General Kariba was barely 25 when he was appointed a commander in Mau Mau’s Kenya Levellation Battalion that was based in Nyeri District.
Today, General Kariba is long forgotten, and in the history of the liberation struggle, he is hardly mentioned.
Yet, even at that age, his vision for the war was clear: remove all white settlers from the district.
Those who knew General Kariba, who real name was Gititi Kabutu, describe him as a tall, well-built young man who possessed an assertive attitude.
Like many other warriors, Gen Kariba had joined the Mau Mau movement after the declaration of the State of Emergency in 1952. Initially, he joined the Mau Mau Hika Hika Battalion under the leadership of Waruhiu Itote, famously known as General China, and due to his leadership prowess he rose quickly and was promoted to a commander.
Gen Kariba’s leadership went beyond the forest as he started an aggressive Mau Mau recruitment and oath campaign. It is now known that General Kariba succeeded in recruiting many people into Mau Mau and finally formed the Kariba Battalion.
His popularity soared for his mastery in staging successful attacks on the white settlements and on government loyalists. In one famous attack, General Kariba led about eighty men in overrunning a government facility in Iriani Location in Nyeri which was inhabited by home guards and government loyalists. His battalion, not only destroyed the camp and killed many colonial sympathizers, but also sent shock in the central Kenya administration.
In 1953, he led an army of 400 men from the forest for an attack in the reserves at night. General Kariba’s attacks on the villages became regular and believed that if Kikuyu home guards and loyalists were eliminated from the community, the British would lose their grip in the area.
Unlike many Mau Mau generals who split battalions into smaller units, General Kariba believed in strength in numbers and kept his battalion of about 500 members as a single unit.
However, on 14 January 1954, General Kariba and General China led other fighters on a mission to collect arms and ammunition in Karatina in Nyeri. They were confronted by security forces leading to a shootout. General China was shot and arrested. General Kariba survived this attack and later took charge of the Hika Hika Battalion.
General China’s capture was a turning point in the Mau Mau war for he revealed most of the Mau Mau war activities.
In a separate twist, General Kariba on 28 March 1954 surrendered to the government following an amnesty offered to Mau Mau members. He was taken to Karatina Police Station for interrogation and later handed over to the special branch police. Another Mau Mau leader who surrendered was General Tanganyika. Their surrender emboldened the government that now boasted of winning over the Mau Mau.
The British used the two to woo more people from the forest. Barely a week after General Kariba surrendered he was sent into the forest to convince other fighters to come out of the forest.
It is now known that General Kariba convinced a section of his fighters to get out of the forest. On 7 April 1954, the Mau Mau fighters and government officials scheduled a meeting at Gathuini, Konyu location in Nyeri. But it was a trap. Police opened fire and killed 25 Mau Mau fighters and injured many more in what is now known as the Gathuini Massacre.
General Kariba and General Tanganyika, who had convened the meeting, managed to escape unhurt. But they had learnt their lesson; they had been duped.
General Kariba then rejoined Mau Mau.
On 24 October 1954, the police commenced a search for General Kariba who was living in a cave on the banks of Muthera River in Nyeri. General Kariba and his bodyguards Wahome Muthigani and Mwangi Maima were arrested.
The four were taken to Nyeri and charged with possession of a gun and 13 rounds of ammunition. The court proceedings were brief. The prosecution did not give any evidence.
General Kariba’s trial was opened on 10 November 1954. Those captured with him were charged with similar counts. In his defense, General Kariba said: “The pistol is mine. I think I had a lawful excuse to have it.” The court found the accused guilty and sentenced them to death. As he boarded the police track, General Kariba laughed and joked with his guards. He smiled and waved at the crowds as he was driven away.
On 18 November 1955, General Kariba and his co-accused lodged an appeal at the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa. His appeal was rejected a month after – and was hanged in a Nairobi Prison.