Thursday, February 24, 2011

A date with Kenyan Revolutionary Anti-Colonial War Heroes

I arrived at Kencom Bus stop at 7:00am, 30 minutes late and found most of the people that we were supposed to travel with had not arrived. The elegant National Youth Service (NYS) bus was more than half empty, and only the front seats were occupied by some Kenyan Rastafarians. Luckily for me, Macharia Mukua, a good friend of mine, had already arrived, so we found ourselves some seats, and began analyzing Kenyan politics, as projected by the dailies.
One hour later, the bus was full, and we slowly took off for Nyeri, some 250km from Nairobi, to attend the 54th Anniversary of the execution of Field Marshall Dedan kimathi Waciuri by the British Army. The program was that we plant a tree at Kahiga-ini, where Kimathi was shot and captured by the British, and then proceed to Kimathi University College where we would have the official ceremony.
Along the way, we admired the Thika road expansion project, on which the Chinese are doing remarkably well on it: They are placing over 6 inch thick tarmac, tarmac which is placed on 4 inch thick concrete, concrete which stands on meters thick hard core. But we wondered whether the construction would end within the stipulated period. We then discussed about the Chinese journey to this prominence, and talked about the Chinese revolution and the massive input of Mao Tsetsung and the Communist leadership into the Chinese industrialization process.
We began talking about the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, from the formation days when Bildad Kaggia’s and Fred Kubai’s began organizing together with members of Anake a 40. I did not hesitate to tell him that my father’s father, was one of the earliest Mau Mau leaders, who had even taken a photo with Jomo Kenyatta (when he was still considered progressive) as he (Kenyatta) was going abroad for the last time before incarceration. I also let him know that he was among the first people to be murdered, immediately the emergency was declared. He died without seeing his last born son, my father, who was born a few months after his death. Macharia, not wanting to be left out of the Mau Mau glory, told me about his father’s brother, whose nom de guerre was Shotgun Murage, who would give the colonialists in Nyandarua sleepless nights. He told me that Shotgun would shave off his dreadlocks in 1989, after becoming a born again Christian. I criticized the church for encouraging the shaving of the Dreadlocks, and its role in making the Mau Mau people feel like they had done the wrong thing in the liberation war. This behavior was especially conducted during operation pipeline, where a liberation fighter had to accept Christ, or lose his life, literally. But Macharia thinks that his conversion to Christianity helped bring his uncle to the reality that the war was over, and that Kenya and the government had forgotten them.>>>The Catholic Church played a major counter revolutionary role, by encouraging and sponsoring the homeguards movement. The homeguards would rape women left at home by the fighters, they would steal cows and goats belonging to the fighters, they would terrorize anyone suspected of belonging to the KLFA and they helped kill many freedom fighters. Some of the homeguards are still alive today, and they are running the country, using riches acquired during that period. Mr. Michuki, the current minister of environment, is one of them<<<
We talked about how the War veterans were quickly dying out, while nobody was documenting their stories, especially the stories of the Rank and Files Guerillas to whom Kenya and Africa should be greatly indebted to. We also talked about the big lie that the Mau Mau struggle ended in 1957, with the death of its great leader, Dedan Kimathi. Here, I told Mash about how at independence, Kenyatta asked the British army not to leave, because the fighters who had remained in the forest, together with those who had left earlier, had vowed to continue with their struggle, if they didn’t get their land back, and if they were not conscripted into Kenya’s Military. Land consolidation had taken place three years before independence, when most of the Fighters were still in the forest, and many others were in the “rehabilitation” camps, which were located in Kenya’s desert regions. Kenyatta’s excuse for not allowing the experienced and self made soldiers into the army and the government was that they were illiterate. This is despite the fact that some of these people were in the frontlines of the Second world war, this is notwithstanding the fact that these soldiers, using mostly homemade guns and Pangas, whooped the asses of the world acclaimed British army, who had superior weapons that included tanks and Air support (Liberator Bombers and Harvard Trainers), and here we have Kenyatta calling them illiterate. Unlike the other liberation Armies across Africa, it was only the Mau Mau who didn’t have any external support whatsoever, it was the Mau Mau who made the Colonialists realize that they could not sustain colonization of Africa, it was the Mau Mau who would later inspire great leaders like Mandela and Malcom X, it was the Mau Mau who sparked the winds of change across all of Africa, and here we have Kenyatta, asking the British Army to remain behind to check them.
I also told him about General Mwariama and Field Marshall Baimungi who demanded that Kenyatta addresses them in ruring’u stadium, rather than them going to Uhuru Park (Kenyatta would later send Waiyaki to calm them down. Baimungi was later killed on Kenyatta’s orders. I remembered the famous video clip taken several days after independence, of Mwariama holding Kenyatta, with Mwariama donning a General’s Coat, with long dreads and looking somewhat confused.
Along the way, as we entered Nyeri town, a gentleman who was seated next to us Joked about how Nyeri women “Seat” on their husbands, something that would never happen in western where he comes from. We all laughed, then Macharia told him not to joke with those women, because they have the militant Mau Mau blood in them, and many women from the region passed through the war trenches, I added that we even had General Muthoni, who managed to reach the highest rank, in a male dominated field.
This Chinese made NYS bus that we were travelling was very comfortable and very modern, with air condition, several TV screens, very good lighting and a toilet too. But it was damn slow (or rather, the driver was). We thus arrived four hours later, and no sooner than we approached Kahiga-ini did we turn around and head for Kimathi University College. Those who were ahead of us had already planted a tree several meters from where Kimathi was shot. I have to note here that they would have loved to plant it at the exact spot where Kimathi was shot, but nothing grows at that spot, not even grass! The place is actually surrounded by Tea plantations, but nothing has ever grown on that spot (and its circumference) for the last 54 years.
We arrived at Kimathi University, which has many buildings under construction and we were welcomed by a group of traditional Kikuyu dancers. There were two tents, one was small, empty and in it were cushioned seats. There other one was big, partially filled, and had the usual plastic seats. Mr. Wambugu, who was one of the organizers of this event, told Macharia and I to seat in the small tent, since we were in the guests of honor list. I hesitated and told Macharia that we just seat with the Wazees in the big tent. I later joked with him telling him that we might seat on that side, and find ourselves being asked to create space for other guests who carry more honor and who usually arrive late. (After some time, most of those who were seated in the small tent, including the DOs and DC had to give their seats to other important people from Nairobi.) We then realized that these Wazees seated around us were Mau Mau war veterans, and they would arrive one by one and great each other enthusiastically. The one who was seated directly in front of me had some cool looking dreadlocks and Macharia told me that going by his dreads, the guy could be some Captain or some high ranking Mau Mau officer. We would look around us and wonder if some of them were imposters……There was this particular one who had a big Rosary around his neck….
Then an old but strong woman arrived, wearing a dark green dress, a head scarf, some socks (similar to the ones worn by Primary school pupils) and rubber shoes. All the veterans stood up to greet her, and they were treating her with a lot of reverence. By this time, all the seats were occupied, then two men offered her their seats, and as she sat on one of them, she was still waving to some veterans seated at the far ends. I wondered aloud who this woman could be, and Macharia told me that she might be the General Muthoni I was talking about. I told him that that was not possible, since Muthoni is obviously passed on by now.
Guests continued to arrive; with Mwangi Thuita causing a stir when he arrived donned in full traditional Kikuyu elder’s regalia. He was closely followed TJRC Commissioner Margaret Chava, who drove in together with Mukami Kimathi. We were all very excited and everyone was raising their necks to catch a glimpse of Mukami, Kimathi’s widow. The atmosphere was just exhilarating. Then the PS ministry of culture arrived, and finally the last guests, Chris Murungaru and Paul Muite pulled in. All of them took the front row seats of the small tent.
The MC, a young well dressed fellow (a Divisional Officer, I’m not quite sure) invited the women Traditional dancers, who were followed by Mwomboko dancers >>with time, I have come to appreciate the skill in this traditional Kikuyu dance, it is more sophisticated and smoother than the Waltz<<<
Just as the speeches were about to begin, some guys came over to our tent, and asked the woman in green to move to the smaller tent, as that is where she was supposed to seat. We now really wanted to know who this woman was.
Professor Kioni, the principal of KUC invited all visitors to the college, briefly spoke of the achievements and the aspirations of the University, and noted that one of Kimathi’s grandsons is on a full engineering scholarship at the University.
Then the first shocker came, General Karari Njama, the secretary of the Mau Mau war veterans association was invited to make the first speech! For a long time I had thought that Karari njama had long passed on, until just the other day when my friend Mwandawiro Mghanga told me that they were together at Peter Young Kihara’s burial in Kiambu (even Mwandawiro was at that time shocked to know wa Njama was alive, and we agreed that we would organise to visit him in Nyeri.) Karari Njama was Kimathi’s personal secretary in the forest, and a well known fighter too. Unlike in the brown and white videos shown by KBC on national holidays where Karari has a few white hairs, thick spectacles and an upright and tall posture, here he was very old, with white hair and long white beards, still in a sharp suit, but without the spectacles. He had a written down speech, done in very good English, which he comfortably read in the blazing sun. In his speech, he recognized the economic achievements of Kibaki’s government and he decried the living conditions of the war veterans. His speech was full of patriotism.
According to the MC, the next person to address the meeting was supposed to be Mukami Kimathi, but Mukami said that the Chairman of the Veterans association had something to say. The MC was very hesitant, and then blurted out that he would give the chair just a minute to greet the people. The Chair stood up and sarcastically said that he would follow the MCs orders, and the crowd laughed. He was General Bahati. Bahati was his nom de guerre. This was a very exciting moment for me, just seeing these people whose stories we read in history books was just moving. Unlike General Karari Njama, General Bahati looked stronger, had no written speech, and addressed the meeting in kikuyu. General Bahati’s speech was tough, and he castigated the current leaders of forgetting the Mau Mau. He demanded that those who have not gotten some land must be given the land before they pass on. He said that it is sad that many years after getting our independence, Kenya could still have an IDP situation. He asked the government to solve their plight immediately. At this point, the MC, who either did not understand who general Bahati was, or might have been retarded, stood next to the General, asking him to wind up. At this point the goonship in me came out, and I began shouting from our tent that the MC must allow him to continue, since this was their day. A few Veterans joined me, and in Kikuyu, said that he should be allowed to continue. The stupid MC went back to his seat, but after a minute or so, he was standing there again. General Bahati wound up and the MC invited Mukami, to address the people. I was so worked up by the MCs behavior, and began telling Macharia that the MC is timing the freedom fighters, whereas I was sure he would not time the politicians and the government officers. I was right.
We enthusiastically welcomed Kimathi’s widow with makofi ya kilo. She began by recognizing the presence of all the dignitaries, and proceeded to speak to us in Kiswahili. She was not as energetic as Bahati, her address was more like that of Karari Njama, only that it was not written. She was grateful that the government had erected her husband’s monument in Nairobi. She also thanked the principal of kimathi University College for accepting to educate her grandson for free. (She made people laugh when she asked Prof. Kioni to stand, it went something like this: “Bwana headmaster, simama” then Kioni hesitated a little, and she went on “Nimekuambia usimame” then he stood up, “haya sasa kuja hapa,” “kuja unisalimie”The good professor had no options other than to obey!) She then narrated how she had approached him for the scholarship assistance, and that she didn’t know what she would have done were it not for him. She then asked the youth not to lose their brains in Alcohol and drugs, and told the youth that they should find some hustle to do. She asked husbands to be responsible to their families (and the women ululated) and then asked the Women to take care of their husbands, since finding a husband is no easy task (and the men cheered.) She also spoke well of Kenyatta (many Mau Mau veterans speak well of Kenyatta, even after he neglected them, I have never understood why. Probably the indoctrination in praise of Kenyatta before independence was too deep and strong, that it stuck into their subconscious) she also congratulated Murungaru, for repealing a section in the Kenyan laws in 2003 that still referred to the Mau Mau as terrorists. She also spoke of the hardships that she went through during the emergency years, especially since she had a very young child with her. She said that there were some war heroes who are still landless, and the government must settle them, then, she called the woman in green who went and stood near her, and said that it was a pity that even her (the woman in green ) was never given land by the state. She then finished by reminding the people what each color on the Kenyan flag stands for.
Then the daft MC stood up and said the most outrageous thing, he went something like “let us clap for Mukami as she goes to her seat. Now, time is not on our side, so I think we will now go to the main program, but there is a woman here called Field Marshall Muthoni, who they are saying that she must speak, but time is not on our side………okay…….i will give you just a minute, one minute Muthoni.” The burger didn’t even have the courtesy to hide his stupidity from us, how could Kimathi’s wife, and two generals address the people, then deny the Field Marshall a chance? How? In the Mau Mau struggle, there were several generals, and three field Marshalls, and this MC, who is probably a DO is trying to deny the only surviving field Marshall a chance to speak to us! For me, the shock that Muthoni was alive was actually transcended by the shock that this fellow thought that giving her a chance to speak was some kind of favor…on Kimathi day!

Field Marshall muthoni wa Kirima.
So the woman in green was actually Field Marshall Muthoni! What a pleasure it was to see her. I had read some short stuff about her two or three years ago, as I was studying the history of Mau Mau. At that time, I had read some negative post-1963 story about her on Wikipedia (the story is no longer there). Wikipedia’s report on Kimathi today also tends to make him look like some small time pick pocket rather than an international hero (but I’m am planning to change the info on that stud)
Field Marshall Muthoni took the microphone and began signing a Mau Mau war time song, the rest of the veterans around us stood up and sang along with her. Call it a grand entrance. She then told them to take their seats, and said that she would address the meeting in Kikuyu, saying that that is the language that she can best speak in, and that she doesn’t know English or good Swahili, because when others were in school learning, she was in the forest fighting(we excitedly clapped.)
She is a tough one this woman. She reproached the government where it was doing wrong (lack of jobs for the youth, the IDP issues, the landless freedom fighters), and praised it where it was doing well (free primary school education, recognition of the heroes through Mashujaa day.) At some point she spoke in very difficult Kikuyu, and I sought for some translation from the Macharia, but he also told me that he understood nothing. (Macharia was born and raised in Nyandarua). She said that she was saddened that land in Kenyan was being sold to foreigners, instead of being rented to them on short leases, or the government utilizing the land itself (I think she was talking about the Qataris at the Tana Delta.) She then praised Murungaru for removing them from the terrorist list, and asked what Paul Muite, a big Kenyan lawyer, had done for the Mau Mau veterans. (She had asked in a snobbish manner, so the crowd laughed while Muite covered his face smiling)…then the MC came and stood behind her, as if wanting to grab the microphone from her, again, forgetting my decorum, I began shouting that she be allowed to continue, but the seemingly unintelligent MC did not budge. She continued for some few minutes and gave the MC the mike. The Mc retorted that there are many people who would have wanted to speak, but time was not on our side, and that there would be another day for veterans them to talk! Talk of downright thickness!
He then invited the District Commissioner, who invited Murungaru to speak. He spoke for well over 30 minutes, without anybody hurrying him up. The DC invited Muite, who had Muthoni’s case to answer. Muite was modest, speaking for around 5 minutes, in Kikuyu, first by clearing his name, and stating that he was the lead counsel in the case put forward in Britain by Kenya National Human Rights Commission, where they are pushing for an official apology from the British government, Compensation, and for information on where they buried Dedan Kimathi, and adding that he is the one who helped Murungaru, the then Internal Security minister to write the gazette notice that removed the Mau Mau from the terrorist list.
The TJRC commissioner, Chava, spoke about the need for unearthing the truth, and documenting it, she spoke about the Wagalla massacre and the IDP issue. In fact, she expressed some very powerful points, very good points. Unfortunately, the intended audience was not listening, because she was speaking in very refined English. (I later realized that maybe her intended audience was not the Veterans, but the TV guys.) She spoke for quite some time, so the most of the guys in our tents began talking among themselves; I have to say that these Mau Mau people had very good stories, full of humor, that I was sad when she completed her speech. She invited Wafula Buke, who spoke (in Kiswahili) of how heroes of Kenya are always mistreated. He remembered of how he was once arrested during the Moi days, when they went for a procession to honor the freedom fighters.
As some other speeches continued, General Muthoni began walking away from the tent, and Mash and I went over to her. It was great honor shaking her hand, and I actually told her that I had thought she was dead. I asked her about life as a forest-based fighter, about Mathenge and Kimathi, her opinion on General China’s confessions, whether she could still make a homemade gun, among other questions. She told us of how she was among those who were never caught, and came out of the forest after independence in 1963. I then asked her how come I didn’t know that, whereas I knew of Field Marshall Baimungi and General Mwariama. She told me it was because she had met with the Nationalists before coming out in Ruring’u, and she was cleaned up, and given modern clothes, unlike the others who were still in their jungle animal skin clothes, which distinguished them and attracted a lot of attention to them.
We talked at length, even as it drizzled, and we exchanged contacts, and I promised to visit her soon.
We then went and had a chit chat with General Karari Njama, and held some brief talk with Mukami kimathi, and exchanged contacts with them too.
As we took our journey back to Nairobi, I wondered how things would be, if Nelson Mandela, during his visit to Kenya after his release from prison, had not sent the Government on a helter skelter by asking on the whereabouts of Kimathi’s widow.

Benedict Wachira
23rd February 2011


  1. Nice piece. Has enjoyed reading it. You write so well, beautiful content and flow. Did you follow-up with Karari and Muthoni? Keep well.

  2. Woooow!!!!! I envy you!!! You met Gen MUTHONI?????