Resolving land injustices would be a befitting way to honour Dedan Kimathi

What you need to know:

  • Sixty-two years after Kimathi was hanged by the British colonial government Dedan Kimathi remains a shadowy figure to a majority of Kenyans.
  • Even in death, the British are afraid of Field Marshall Kimathi today as they were then.
  • The fear of Kimathi and his story by the British was passed over to the independent Kenya.
  • We must have memory. Our heroes are not dead. It’s our responsibility to remember and celebrate them.

Last week, February 18, 2019, was ''Dedan Kimathi Day.'' The day has never been gazetted, but that did not stop patriotic Kenyans and those who know him (from the correct and not revisionist history of course), what he stood for, and what he did for this country, from celebrating his mercurial and dramatic life.

Sixty-two years after Kimathi was hanged by the British colonial government for leading a guerrilla movement against its imperial rule in Kenya, Dedan Kimathi remains a shadowy figure to a majority of Kenyans, because his true history has never been taught to his people. It is not by sheer accident that Kimathi’s proper history and his place in the annals of historical antecedents in Kenya have been hidden from Kenyans. To tell the true (hi)story of Dedan Waciuri Kimathi, is to uncover a historical and political fraud that has been going on for the last six decades or so.

The colonial government, afraid and paranoid of his unswerving commitment to the freedom struggle to liberate Kenya from its colonial imposition and intention to grab Kenya’s land, secretly hanged him in 1957, at Kamiti Prison, in Kiambu, where it is alleged his hidden remains are still held.


Even in death, the British are afraid of Field Marshall Kimathi today as they were then. They have refused to tell us where Kimathi’s remains are exactly, so that Kenyans of honourable intentions can bequeath them a proper and righteous burial befitting a conqueror (of the British Empire if you like). Afraid that if we know exactly where the remains are stored, Kenyans would be making an annual pilgrimage to the site, to commune and tap from his heroic spirits, the British, in conspiracy with the post-independent governments, have remained mum about the precise location of the remains.

The British pathological paranoia of Kimathi was extended to the rulers of post-independent Kenya, so much so that no Kenyan government to date will honour him by declaring February 18 a public holiday to commemorate this gallant son of Kenya who so much terrified the retreating British empire that it had tried him in absentia and, when it finally captured him in utmost secrecy and held him incommunicado. What is it that the British colonial government feared so much from the peasant guerrilla leader to the extent that, before they left, the colonial government made sure, they had extended this fear to the incoming government?


Dr Njoki Wamai of the United States International University (USIU), last week in remembering Kimathi, observed that President Jomo Kenyatta dealt with Mukami Kimathi (Kimathi’s widow) in an instrumentalist manner. This fear of Kimathi – in death, as well as in his living spirit – among the people who knew him or were erstwhile related to him, still struck terror to the rulers who had taken from the British masters. ''If Mukami sought to engage the state in whatever way, Jomo would first ask her to mobilise women for his Kanu rallies,'' said Dr Wamai, who lectures in international relations history and politics. ''It was as if Jomo was telling Mukami, 'if you are looking for favours from the state, or if you want me to listen to you…you must do this and that…'''

The don said Jomo Kenyatta ''messed up'' with the issue of land, the cornerstone of the Mau Mau liberation movement of which Dedan Kimathi was its mercurial leader and who had made land a central rallying call to all Kenyans.

This fear of resurrecting the spirit of Kimathi, his memory, his fight for saving Kenya from imperialists, his suffering under the British hangmen was so serious such that even after Kenya became an independent state, it become a state project. It ''spread'' this fear of Dedan Kimathi to all Kenyans. Even though Dedan Kimathi has been dead physically for 62 years and counting, he continues to spread fear and haunt the impostors who took over from the British.


In 1975, Maina wa Kinyatti, then a young scholar, fresh from graduate studies abroad, went to the National Archives of Kenya (then known as Department of Information) and requested for the Mau Mau files. ''Why are you researching on Mau Mau,'' a confounded civil servant bureaucrat asked Maina who had the temerity to delve on the ''taboo'' subject. ''Have you not been listening to Jomo Kenyatta? Mzee Kenyatta alisema tusahau yaliyopita, tuende mbele na kujenga taifa.'' Mzee Kenyatta has repeatedly said we forget the past, we march forward and build the nation, the civil servant reminded Maina.

''There is no information on Mau Mau,'' the junior officer told Maina. But the clerk was really perturbed by Maina’s research intentions. ''But why, tell me, are you interested in Mau Mau and who are you?'' Out of politeness, Maina told him, ''I'm a teacher at Kenyatta University College.''

Last week, Prof Maina wa Kinyati recounted to me, how several weeks later, after his Archives Building visit, at his office in KU, he was told a man was looking for him. “It was the civil servant that I had met at the Archives. He sneaked a file into my hands and disappeared. To date, I‘ve never met him. I’ve never known his name. The file was on Mau Mau.''


Prof Kinyati, one of the leading authorities on the Mau Mau movement, told me Mau Mau was not a Kikuyu insurrection affair per se: ''Kimathi was beyond just being a Kikuyu leader – he embraced a nationalist fervour that was all-inclusive,' said the history professor jailed for six years (1982–1988) by President Daniel arap Moi for his Mau Mau research. ''The Mau Mau movement had Kambas, Kisiis, Luos and even people from the Coast. It is a fallacy that Mau Mau was just about Central Kenya.''

There were Mau Mau cells in western Kenya, in Masailand and Pokotland, reminisced Prof Kinyati. ''In Masailand, there was a big resistance movement that acted as a bulwark against the British colonialists. Mau Mau was never confined to Nyandarua Ranges (Aberdare Ranges). Prof Maina said the true history of this country is yet to be taught.

''Lazima tukumbuke historia yetu.'' We must remember our history, says Dr Msahi Mwangola echoing Prof Kinyati’s clarion call on teaching not only Kenyan history, but the correct history to Kenyans. ''Jomo said 'tusahau yaliopita.''' We forget the past, observed Dr Mshai. ''But we must remember to remember. We must have memory. Our heroes are not dead. It’s our responsibility to remember and celebrate them.''

Mr Kahura is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication.

Twitter: @KahuraDauti