fund where their economic circumstances warrant such assistance.

Additionally, the government may, from time to time, accord national heroes who are in need of assistance:

  • The highest attainable standard of healthcare services, including reproductive healthcare
  • Accessible and adequate housing and reasonable standards of sanitation;
  • Adequate food of acceptable quality;
  • Clean and safe water in adequate quantities;
  • Social security;
  • Free education for their dependants of school-going age up to tertiary level;
  • Free transport to public functions to which they are invited within the country; and
  • Employment opportunities for their dependents who have relevant qualifications.

The award lists are made by the President on advice of the National Honours and Awards Committee.

Individuals are nominated for awards by district committees, government ministries, religious organisations, non-governmental organisations, individuals and others.

The National Honours Act 2013 provides that a person shall merit the conferment of a national honour if that person “has made an exemplary contribution to the country or a county in the economic, social, scientific, academic, public administration, governance, sports, journalism, business, security or other fields”, or when he “has otherwise brought honour, glory or pride to the Republic”.

Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya is the highest category of presidential awards which is further divided into three classes:

  • Chief of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (C.G.H.)
  • Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (E.G.H.)
  • Moran of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (M.G.H.)

The Order of the Golden Heart award is followed by Uhodari Medal.

The third award is The Order of the Burning Spear, which is also divided into three classes:

  • Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (C.B.S.)
  • Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear (E.B.S.)
  • Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (M.B.S.)

Other awards include The Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya, The Distinguished Conduct Order, The Distinguished Service Medal, The Silver Star of Kenya, and Head of State’s Commendation— military division and civilian division.

The National Honours Act does not specify any benefits.

However, in Section 14(2) it says that the Cabinet Secretary may make regulations to prescribe the privileges or benefits that shall attach to a national honour.

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