Mukami Kimathi: Veterans recall battlefield exploits

Mukami Kimathi

Mukami Kimathi holds the portrait of her husband Dedan Kimathi, a former Mau Mau freedom fighter. Mukami died on May 5, 2023 and will be buried in Njabini, Kinangop, Nyandarua County. 

For lovers of history, especially the history of the country’s struggle for freedom, Njabini – the home of the late freedom fighter Mukami Kimathi – is the place to be.

The region teems with heroes whose chronicles about events that unfolded almost nine decades ago deep in the Aberdare forest keep everyone enthralled.

Brigadier Ann Njoki, 89, has vivid memories of how they managed to outsmart their technologically superior adversaries.

She, at times, gets agitated as she relates the story. She was among the women who not only knew how to use but also possessed a rifle.

Despite her innocent mien, she was among the fierce women fighters from the Mt Kenya region who had little regard for the colonisers.

Asked whether she recalls the paramilitary drill and warzone tactics, the light-skinned fighter stiffens, then goes on to demonstrate how she operated  her rifle, often to deadly effect.

Her energy might be flagging with age, but the vestiges of the staunch field warrior she was back in the day are in sharp evidence.

Ms Njoki recalls an incident when, after being arrested by the colonial police, they taunted her, saying, “You are too beautiful to engage in this kind of warfare.”

Seething with rage, the freedom fighter lunged at the officer who had mocked her, but she was restrained by fellow detainees.

“My looks had nothing to do with the freedom struggle... I felt insulted… and wanted to teach him a lesson. I wish I had my rifle,” she reminisces.

She was among those who were honoured by former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration during the Mashujaa day celebrations in 2020.

When we caught up with her, Ms Njoki was among the freedom fighters who were mourning the death of Mukami Kimathi.

“I could not have failed to come over and pay my last respects to the freedom heroine. I am here to honour her. I will leave the compound after the burial ceremony,” she said. 

With her is Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi Waciuri’s “personal bodyguard”, Mr Nderitu Mukundi.

Mr Mukundi rolls up his trousers to display the bullet scars he sustained as they fought off the colonisers.

“I was a pupil at Karuna-ini and the revered freedom fighter, Kimathi, was my teacher in lower primary school. We loved him. He was a very understanding teacher,” he said.

He fondly recalls the bond he and Kimathi had formed long before the liberation war and how keen he was to ensure his “boss” was secure at all times.

“He was a fearless, intelligent and patriotic leader who wanted to see the back of the oppressors,” Mr Mukundi says.

On the lapel of his khaki shirt is a badge that sports a miniature image of Kimathi. It took him years to create the badge, a labour of love in honour of his fallen mentor.

“The (badge) will forever remain pinned in my lapel. That is the least I can do for the freedom hero,’ he said.

Also here to commiserate with the family of Mukami Kimathi is another freedom fighter, Mr Wang’ombe Gitero.

Like his contemporaries, Mr Gitero waxes lyrical about the struggle.

“I joined the fighters on February 21, 1950. Our sole mission was to liberate the country from colonial bondage,” he recalls.

He is, however, disheartened that their efforts have never been fully appreciated.

“We have been abandoned. Most of us are wallowing in poverty,” he complains.

He is thankful that Mukami would be accorded a state burial, though he feels more needs to be done for the freedom fighters.

“It is a kind gesture from the state, but for those who are alive recognition would be in order,” he adds.

To President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, Mr Gitero says, “Give us a private audience when you come calling on Saturday. We have personal matters that we want to discuss with you.”

A sad refrain among the fighters is that Mukami Kimathi died before receiving the remains of her husband for a proper burial.

“It was my mother's singular wish. It is unfortunate that she passed on before her wish could be fulfilled,” said her daughter, Ms Elizabeth Kimathi.

For now, their focus is paying their last respects to their fellow liberation hero. They are, however, still hopeful that their pleas will be listened to…someday. They also wish the younger generations could have as much zeal as they had in protecting their country.

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