Dedan Kimathi: The man who inspired our freedom struggle

by Getrude Mirobi

Though Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi Waciuri is still, undoubtedly, Kenya’s foremost freedom fighter, his body lies in an unmarked grave inside the expansive compound of Kamiti prison – where he was hanged on February 18, 1957.

Kimathi’s only mistake was to join thousands of other Kenyans who wanted to liberate the country from colonial rule; and paid with their lifes.

But Kimathi who, ironically, the British administrators thought they had extinguished after killing him, is the portrait of Kenya’s independence movement and has not faded away.

He is currently immortalized with several monuments and institutions. In Nyeri County, a university is named after him while in uptown Nairobi, his statue stands showcasing his military prowess to thousands of Kenyans crossing a street that also bears his name.

Born on 31 October, 1920, into a polygamous family in Nyeri, Kimathi was raised by a single mother since his father, Waciuri, died a month before Kimathi was born.

A bright student, he enrolled at the local Karunaini primary school at the age of fifteen where he perfected his English. He continued his secondary education at Tumutumu CMS School and was a gifted writer.

But in 1941, he abandoned his quest for education and enlisted as a sweeper with the King’s African Rifles (KAR) but quit after being exposed to unfavourable working conditions of the African troops.

As Jomo Kenyatta returned from Europe and reinvigorated the Kenya African Union, Kimathi became a KAU member sometime between 1947 and 1949. KAU was the first African-led national political party in Kenya. Kimathi served as secretary at the Ol Kalou branch that was controlled by militant supporters of the Muhimu, an outgrowth of the Anake a Forti (Forty group) made up of ex-servicemen and frustrated political activists.

Kimathi rose to prominence in the early 1950s as an oath administrator. He believed the oath was a strong unifying agent, with potential to unite all Kikuyus, Embu and Meru people against the British rule. He even believed in forced oathings as the best way to keep the society glued together. Violent episodes increased in form of attacks on settler farms. Incidences of arson and political murders gave shape to a growing insurgency leading to the declaration of a state of emergency in 1952 after the killing of Chief Waruhiu.

Following declaration of the state of emergency in 1952 the colonial government launched a series of operations aimed at rounding up and interning Kikuyus in established villages. 

As crisis hit Mt Kenya region and as the British started crackdown on freedom fighters, Kimathi headed to the forest to start an insurrection. He led the Mau Mau guerilla warfare that begun as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), a combative force comprising the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people who sought to reclaim land occupied by the British settlers. 

For that he was labeled a terrorist by the colonial government, and declared a Most Wanted person.

Most of the time, going by witness accounts, Kimathi carried a double-barreled shotgun, always ready to defend Africans from the colonial administration.

As the war gained pace, Kimathi became its de facto leader. He gained popularity and carried hopes of thousands of the Kenyans who were under the British oppression. He was a hero to the Africans but a villain to then colonial government.

In Nyandarua fores, Kimathi also formed the Kenya Defence Council and the Kenya Parliament, in a bid to bring order, hierarchy, and centralization to the scattered Mau Mau forces. He was known more for his speeches and ability to draw on revolution and political thought.

But on October 21 1956, Kimathi was shot in the leg and captured alone by a tribal police constable named Ndirangu while walking near the trenches dug to separate the native reserve and the Nyandarua forest. Ndirangu claimed to have shot him as he attempted to re-enter the forest and evade capture. His arrest marked a blow to the movement but did not kill the spirit of many other political forces who had been inspired by Kimathi to fight for liberation.

It was after this that the British started to seriously negotiate on the Constitutional future of the country  with the rebellion offering a strong political foundation for those demanding an end to colonial rule in Kenya.

A court presided over by Chief Justice O’Connor had found Kimathi guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition contrary to the law.  

The court sentenced Kimathi to death while on a hospital bed at the General Hospital in Nyeri. His appeal was dismissed and the death sentence upheld. In the early morning of 18 February 1957, he was executed at Kamiti Maximum Prison. He was buried in an unmarked grave and his burial site remains unknown.

To preserve his legacy, the Kenyan government erected a 2.1-metre bronze statue titled Freedom Fighter Dedan Kimathi on a graphite plinth, in central Nairobi. The statue is at the junction of Kimathi Street and Mama Ngina Street. Kimathi, adorns military regalia, holds a rifle in the right hand and a dagger in the left, the last weapons he held in his struggle. To this day, Kimathi remains an icon of the Mau Mau rebellion and the struggle for the liberation of the country.

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4 comments

Mathenge Ngibuini March 4, 2021 - 3:51 am

Kimathi was never buried at kamiti prison as we are made to believe!
Neither was he charged while in Nyeri, But he was taken direct to Nairobi, soon after he was captured!
It is good to put the record straight! When queen Elizabeth was in Nyeri, “A big delegation was in Nyeri, including Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, that was in mid of 1956! Kenyatta was promised, “The leadership of kenya, if he would help in the capture of kimathi!
“The queen, had insisted, She wanted kimathi Alive!
The plan was, “The British to declare, Jaramogi Odinga as president,” Since they knew, if the MauMau, got the news, that a “kafirondo” was the Prime Minister,’ They would rebel & stage a war, against the traitor, JARAMOGI!
Kenyatta organized, “With General Mathenge & Waruhiu itote, “To go to the Aberdares, Forest where Kimathi’s base was, ‘& tell him the news of JARAMOGI taking over the leadership of the country! , that kenyatta was in Nyeri waiting for him, So that they could join hands, to protest the decision of the British!
After alot of persuasion, Kimathi finally agreed to meet kenyatta!
They had set a trap, that was near, the edge of the forest, they would disable him by shooting him not to kill.
It is also said that a man named Ndirangu is the one who shot him, But it was General Mathenge who actually shot the bullet that fell kimathi!
“An exchange of fire between kimathi’s aid & the Homeguards, ensured & Mathenge & China fled to unknown destination, while kimathi was quickly whisked to a standby land rover & driven straight to Nairobi.
When news spread that kimathi had been shot, kenyatta addressed a big rally in Nyeri & asked the people, that he was ready to catch the bull by the horns, & the people to hold the hind legs,” Which the people agreed!
In the meantime, when the people sensed they had been tricked by kenyatta.”some went back to the forest it was then that a hurried lancaster meeting was arranged & kenyatta with jaramogi started planning for take over Government!
Mathenge with arrangements from kenyatta, was given an asylum to Ethiopia, because. MauMau were after his blood!
In the meantime, almost the same period kimathi was captured, the queens father(Henry) died & the queen had to go back to Britain to take over the throne!
It is said, & most likely the truth, ” The queen went back with the 2 man waters lion of Tsavo that is said to have killed many railway workers including British!
However, Kimathi went with the said lions of Tsavo to Britain under the Queens order, by ship via mombasa port!
Therefore if the dates the two lions left kenya, is the same day Dedan kimathi wachiuri left kenya enroute to Britain.
That is why, even if you were to excavate the whole of kamiti Prison, you will never see his remains!
And since the queen is still alive, she is better placed to tell where they took kimathi.
That is the sad story of betray of kenyans icon ,& freedom fighter!
Itote waruhiu, was rewarded to form the National youth service! So as to keep him busy, not to ever leak the deep secrets between the British, kenyatta & the missing General Mathenge.

Reply
Peter Mburu March 29, 2021 - 4:07 pm

This is very serious.

Reply
Mathenge Ngibuini March 4, 2021 - 3:59 am

I as a son of a former freedom fighter, would like the Brtish government & the queen of England to do justice to kenya & bring back to kenya the remains of our freedom struggle Hero DEDAN KIMATHI WACHIURI! It pains when I remember what transpired between local traitors aided by the British colonial regime!
We shall never rest, No matter how long it takes, until we get to the bottom & conclusion of the whole matter!

Reply
David KITAWI FUMBU March 7, 2021 - 3:33 pm

Am not sure..whether to accept this narrative or reject it entirely , if this is true , are you insinuating that all what has been in our history books is a fake news?

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