Why is the location of the burial spot of Kenyan anti-colonialist hero Dedan Kimathi stoking another battle?

October 30, 2019 at 06:00 pm | News

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

October 30, 2019 at 06:00 pm | News

It’s taken more than six decades but the family of fallen anti-colonial fighter Dedan Kimathi say his burial site has been uncovered in Nairobi’s Kamiti prison.

Kimathi was a significant figure of the 1950s Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), a militant Kikuyu, Embu and Meru army against British colonial rule, but after years of guerilla warfare he was captured and executed by the British in 1957. The group morphed into what became known as the Mau Mau.

The British upon his execution buried him in an unmarked grave, reportedly in Nairobi’s Kamiti prison and although Kenya’s government erected a monument in central Nairobi in honour of the Mau Mau fighter, his family had continued to seek his resting place.

A monument of Kimathi — archiDATUM

For 62 years, several attempts were made to identify the spot where the body was buried. People emerged claiming they witnessed his burial but such leads proved elusive till now.

It was a foundation set up in his name; ‘The Dedan Kimathi Foundation’ which announced last Friday that the freedom fighter’s burial spot had been located, adding via Twitter it was good news for Kimathi’s family and also the “the larger freedom-struggle heroes’ fraternity.”

“It is with great joy we would like to announce that… the gravesite of liberation hero Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi Waciuri has finally been identified!” read the statement from the Dedan Kimathi Foundation, a nonprofit setup by his family.

Upon the announcement, however, the interior ministry denied the grave had been found, noting the claim was “false and misleading.”

Upon the ministry’s assertion, Kimathi’s daughter Evelyn Wanjugu Kimathi asked that the ministry’s claim be disregarded.

“It is a true statement. The family is the one who released the statement. It is not the government,” she informed the AFP, adding the ministry was “surprised” because they were not aware or involved in the family’s activities in trying to find the grave.

She further submitted: “We, the family, are the ones that went to Kamiti Maximum Prison, and were able to find the place he was buried in an unidentified grave.”

Hopefully, Dedan’s 90-year-old widow can have closure. Evelyn Wanjugu Kimathi notes the next step will involve exhuming her father’s remains to give him a befitting burial, adding she’s already asked permission from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Given that the oppressed have to demand their freedom as it wouldn’t be handed easily, the Mau Mau rebellion emerged to counter British brutal rule. The guerrillas, mainly drawn from the Kikuyu people, terrorised colonial communities with attacks from bases in remote forests, challenging white settlers for valuable land.

At least 10,000 Kenyans died in the struggle between 1952 and 1960 although many reckon the numbers are higher. The captured guerilla fighters were held in detention camps with deplorable living condition unfit to house humans.

Kimathi’s capture in October 1956, and his execution by hanging in 1957, derailed the movement and curtailed its fierce resistance.

Kenya won self-rule in 1963 and full independence in 1964. The group’s fearsome reputation meant the group remained outlawed until 2003 underlying a division between those who backed the fighters and those who served colonial forces.

Kimathi’s widow had called on various Kenyan governments to help discover his grave and despite former president Mwai Kibaki’s pledge making finding the grave a priority, he exited office without the grave’s identification.

Kimathi’s last resting place not being found despite government’s formidable machinery leaves many to wonder if the man who gave his life up for his country’s freedom has been treated shabbily by the ruling class. Given that even classified documents could be declassified as a favour to another state, the question arises if any of Kenya’s presidents including the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta reached out to their British counterparts about releasing information on the fallen fighter’s last abode.

Why the Kimathi family’s assertion of locating their famous kin cannot be hurriedly scoffed as the interior ministry seems to suggest is that in over six decades of searching, this is the time the family has made this emphatic claim. Moreover, the ministry failed to give reason why it reckons the information the family put out was unfounded.

It does appear Kimathi has been a victim of treachery from those close to him and even in death he is being denied an opportunity to be properly buried as African custom demands.

It was a disgruntled former Mau Mau who gave information to Ian Henderson, a British police officer to capture Kimathi. Again when a pistol was found on him during his interrogation, he submitted it was given to him by Macharia Kimemia in April 1955 to  defend himself against some members of Mau Mau who wanted him dead. These people were said to be former members of the Mau Mau who had been manipulated by the British through their divide and rule tactic to the extent that they fought on the side of the British and helped to locate him in the forest.

Kimathi would be first celebrated in October 1962, when Tom Mboya staged an exhibition showcasing his photos.

Even this angered white settlers and the government, who in doing the bidding of their masters questioned why the local people should hail a ‘terrorist’.

Thankfully, Mboya, had a simple answer; noting Europeans who had issues with Kimathi’s photographs “should go back to Europe where statues have been erected in memory of people more rotten than anyone I can think of in Kenya.”

It does appear the fight for Kimathi’s restoration has just begun.

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