Dedan Kimathi

Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi.

| File | Nation Media Group

By 1968, Kimathi’s grave was ‘fenced’ in Kamiti – so, how did it disappear?

What you need to know:

  • We have evidence from Hansard records showing that by 1968, the government knew where Kimathi was buried.
  • On December 11, 1968 Mbiyu Koinange told Parliament that the “site was fenced and looked after”.

The often-stated position on the site of Dedan Kimathi’s grave is that the government does not know – and has never known - where Kimathi was buried. Second, that the British government did not point out the grave to the incoming Kenyatta government – or that among the thousands of former inmates in Kamiti, and the prison guards, nobody knew where the freedom hero was buried.

At one point, during Mwai Kibaki government, we were treated to a circus – as different sets of ex-freedom fighters sought to help trace the missing grave. Let me cut to the chase for somebody has played on our national memory.

Now, I have got news for you. We have evidence from Hansard records showing that by 1968, the government knew where Kimathi was buried and the powerful Minister of State Mbiyu Koinange acknowledged that fact and promised to have the body exhumed. He even described the state of the grave as “fenced” and sought more time to organise for a decent burial. So, what happened?

Mbiyu Koinange was not your usual political joker. He was akin to the country’s prime minister – powerful, intelligent and shrewd at times thanks to the short man syndrome that dictated his politics. Within the Jomo Kenyatta government, he behaved like Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom.

When Mbiyu spoke, it was certainly from a point of knowledge. During Cabinet meetings, he always sat next to Jomo – both as an in-law and as a critical cog within the system. Again, he was always by Kenyatta’s side aspiring to one day lead the country – by hook or by crook.

The week before the 5th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence, the Laikipia West MP G.G. Kariuki had asked Mr Koinange, as Minister of State, whether the government had any plans to exhume Kimathi’s body and conduct a dignified burial that included the building of a monument in his honour.

And on December 11, 1968, Mbiyu told an attentive parliament that, indeed, the government knew where Kimathi was buried. In his reply, and which has since been replaced by a we-don’t-know-where-the-grave-is position, Mr Koinange described the suggestion as “brilliant” and described Kimathi as a “national hero”. He revealed that Kimathi’s grave was “fenced and looked after” and that he would inform the House once a decision was taken on the matter.

Kimathi monument

During the debate, it had been suggested that a Kimathi monument be erected at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street and that the body be buried at an empty plot next to Kenya Police headquarters or along Kenyatta Avenue.

Koinange told Parliament that since the government “appreciated that he was a hero in the struggle for freedom…plans were afoot to see how a better grave could be prepared…in a better place.”

And that was the last admission by the State on the whereabouts of Kimathi’s grave. So, what is this cock-and-bull-story, which is always forced on us that the grave cannot be located?

As the Minister of State, Mbiyu was privy to some level of intelligence and that is why there could be some truth that, at one point, the government knew, or still knows, the location of Dedan Kimathi’s grave in Kamiti Prison. That evidence is concealed somewhere in government documents, either deliberately or inadvertently.

While that was the first admission that the government knew where Kimathi was buried, it was also the last as suppressed memory took over.

By November 1969, Treasury was asked by Embu East MP Kamwithi Munyi – one of the most vocal on Mau Mau legacy – whether it would set aside money to build monuments in memory of national heroes. In his reply, the assistant minister S.M. Balala, appeared to backtrack on the 1968 promise and said there were no such plans “at the moment.”

But in a surprise move, Mr Munyi was appointed Assistant minister in the Office of the President, and he was the man to handle questions on the future of Kimathi’s grave – and by extension, the recognition of Mau Mau freedom fighters. Mr Munyi was a spectacular disappointment.

For instance, when Munyi was asked to help trace Kimathi’s burial site, he said that to single out freedom fighters for a ceremonial burial would not be consistent with the spirit of building a united nation and in addition be a waste of public funds and time to locate graves and exhume their remains.” That was in September 1971.

Exhume the remains

On December 21, 1971, the Daily Nation reported that discussions were underway between the Nairobi City Council and the Ministry of Local Government to convert or replace the King George Fountain – that abandoned fountain at the junction of City Hall Way and Parliament Road to become a Kimathi monument. The tiny story with no byline was not attributed to anybody.

The position of the Moi government was that there was no need for the establishment of a heroes’ cemetery. When the question was asked by Lawrence Sifuna in 1981, the Ministry of State asked him to state any hero who has “no places to be buried.”

The debate was cheapened when Sifuna mentioned Dedan Kimathi, and a member interjected: “Dedan Kimathi is buried already” and the debate ended.

In July 1993, Kiraitu Murungi revived the matter and asked the Moi government “when it will exhume the remains of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi from Kamiti and accord them a State burial.” In his reply, the then minister for Home Affairs and National Heritage, Francis Lotodo, said “it is not possible to identify the late Dedan Kimathi’s grave at Kamiti Prison. The colonialists buried the late Dedan Kimathi in a mass grave along with others who then faced similar fate.”

And then Kiraitu cut the minister short: “I would like to inform the minister that the mass grave at the Kamiti Maximum Prison is outside the prison walls and the late Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi was not buried in the mass grave. He was buried under one of the walls of Kamiti Prison. Since the Kanu government is not able to identify and accord the late Kimathi a hero’s burial, would the minister give permission to Ford-K, at their own cost, to exhume the body of the late Kimathi and accord him a hero’s burial next to the late President Jomo Kenyatta?”

By then, Ford Kenya was a vibrant party – and was the seat of radicalism. (Good day, Moses Wetangula!)

Back to Parliament, and in the shouting match, Mr Lotodo asked why Kiraitu was asking the question. “If the honourable member knows (where Kimathi is buried) why is he asking the question?”

Interestingly, nobody recalled that Mbiyu Koinange had admitted that the government knew the location of the grave and which could have added value to the debate and jogged the government’s memory.

Buried within Kamiti

Langata MP Raila Odinga told Parliament that “the minister knows as much as I do that the prison officers in Kamiti know where the Mau Mau prisoners were buried.”

But Lotodo stuck to his version: “We do not know … If you go and dig everywhere you will only end up getting skulls and you will not know which one belongs to Kimathi.”

In October 2000, the narrative changed and the Minister of State, Julius Sunkuli told Parliament that “nobody has submitted an application, under Cap 242, to the Minister for Public Health, for the excavation of the remains of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi.” Asked by Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri why Mau Mau was still outlawed, Mr Sunkuli said to the “best of my knowledge, Mau Mau does not exist as an organisation now. It used to exist in the colonial days, fought for independence and once we had got independence, it had served its purpose.”

Pressed to address the question on whether Kimathi could be exhumed, Sunkuli said: “Members will remember that Dedan Kimathi did not die when Moi became President…” and asked Ochuodho to have Kimathi’s family to apply for exhumation.

Sunkuli: Once that application is received, the problem will actually be to locate the remains … because it is not immediately obvious, the spot at which Kimathi was buried in Kamiti.”

That answer was in contradiction to what Koinange had told the same House, years back.

During Mwai Kibaki’s government, the Gatundu North MP, Mr Kariuki, revisited the matter and told Parliament that there are four prisoners who offloaded the body from a lorry and buried it somewhere within Kamiti. “One of them has identified himself. These are the only people who can identify the spot.”

The then vice-president Moody Awori acknowledged that “there are four people who stated that they are the ones who actually transported the remains...One of them has approached the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs (Kiraitu Murungi) and we are waiting for the other three to come forward. After this, we will exhume the bones and use the current methods of identification to conform whether they are the right bones. Once we do that, we will accord our hero a decent burial.”

Some 18 years later, the waiting goes on.

As Kenya plans its Independence Day on Sunday, we need to ask ourselves cardinal questions on what this national lie means to every one of us. Again, we can still go back to Mbiyu Koinange’s file and retrace how the narrative shifted from a “fenced grave” to “we don’t know” where Kimathi was buried.

Is somebody paying attention?

Feedback on Archives article

You made a critical point with your article on Kenya National Archives (last) week. It's amazing how we so neglect our history in so many ways. .I've not seen an analysis or critique yet of the "history" (or whatever it may or may not be called these days) in the primary curricula of the CBC. Where are the voices of historians these days? As for history education, who has said anything at all in the public domain for the last 25 years?

Again, how come the several history departments across our universities have not sustained your argument year by year? Thundering silence. I'm glad you continue to keep the Murumbi land in the public eye.

– Anna Obura


This is one of the best articles I have read from you. It's so touching and so true. I hope they have heard you loud and clear!

– Mutune wa Gitau


I am an old veteran in Nairobi, and from time to time, I find myself going to Nairobi city – just to go round reminiscing of the good old days, and more so just to see how the city has changed its face with new buildings and all. November 26 was such a day, and I found myself outside the National Archives, and for a moment I paused, looked at the building, and a thought occurred to me.

December is coming, and my grown up children will be coming over for Christmas holidays – with their children, and I thought I would honestly love to bring them here – for a change – to see our National Archive. Me too, I would love to see that part of history, as I really cannot recall ever visiting that building.

I looked around – the hassle and the bustle of the place – and I said nah! it can't work... and the thought disappeared as fast as it had come!. Then I opened up today's Sunday Nation and bang! there was your article...

You are right... many people would love to visit the place but the location is just not conducive, and as you say, having a national archive next to a busy matatu terminus is not only dangerous but reckless!

I hope somebody somewhere will take note.

– Lucy Marenge

[email protected] @johnkamau1