The untold story of General Ruku: The Mau Mau gun smuggler with links to Emperor Haile Selassie

by Evan Mbugua

Of all Mau Mau leaders, General Ruku is undoubtedly one of the most underrated in the history of the movement.

It seems that historians and Mau Mau scholars have, on a general scale, dedicated little time to write to unravel the story of one of the most feared Mau Mau generals – to an extent that a strong contingent of British troops was sent to the Meru reserve to haunt for him. It was during this operation that General Ruku’s deputy, General Kaggia, was killed.

That omission has consequently relegated his stature in the war and denied current -and even older- generations the story of an experienced fighter, who rarely appears on the list of the Mau Mau honchos. 

Born M’Ikiara wa Nyonta in 1908, and  to a wealthy family in Katheri Location, Upper Abothuguchi, Meru, General Ruku earned the art of leadership early in life. His family charged him with the responsibility of looking after their livestock. As a result, he frequently traversed Meru and Isiolo shepherding animals and ensuring they remained safe from threats.

But his life would face a disruption in 1940 when he was recruited to the King’s African Rifles (KAR) – which was meant to boost the number of soldiers in the World War II.

The following year, General Ruku was deployed to Ethiopia, then known as Abyssinia, as part of the British troops fighting the Italians.

It had all started in October 1935, when Italian troops invaded Ethiopia and forced the country’s leader Haile Selassie into exile.

But in April 1941, British troops, including the King’s African Rifles, made their way into Addis Ababa and toppled the Italian establishment in Ethiopia. General Ruku was among the KAR troops in Ethiopia.

His presence in Ethiopia would later become one of the most important resource for the Mau Mau.

General Ruku was a witty man who never wasted any chances. After Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia, the general got a chance to meet him. And by the time the general was leaving Ethiopia after the war, he had already cultivated a working relationship with the Emperor. Their relationship would later become an asset to Mau Mau back home.

General Ruku’s stay in Ethiopia came to an end in 1945 when the KAR troops were withdrawn from the country. He, however, did not immediately come back to Kenya. Instead, he went to Uganda and started serving in the Royal Courts of Kabaka in the traditional Buganda Kingdom.

And when he eventually came back to Kenya, General Ruku, like many other ex-British soldiers, joined the Mau Mau. As a military person, the first thing that struck him was the rudimentary weapons the freedom fighters were using to fight the British.

He understood, more than many other Mau Mau fighters, that such weapons were inferior.  General Ruku  had seen and used the sophisticated weapons that the British used to fight enemies. He was not ready to sit and watch Mau Mau being defeated.

Emboldened by his military skills, General Ruku believed Africans had capacity to establish own governments. He, therefore, became a vocal Mau Mau adherent as he worked on a plan to liberate Kenya from the British rule.

He joined the political factions of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) and Kenya Africa Union (KAU).

In 1947, General Ruku, accompanied by his friend Mathenge wa Mirugi, an acquaintance he had met in Ethiopia, visited Jomo Kenyatta in Githunguri. Kenyatta was at the time serving as a director at the Kenya Teachers College, Githunguri – an independent institution furthering pan Africanism in education.  (Mathenge is the famous Mau Mau leader, Gen Mathenge, who later disappeared without trace and was believed to have left for Ethiopia).

What we know is that the  following year, General Ruku travelled to Ethiopia on a mission to seek military help. It is said that he managed to get to Ethiopia and secured a meeting with Emperor Haile Selassie. General Ruku tabled his pleas to the Emperor for arms.

It is also claimed that Haile Selassie honoured General Ruku’s wish and facilitated the process of smuggling the guns using camels and donkeys. When he arrived in Meru, he stashed the weapons in M’Mwenda’s Caves located in Muchiene Forest within Mount Kenya forest.

After Ruku’s return to Kenya in 1948, Jomo Kenyatta visited Meru in August for the first time as the KAU President. Kenyatta met General Ruku and other prominent Meru leaders and delivered what was termed as “a power awakening speech.”

Kenyatta’s speech served to awaken the Ameru. They were already living under oppression from the British administrators. From that moment, Mau Mau leaders in Meru saw a messiah in Kenyatta and after he left, Meru became a hotbed of resistance.   

Apart from Kenyatta, General Ruku was the most liked personality in Meru. His bravery and sacrifice in getting guns endeared him to the radicals then coalescing into an underground movement called Mau Mau.

It is at this time that he was named General Ruku, a Meru word meaning a piece of hard dry wood. His resolve was clearly unbreakable.

In 1952, when Mau Mau war became intensified, General Ruku was appointed the Vice- President of the organization. He was further appointed the Regional Commander of the Mau Mau fighters the wider Meru region.

And that explains why the hunt for General Ruku was deemed an important military foray within Mt Kenya and why it received some good press coverage.

General Ruku died in 1957.

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Paul Ndiba kamau July 8, 2021 - 7:20 pm

Thanks for the information, i would love to get the information more

Griffith November 13, 2021 - 12:17 pm

Great stuff


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