Mukami Kimathi's home village prepares for grand farewell


Ongoing preparation at the home of freedom fighter Mukami Kimathi ahead of Saturday’s burial.

Photo credit: Macharia Mwangi | Nation Media Group

With the grand funeral just around the corner, the doldrums of Njabini village have been shaken. Elaborate preparations are underway and the rural village is a hive of activity.

The road from Njabini's main junction has been made motorable, bushes are being cleared and the hitherto idle rural population is earning a stipend from the menial jobs available.

Some are in mourning for the loss of a village icon, but on the other hand are happy to take home Sh500 a day. It is a tragedy wrapped in an unexpected windfall.

Since the announcement that the funeral will be funded and planned by the government, the metamorphosis has been crystal clear. The changing fortunes of the small village are striking. 

Grave diggers on site.

Photo credit: Macharia Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The villagers can no longer sit pretty. Occasionally they walk to the side of the road to watch vehicles speed by, graders levelling the dirt road ahead of the burial of freedom fighter Mukami Kimathi on Saturday.

"We have never seen such a phenomenon. Everything has changed in the last few days... the village has come alive," said a local shopkeeper.

At the late freedom fighter's compound, it is a race against time as the multi-agency team goes about their daily tasks with clockwork precision.

The less than one-kilometre road leading to the late Mau Mau hero's homestead is being repaired, and Kenya Power and Lighting staff are erecting electricity poles ahead of the big day. 

Photo credit: Macharia Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The previously rusty iron sheets have been given a fresh coat of paint, while others are erecting a mega-tent that will host top state dignitaries.

Top government officials are keeping a close eye on the work in progress, making sure that everything is done meticulously and nothing is left to chance.

Many of the octogenarians who kept watch over the former freedom fighter with the help of walking sticks are flocking to the house to condole with the grieving family.

The late Dedan Kimathi's grandson and namesake is there to greet the visitors. He had a close relationship with his grandmother and is clearly devastated by her death.

"I started living with my grandmother when I was three years old, she was more like a mother to me," he said, adjusting his black cap.

He became famous for chaining himself to his grandfather's statue in protest at the family's misery.

"It was a spontaneous decision... it was not premeditated... it happened on the spur of the moment. Fortunately, I am now a PAP (permanent and pensionable) employee," he recalls.

"It brought to the fore the challenges we were going through at the time. I couldn't take it any more," he added, before heading to the burial site to watch the work progress.

In the spacious living room, the late Kimathi's contemporaries from the freedom struggle sat together, hooded, recalling the exploits of yesteryear that freed the country from the colonial yoke.

Despite their advanced age, fate had brought them together to mourn one of their own. A couple of freedom fighters with whom they had a personal relationship. Memories are evoked.         

Dressed in traditional regalia - khaki outfits, black caps and name tags on their chests - they warmly recount the moments deep in the forest when they fought the colonialists.

For Wangombe Gitero, his encounter with the Dedan Kimathi cannot be documented while sitting down. He stands up, adjusts his caps and begins a rhetorical monologue.

"He was a man of honour... he meant well for the country, but the country let him down... the family deserved more than they got," he says, shaking his head in sadness.

The grey-haired freedom fighter goes on to boast of his exploits, which included handling several weapons, including a rifle and a pistol, which he says he used with precision, earning him the nickname Major.

But one particular incident that really endeared him to the fearless field marshal was after the late Kimathi agreed to share a meal of the coveted githeri (a Kikuyu delicacy of maize and beans) with him.

"I was starving that day and the only food available was bush meat boiling in the pots.  The smell of fresh beef made me vomit. I could not stand the smell," he recalls.

From that day on, the two became inseparable for seven years until the freedom fighter was captured and later killed.

Also condoling with the family was Brigadier Ann Njoki, who had formed a bond with the late Mukami and spoke to her friend hours before she breathed her last.

"I called the daughter, who in turn handed the phone to her mother. After the usual greetings, she assured me that she was firmly in Christ," said the elderly woman.

Mrs Njoki, who was garlanded by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2020 for her freedom struggle exploits, was sickly for three days after learning of her death.

The two, who met at the height of the freedom struggle, reunited in 2017 and have never left each other's side since.

"I have lost a true friend with whom we shared a lot. Her death has really affected me," said the colonial fighter.

The presence of the ageing freedom fighters brings back memories of the colonial liberation. Their strong commitment is a testimony to the course they followed in awe. It is obvious.

They now wait to pay their last respects to one of their own. United in grief.