Gen China: Was he a Mau Mau liberation hero or turncoat?

by Julie Ngigi

Waruhiu Itote, well known as General China, remains one of the Mau Mau generals with a contested legacy. Whether he was a valiant son of the soil or treacherous traitor, who collaborated with the British to infiltrate the Mau Mau army and its operations, depends on whom you ask.

The jury is still out.

Born into a wealthy family in Kaheti Village, Mukurwe-ini in present day Nyeri County, Gen China’s father, Itote, was a disciplinarian who pitilessly beat his children. Waruhiu got a chance to get some education when he joined a local Church of Scotland Mission church in Kiangari.

But his father did not believe in education claiming that school kept his son away from farming, looking after livestock and other traditional roles boys played at the time. Still, Waruhiu proceeded to enroll at Mihuti Primary School. However, his fate was sealed. The young Waruhiu dropped out of school owing to his father’s persistent discouragement. Other family members were also opposed to his education.

Owing to tough living conditions at home, Waruhiu ran away to Nairobi and secured a job at a factory. He later quit in 1940, got married to his wife, Leah Wambura, and ventured into business in a joint venture with his friends.  But this business collapsed after a year.

In 1942, an opportunity to enlist in the British Army arose and the young man enlisted in the Kings African Rifles (KAR), a multi-battalion British colonial regiment,  where he served in the Ceylon, Sri Lanka and then went to Burma (presently Myanmar) as a combatant soldier. His military expertise would shine through during this time. In Burma, sources indicate, the British offered him promotion but Waruhiu opted to return to the country.

Back home, Waruhiu Itote become increasingly frustrated for lack of opportunities for ex-soldiers. Secondly, the government rewarded the white soldiers who fought in the war of Ceylon and Burma, leaving Africans out. This motivated him, and other ex-soldiers, to join the Kenya African Union in 1946.

Waruhiu Itote took the Mau Mau oath in 1950 and soon became responsible for administering the oath and executing traitors. Being a well-trained military man, Waruhiu, who was later be  installed as war General called China,  became instrumental in the war. His experienced in the British Army became indispensable in war training and new recruitments. He was adept at shooting and gun handling. He grew into a respected war leader admired by his colleagues.

On 15 January 1954, General China led a troop of Mau Mau in an attack at a police post in Mathira in Nyeri. The British captured him after shooting him on the neck. His was among the first senior Mau Mau leader captured by the government.  

During the capture, Mathenge, one of Gen China’s foot soldiers, sustained a bullet shot on his neck that would stay logged in his body for three decades before it was removed. After its removal, the bullet remained in his family custody until 2010 when his wife and daughter donated it to the National Museum of Kenya. Other accounts insist that General China surrendered willingly and ditched Mau Mau to collaborate with the colonialists.  

After his arraignment, lawyer A. Kapila, an Asian, represented him. General China was eventually convicted to death.

His conviction became an opportunity for the colonialists to dismantle the Mau Mau. The government operatives knew they had captured an invaluable asset. China understood the war structure, Mau Mau hideouts, and even the seniour individuals driving the resistance.

The government officials asked him to cooperate with the colonial establishment in exchange for freedom. 

In the process, General China divulged many secrets of the Mau Mau despite the fact that he had taken of the oath of secrecy. It is said that the information he gave was used to craft Operation Anvil that started on 24th April to 26th May 1954. Led by General George Erskine, the operation meant to remove all suspected Mau Mau followers from Nairobi and place them in Lang’ata camp or reserves.

General China’s actions incensed his former Mau Mau war soldiers. A special congress to discuss his case was called and held at Mihuro, Nyandarua in November 1954.

Led by General Stanley Mathenge, the congress declared General China a turncoat and traitor and sentenced him to death in absentia. The soldiers also agreed to change their tactics and strategies as the enemy was already aware of their plans.

General China failed to convince the remaining generals to put down their arms. He was taken to detention in Lokitung where he reunited with Jomo Kenyatta.

It is reported that while in detention, Jomo Kenyatta taught General China how to read and write English, skills that helped him write and publish his autobiography Mau Mau General in 1979 and Mau Mau in action in 1979.

During Kenyatta’s tenure General China was sent for further millitary training and was employed as assistant director of the National Youth Service under Geoffrey Griffin until he retired in 1984. Having devoted his entire life to a military life, General China died in 1993 aged 71.

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3 comments

Larry Mirie KIMANI March 7, 2021 - 4:14 am

So Julie, what’s your take on Warūhiū Itote? Hero or traitor or a combination of both?

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takipçi satın al April 22, 2021 - 12:54 pm

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instagram takipçi satın al April 23, 2021 - 6:27 pm

Ridiculous quest there. What happened after? Thanks!

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