Sitting on her wheelchair, heavily dressed and tended to by her granddaughter at her home in Komarock, Mukami Kimathi, the widow of Kenya’s freedom fighter, Dedan Kimathi, is tired if her heavy sighs, slow nods and mechanical movement of her fingers are anything to go by.
She is a worried woman. She is so worried about her death, which she says is imminent, and the only thing that will assuage her of the heavy feeling weighing down on her frail shoulders must be done by the British government.
This is the release of her husband’s remains by the former colonial administration which not only captured her husband in 1956 at Kahigaini the Aberdare ranges but also executed him in 1957 in Kamiti Prison.
Slowly, she opens her eyes, and then sighs. For her, it has been 65 years of a long wait. She gaps for air, draws her eyes back to focus on the people in the sitting room at her Komarock house and only then, does she, so silently utter words powerfully.
“I do not want to die before being shown the exact place where my husband was buried. I want to see the remains of my Kimathi before I go. I do not have long to live and this matter has been a thorn in my flesh,” she says.
Her voice breaks, she swallows a gulp of air then closes her eyes and goes silent. The last information she, alongside her family, ever heard of her husband from both the Kenyan and British governments, was that he was buried somewhere in Kamiti Maximum Prison where he was taken after his arrest.
Occasionally, her son, Simon Kimathi, swats a fly or two that rest on her forehead, adjusts her sweater, then leans in closer to her to listen to what his mother says and echoes the same.
He too is not amused by the way the former regimes led by the late President Daniel Moi and that of former president Uhuru Kenyatta, dealt with his mother, the wife to a national hero concerning her pleas with regard to his father’s remains.
“Many Mau Mau veterans like my late father have never found justice. It is only in President Mwai Kibaki’s (the late) administration that we got some help. He repelled the tag of Mau Mau as terrorists and called them heroes of the country,” Kimathi said.
He then revealed that during Kibaki era, the government catered for his mother’s needs including paying for her medical bills. So sickly did she get that they had to permanently move her from her home in Kinangop to Komarock.
“She is now a bit healthier and we are glad we have her around. However, mother tells us she does not want to die before the government helps her to get the remains of our father so that she can rest in peace,” he said.
Antics have so far been employed by the Kimathi family, they include the chaining of one the freedom fighter’s grandsons at the Dedan Kimathi monument in Kimathi Street!
“Our mother, the wife of a national hero, is not being helped. We have been to Kamiti Prison several times seeking details on where exactly Kimathi was buried but we have never received any help,” he said.
This quest for finding the remains of their patriarch started as far back as in the 1980s when they kept asking the State to help them locate their father’s final resting place. So serious was their appeal which received global attention that even saw several States, including Argentina, offer to come and scan every bit of Kamiti to help them identify where Kimathi was buried.
“This did not happen because the Argentinians were denied permission to do so by the Moi government,” Mr Kimathi said.
Silence follows. Then suddenly the matriarch waves her right arm, she gets everyone’s attention, she has remembered something.
“I want to be shown my husband’s grave. I want to know where he was buried. No one knows where my Kimathi was buried except the British government and I want President William Ruto and King Charles to intervene in this matter,” she said.
Just like she began, she abruptly stops. Coughs slightly then recounts how she has been to State House on several occasions. How she pleaded with former President Uhuru to help her locate where her husband was buried.
“I pray that I do not die before getting the remains of my husband,” she said.
Her current life, compared to the times of President Kibaki, has changed for the worse. During Kibaki’s time, she never worried about her rent, medical bills, transport and meals. She even had a government car and a nurse on standby.
“We are now begging people to help us,” Mr Kimathi said.
Attempts to reach the British government through the Family Life Healing Initiative (Falihein) group have also hit the wall. Mr Kimathi’s family wrote to the British Government via Falihein on November 23, to give them information regarding where they buried their loved one so that they can give him a dignified burial.
Falihein’s chairperson, Joseph Njoroge questioned why the British government has not released the remains of Mr Kimathi to date yet other former colonial powers did so as soon as they left their colonies.
These include the German government which released the head of Chief Mukwana of the Hehe tribe shortly after Tanzania, previously referred to as Tanganyika, gained its independence.
The British Government also released the remains of a woman whom they had taken to “study the growth of African female buttocks” after the release of the late President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. This was also the case of the Belgian government which through its kingship, returned a tooth of Congo’s former and late Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. In West Africa, the French government returned the Benin Craftsmanship years after Benin gained independence.
“Following the above references, we believe His Majesty’s government will do the same to our country as we celebrate the 59th Jamhuri Day on December 12,
“We also would like the longest freedom fighter’s widow, Mukami Kimathi, to commemorate a dignified burial of her husband and on behalf of other freedom fighters,” Njoroge said.
This came eight years after their initial request for the release of Mr Kimathi’s remains through a letter dated July 17, 2014, where Falihein asked the British government, through its High Commissioner in Kenya, to honour Mrs Kimathi by giving her the remains of her husband through the Kenyan government.
The request specifically came 51 years after Kenya gained independence owing to an agreement between the Kenyan and the British government that stated that the wrongs the latter government did to the Mau Mau freedom fighters should not be revealed until after 50 years. This agreement lapsed on December, 12, 2013.
“We hereby request your government to compensate Kimathi’s widow by releasing the details of her husband’s (Dedan Kimathi) remains through the Kenyan government so that the freedom fighter can be given a decent burial,” the letter then stated.
A response from the British government came in August 2014 through the British High Commissioner in Nairobi. The letter stated that the then UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, had announced the terms of a settlement between the British government and the Mau Mau’s families through a legal firm; Leigh Day. The settlement followed a case that had been taken to the British High Court by grieving Kenyans regarding their treatment in detention during the State of Emergency period that lasted between 1952 and 1959. These plaintiffs’ claims were supported by the Mau Mau War Veterans Association (MMWVA) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
“As part of the settlement, the British Government has committed to pay up to Sh12.96 million (90, 000 British pounds) to fund a memorial, to be built in consultation with the KHRC and MMWVA,” the letter from the British High Commission stated.
The settlement also included another sum to be paid by Leigh Day on behalf of 5,228 of their clients but the British High Commission clarified that the financial settlement, which was an out of court arrangement, was only with that specific group and not all potential claimants will be in the position of receiving the money.
“The settlement we announced is part of a process of reconciliation. We now seek to work together and to move on, with full respect for the rule of law. The country’s future belongs to a post-independence generation, with whom we look forward to working in the spirit of friendship, equality, reconciliation and mutual respect,” the letter ended.
Five days later, on August 25 2014, Falihen wrote back to the British High Commission thanking the British government for the settlement, the funding of the fallen heroes’ memorial and the acknowledgement and apology for the ill treatment subjected to Kenyans before independence.
However, Falihen noted that their request seeking both spiritual and psychological compensation to Ms Mukami Kimathi and family, by releasing Dedan Kimathi’s remains was not addressed in the Commission’s response. They had also requested for the classified material in the British government’s archives and the Kenyan government archives under the title: Kimathi Papers.
“We believe that by releasing the above information through our government, this nation shall be out of captivity, bondage and humiliation that it has been undergoing in the last 50 years…We hope to reach a consensus with your office,” Mr Njoroge said.
This was the last time they heard from the British government regarding the matter.
When asked by the Nation regarding the Kimathi family’s request, the British High Commission in Kenya did not respond to questions on the location of Dedan Kimathi’s remains but answered matters touching on the welfare of the Mau Mau.
“The British Government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration. We sincerely regret that these abuses took place. We agreed on an out-of-court settlement of £19.9m as full and final settlement of the claims of 5,228 Kenyans involved in the Mau Mau uprising in 2013,” the Commission said.
Instead, the High Commission said the UK government supported the construction of a permanent memorial, which was officially inaugurated in 2015 in Nairobi, to all those who suffered during the Emergency Period in Kenya (1952 – 1960).
This memorial, the High Commission said, stands as a symbol of reconciliation between the British Government, the Mau Mau, and all those who suffered during the Emergency Period. It is an acknowledgement of the difficult parts of our shared history encompassed in a spirit of reconciliation and respect.
It is this response that irks Ms Kimathi who fears that sooner than later, her long-awaited dream of knowing where her husband’s remains are will never be true.
“President William Ruto, help me get my husband’s remains. Please, tell King Charles, the new head of government in the UK to tell me where his government buried my Kimathi. I want my husband’s remains,” she concluded.