National Heroes

Did Dedan Kimathi Die in Vain?


IN February 18 1957, Field mar­shal Dedan Kimathi was ex­ecuted by the British co­lo­nial gov­ernment.

Today, very little is known of the hero and the values he fought for among recent gen­erations.

However, it is common knowl­edge that he was a dreadlocked figure with a middle finger missing on his left hand. His­to­rian Maina wa Kinyatti writes of the man some have said was a villain who ‘conned’ his way into the books of history:

‘The dreadlocks were proof of his rough living in the forest, the missing fin­ger a mark of his days as a farm la­bourer, where it was chopped off in an acci­dent. His medi­tative mood hinted at his inner turmoil, having reached the end of the road.”

Born in Tetu, Nyeri district around 1920, Kimathi grew up there and went to school at Karuna-ini. Kimathi Waciuri took up a Chris­tian name Dedan, at the institution which also taught Christian studies.

In 1941, he joined the army but was later dismissed due to what was said to be insubordination.

It was later dis­cov­ered that he had disobeyed a British commander who had made racist re­marks about him. He had a brief job at Tumu Tumu Scotland School where his out­spo­ken nature followed him and he was fired. The same happened to him when he went to teach at his old pri­mary school.

Kimathi started his political career as sec­re­tary general of KAU (Kenya Af­ri­can Unity) for Ol Kalao and Nyahururu. In 1952, he and General Mathenge (Stanely Mathenge wa Mirugi whose is said to have been killed but was re­cently claimed by a section of the media as living in Ethiopia un­der the name of Lema Ayanu) were ordered by the mili­tant Mau Mau to eliminate a collaborator and colonial chief Nderi wa Wang’ombe.

After the death of chief Wangombe in October 7, the colonial gov­ernment de­clared him a wanted man and offered KSh10,000 re­ward for any­one giving in­for­mation on his wherea­bouts.

In December of 1952, the Mau Mau war coun­cil ordered Kimathi to join a base lead by General Mathenge. Soon there emerged a rift between the two generals, with each trying to assert his au­thority. Mathenge then disappeared and was declared captured and killed in 1955.

By 1956, the Mau Mau rebellion was so rife that the colonial government was be­ginning to sense their imminent defeat. There the capture of Kimathi became top priority for the British. On October 20 1956, he was betrayed by a two-timer in his army and taken to Kamiti Maxi­mum Prison alongside other freedom fighters.

In a bid to buy him off, the British gov­ernment prom­ised to set him free if he joined their side, but this was not his style. He said that the only way he could negotiate was if they (the British) took their armies and de­parted from Kenyan soil. This of course was not to be.

As the country marks the 49th year since the execution of one of the country’s most celebrated heroes, historians are asking whether he and many others fought and died in vain.

The Mau Mau rebellion started off as pressure group that was to force white settlers to return land they had taken from natives. The scenario in Kenya today has not changed.

Big chunks of unused land remain in the hands of a few holy cows and fat cats while a large group of the common mwananchi re­main squatters in their own country. Land grabbing by a few in­di­viduals has not stopped and the government is not ready to release the Ndungu Report, which many believe will be the answer to the land woes of Kenya.

Most departed free­dom fighters turn in their graves every time our leaders go begging abroad or succumb to one condition or another before they get aid.

Kimathi, who is re­ported to have said, “It is better to die on our feet than to live on our knees,” must be one very disturbed free­dom fighter.

But what keeps us on our knees forever? Poverty. Why then are we poor? Poor gov­ernance and shaky policies. Leaders who do not think of the common mwanachi any other time apart from when they go on their five-yearly vote begging campaign.

With these kind of leaders, who needs enemies? Kenya’s economy will never stand on its own two feet. We will re­main at the mercy of other nations, ever depending on them for a morsel.

It is a shame that a country crisscrossed by numerous rivers and streams flowing across vast acres of fertile soil should go begging for food, even in times of drought like this.

Patriotism was a value deeply rooted in Kimathi and most other freedom fighters. Because this value is totally lacking in to­day’s leaders, we have scan­dals like Anglo-leasing and Goldenberg. Our leaders do not think of the welfare of the generations to come and what will happen to us if the re­sources of the country, which they so bla­tantly loot, are over.

This is not the only place patriotism is lacking. Individuals like the former Gov­ernance and Ethics PS John Githongo, I can only describe as turn­coats who wish to please powers and alliances that are pitted against the government. This should not be con­strued to mean that his blowing the whistle on corrupt individuals is wrong, but there are questions that need answers: If he is as good a man as he wants us to believe, why wash Kenya’s dirty linen in front of the whole world, while in a foreign land?

After gaining independence so many years ago, the truth be said, Kenya is not free. We remain tightly bound by the shackles of corruption, pov­erty, dependence on alms and hunger. True free­dom will only come with the realisation of a gov­ernment of the peo­ple for the people and the healing of the bleeding souls of the nation.

Long live the souls of all freedom fighters.


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