Every year after the ululations of Jamhuri Day celebrations fizzle out, there is another cry from forgotten generals.
Tucked in Kieni, Nyeri County, is a quiet but famous Karicheni village on the Nyeri- Nanyuki road.
Among Karicheni’s prominent residents are former Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina and one-time Internal Security minister, Dr Chris Murungaru.
In the neighbourhood also lives a forgotten freedom fighter, Joseph Macharia Mwangi alias General Kihithuki.
The 86-year-old still recalls his escapades in the forests while serving under Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi.
Having joined Kenya Land and Freedom Army, which led to the Mau Mau uprising, as a young man in 1952, he served on the Nyandarua/Aberdare front that comprised Nyeri, Murang'a, Nyandarua and Nyahururu southern part of Mt Kenya.
The area was led by Kimathi despite the infighting between him and General Mirugi Mathenge for the leadership of the guerrilla movement, according to the colonial government.
On the upper side, there was the Kirinyaga/Mt Kenya front comprising Meru, Embu and Mathira strip. Field Marshal Musa Mwariama and M’Marete M'Ikandi (Field Marshal Baimungi) led the troops here.
Most of these warlords died in war and their remains were interred at various places across the country, while others disappeared without a trace.
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Having been tasked with the duty of leading raids on farms to gather foodstuff and livestock to replenish reserves for the fighters in the forest, Mwangi perfected his skills among his peers, earning himself the moniker Kihithuki, derived from a Kikuyu word kuhithuka meaning to ambush.
Murang'a Museum Curator Anthony Maina confirms Mwangi’s accounts.
“Of those highly ranked liberators, Kihithuki is the last living general after Kinyua Nganga alias General Bahati passed on in 2021,” says Maina.
“This has been confirmed to me by among others, General Kimbo and Field Marshal Muthoni who served alongside him in the forest.”
General Kihithuka seeks to clarify a long-held belief that he earned the distinction for felling a British military bomber in Gatarakwa area craft single-handedly.
“I have heard that I felled an enemy plane while in the forest, but that’s a lie. We did it as a team because after the plane circled us three times during one of our many raids at Lechau area in Nyahururu, my platoon, codenamed Haraka Maumau 1, trained our guns on the plane and fired at it,” he says.
His weapon, a Mark-404 rifle, was gifted to him by General Kimbo. Most of his colleagues, he recalls, used knives and pangas since they had no guns.
Mwangi still nurses a gunshot wound he suffered in the forest.
“I was conferred with the honours of being a general by Field Marshal Kimathi for coordinating my platoon during the raids well. He commended me for my courage and discipline for the seven years I was in the forest,” he says.
The veteran at one time had a bounty on his head.
“There was one time a bounty was placed on my head as one of the most wanted Mau Mau adherents at the time, with Sh821,100 bounty on my head by the colonial government,” he says.
The governent had also offered Sh1,644,360 for the capture of Kimathi, and Sh1,096,240 on Ndung'u and Mathenge each.
But this did not slow him down. He even started calling himself Kihithuki wa Kimathi (Kimathi’s son) hoping to attract similar infamy from the British government
Despite all that, Mwangi feels that their efforts have never been appreciated 59 years after independence.
“Freedom didn’t come. Not even a marram road has been named after me,” he says.
“After the war, I thought I would never sleep hungry, that I would never walk barefoot again and that I would eat the life with a big spoon. Unfortunately, I have never enjoyed the fruits of the freedom I fought so hard for.”
Another thing that has baffled me is the narrative that General Mathenge is in Ethiopia.
After Kimathi was shot and captured at Karunaini in Tetu, General Kihithuki trailed him to the Nyeri Provincial General Hospital after he was tasked with delivering a message to their captured leader.
“'I have been sent to tell you by the rest that we are going to fight for your freedom,'" he recalls.
But Kimathi advised against this. "He told me to go back and tell them to stop fighting lest martial law be instituted and they would all be wiped out. That is how the war ended,” he says.
On the mystery of Mathenge, he claims: “Yes, Mathenge was killed while on our way to Ethiopia somewhere in Meru. There were four of us and we were camping at night as we rested. A plane spotted and bombed us. Mathenge was the only one who was killed in the attack.”
“As our rule, we couldn’t leave his corpse in the open. In case they found it, the enemy would have claimed victory over us. That would have brought shame to our cause. We buried him in the forest just as we did with rest while at war.”
With their leader dead, their journey came to an end, and so did their resistance.