The fall-out between Kimathi and Mathenge

by Evan Mbugua

The fallout between Dedan Kimathi wa Wachiuri and Stanley Mathenge marked a shift in the Mau Mau war.

Before Kimathi was arrested in 1956, and executed the following year, he had publicly differed with Mathenge’s war strategy – and this saw Mathenge leave with his own troops. Their differences, it is now held by historians, threatened the morale of Mau Mau fighters.

Kimathi had won loyalty and popularity from the Mau Mau fighters for his motivational speeches in the forest. On the other hand, he was known as a nonsensical leader who did not tolerate any breach of protocol from his subordinates. He was a man of bureaucracy.

This attribute put Kimathi, who had rose through the ranks to be General Stanley Mathenge’s secretary, at loggerheads with junior fighters, especially the uneducated. In the forest, General Mathenge was the idol to the unlettered who accused Kimathi of being poisoned by western education and Christianity.

The unlettered Generals became weary of Kimathi’s incessant writing and record keeping. Kimathi’s philosophy was that the pen was mightier than the sword. Not everyone was happy with the letters Kimathi wrote which today, form part of the Mau Mau war records.

But on 16 August 1953, Kimathi wrote a letter to all field commanders and Committee Council heads calling them for a four-day congress, famously known as Mwathe Congress. Upon receiving the letter, Mathenge interpreted Kimathi’s deed as a direct challenge to the hierarchical structure of the war.

General Mathenge was the Mau Mau supreme leader at the time. Mathenge boycotted the meeting in which those present overwhelmingly elected Kimathi as the leader of Kenya Parliament. This means General Mathenge’s leadership was dropped. This escalated the dispute between the two leaders.

The accusations and bottled suspicions dented Mau Mau leadership, war coherence, and approach as the fighters split into two factions. After the Mwathe Congress declaration, General Stanley Mathenge led a breakaway of some Mau Mau from Kimathi’s Kenya Parliament to form Kenya Riigi (woven door). 

In January 1955 the colonial government gave room for negotiations with a two-week cease fire deal. Kimathi and his Kenya Parliament didn’t take chance while some of the Kenya Rigii led by their secretary Kahinga Wachanga met the government for negotiations and enjoyed the amnesty at hand. Those who surrendered apparently became turncoats and were used by the enemy to hunt down Mau Mau.

They also advised the colonialists on effective tactics to win the battle. The two factions became irreconcilable and one time bosom friends in the name of Kimathi and Mathenge became arch-rivals hunting each other instead of the enemy. The divide and rule strategy by the colonialists played well.

From that moment, the Mau Mau troops in the forest took different stands. There were those who subscribed to Mathenge’s leadership while others, said to be the majority, recognised Kimathi as their leader.

Mathenge’s tenacity to fight the colonialists slumped from that moment. What happened to him is subject to raw controversies and myths.  

There are two major theories that explain Mathenge’s disappearance. The dominant explanation of his disappearance is that he fled to Ethiopia when the war intensified. What befell him on his way to Ethiopia, or while there, remains a mystery.

Secondly, it is alluded that on July 2, 1955 his platoon was waylaid by the enemy at Munyanye Forest, Nyandarua and suffered heavy casualties. The explanation given is that Mathenge was among those shot dead on that day.

Kimathi would later be arrested and sentenced to hang. His body was buried at Kamiti Maximum Prison in an unmarked grave.  Attempts to trace the grave have been futile.

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6 comments

Ndegwa wairimu freshiah March 10, 2021 - 8:15 pm

Whatever was happening those days are still reccuring until today,mathenge splitted with kimathi because of a political difference I can tell he was greed for leadership but after all he looses
Betrayal was there as it show it self today.but kimathi really showed his loyalty

Reply
Newton Lugogo March 12, 2021 - 10:25 am

One day, the truth will be known

Reply
Newton Lugogo March 12, 2021 - 10:27 am

One day, the truth will be known and the history of our struggles will be rewritten

Reply
Njoroge Gitingû March 12, 2021 - 1:06 pm

This story makes me hate Kimathi at a certain angle

Reply
Kagwima Kuria March 12, 2021 - 3:25 pm

Very informative and quite well written, but always read and reread your articles before posting to eliminate any possible grammatical or factual error(r).

Reply
Shadrack kisio March 16, 2021 - 3:34 pm

Even though they differ at the last minute..they are the Makers of Kenya History…They fought till their last breath.But where are the graves of our hiroes🤔🤔

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