Fete freedom fighters at Mashujaa museum at Uhuru Gardens


Building under construction at Uhuru Gardens. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The recent transformation of Nairobi’s historical Uhuru Gardens, formerly Lang’ata Concentration Camp and creation of a Mashujaa museum, got me reflecting on conversations I have had with freedom fighter and secretary-general of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association (MMWVA), Shujaa Gitu wa Kahengeri.

The association Kahengeri leads has petitioned the National Assembly, half of the county governments and he has had a conversation with President Uhuru Kenyatta on recognition of the men and women who suffered brutal death, maimed or came out of detention and the forest to die poor and left their families destitute.

In their petition a few years back, the MMWVA asked for recognition of the Mau Mau armed struggle and that of the second liberation of the 1990s, through Acts of Parliament. The association, through its ageing officials, also sought assistance from the Government to write the freedom movement’s history for the benefit of current and future generations.

The petition asked for individual recognition of freedom heroes and heroines and their families by giving them land, monetary and other material compensation including ex-gratia payments for families of the departed and pension for survivors.

What, however, is material in this instance is their request for the erection of monuments especially in areas where the freedom fighters were detained, underwent hard labour and brutal torture and where many died. Similar requests were made to 22 county governments and although many acknowledged receipt of the petition, no action has been taken.

Kahengeri told me how he and other detainees turned barren land in Kirinyaga into the rice-growing fields of Mwea. Even as they did this, home guards under instructions from British colonial officer P Gavaghan broke their jaws with steel punches and caused lifelong scars on their bodies with whips made of hippo hide. This is why his association has requested recognition of the role played by Mau Mau detainees and prisoners in carrying out construction of the old Embakasi Airport, the Mwea Irrigation Scheme and the Yatta Canal through forced, hard labour.

In our conversations, Kahengeri talks of monuments in the counties and statues on the grounds of Parliament and State House, Nairobi to recognise freedom heroes including the ones he met at Takwa Detention camp on Manda Island, Lamu during his incarceration.

He mentions such great but little known founders of the freedom movement as Githae wa Kiguru, Wagaca wa Githuku, Thomas Nganda, Waira wa Kamau, Njuguna wa Tharau, Willy Jimmy Wambugu, Kagotho, Wamuthenya, Mburu wa Mugwira, Karanja wa Kiraka, Peter Gatabaki and many others.

While the national government, the National Assembly and county governments are yet to respond to MMWVA petitions, a chance has presented itself through the transformation of the Uhuru Gardens and creation of the Mashujaa museum.

Some of the requests made by the association, especially statues of freedom fighters, can easily be accommodated here. So apart from the portraits of Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya, Dedan Kimathi and Wangari Maathai, can the above unsung heroes be featured somewhere in, outside the museum or even on the Uhuru Gardens grounds?

And may I ask, were surviving freedom fighters or families of the departed ones asked for input on what they would like to see featured in the museum especially as far as the freedom struggle is concerned? If the likes of Kahengeri were consulted, which from our conversations I highly doubt, have their ideas been adopted?

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