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Dedan Kimathi: His grave was unmarked; it was never to be a shrine

Violent teacher who became a freedom fighter rinsed necks of those who left his Mau Mau army

Double trouble: Field Marshal Dedan Kimatbi used British military ranks in the Mau Mau.

By GW Ngari


After 62 years, the remains of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi are said to have been found at Kamiti Maximum Prison, Nairobi, according to Evelyn Wanjugu Kimathi of the Dedan Kimathi Foundation.

Wanjugu says the search has been going on for years, but did not detail the process of concluding the remains were Kimathi’s. The Ministry of Interior has since distanced itself from the matter and termed the report from the Foundation as ‘false.’

Kimathi was hanged in February 18, 1957 for heading the Mau Mau ragtag militia during Kenya’s war of independence. He was shot thrice by fellow Kikuyu, a Home guard police named Ndirangu, missing twice before target was found in a bush lying down, his leopard skin coat and dreadlocks spread, on their own green patch of Kenya.

Kimathi was then handcuffed by ruthless police officer Ian Henderson whi led the man hunt. He was tried and sentenced to hang. Henderson died in Bahrain in 2013.

All his photos the British colonial government circulated showed Kimathi handcuffed and pinned to the ground, a sign of surrender. He had been subdued.

The colonialists later interred Kimathi in an unmarked grave at the prison to skirt any efforts of turning his burial site into a liberation shrine.

Though a hero in Central Kenya, Kimathi and the Mau Mau were never recognized by neither the governments of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta nor of second President Daniel arap Moi-who said he was following in Kenyatta’s footsteps, kufuata nyayo.

His statue could be mistaken for that of Bob Marley– Elimo Njau

Man hunt: Ruthless colonial officer Ian Henderson captured General China whose parroting led to the capture of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi in 1956. He was hanged a year later.

Only during the tenure of retired President Mwai Kibaki was Kimathi officially honoured with a university named after him and a monument along Kimathi street. Never mind the statue by local sculptor Oshottoe Ondula was several inches shorter than Kimathi was in real life and eminent artist Elimo Njau observed that the statue could be mistaken for that of Bob Marley.

Maybe Kibaki honoured him as a home boy. They both hail from Nyeri County where Dedan Kimathi spearheaded the Mau Mau, African continent’s only peasant revolt that paved the way for a country’s independence.

In between speaking in parables and quoting from the Old Testament of the Kikuyu bible he carried, Kimathi arranged his 2000 plus forest army in British rank format.

It had Field Marshalls. Like Musa Mwariama and himself at the helm. Next came Generals like Baimungi, General China, General Chui, General Kahiu and General Kago. The army was governed by two key councils: The Nyandarua Defense Council formulated policy, appointed gang heads.

They knew there was little to fear with Kimathi’s instinct

Home Guard: Captured suspected Mau Mau adherents were detained in concentration camps under the watch of Tribal Police (left) and plain clothed Home Guards.

The Gikuyu Na Mumbi Itungati Association (The Gikuyu&Mumbi Welfare Association) led in the war effort, planning raids, tactics, assault and targets via guns fashioned from odd scraps of iron piping, door bolts, rubber bands and bits of wire while running over 100 kilometres through the forest barefoot in a single day.

 They knew there was little to fear with Kimathi’s instinct and intuition blended with their courage and determination. Kimathi’s existence was inexplicably dependent on them, and theirs on his, particularly his uncanny ability in sensing and escaping from danger.  Desertion equaled death.

Kimathi was not known to show mercy to anyone who appeared like betraying the cause.

And his violent ways had started showing when he was a teacher at his former school, Karuna-ini Primary, where teachers rammed “heady brew of anti-white, anti-government, and anti-Christian dogma to their impressionable pupils.” 

The violence Kimathi meted on students saw him get sacked from a teaching job there. 

Causing trouble, refusing to pay fees, but learning fast

My guka: Dedan Kimathi Jr, grandson of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi chained himself on his statue in 2014 protesting neglect of the family that since suffered since his hanging.

That anti-mzungu mindset he got while at Karuna-ini continued in 1941 when he joined the British Army where he was discharged after three months for insubordination, his inability to withstand a racist commander.

Such expulsions were common. The Church of Scotland Mission School, Tumutumu showed him the gate for “causing trouble, refusing to pay fees, but learning fast” in 1944.

To plough school fees at Wandubi Special School the man who was said to have been “certainly intelligent, but school did not have a calming effect on him” spent two days a week collecting Grevilia robusta tree seedlings for which the Forestry Department (which he briefly worked for before losing his job for theft by servant) paid a penny a tin.

Kimathi’s seed-collecting incursions gave him an early experience of forest life, which he never forgot.

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