Mukami Kimathi and the economics of freedom

The late Mukami Kimathi, widow of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi during an interview with Standard at her home in Komarocks, Nairobi on May 5, 2022. [David Njaaga, Standard]

About three years ago, I visited Mukami Kimathi in Komarock Estate with  Kimathi’s nephew, the late Nduhiu Wango’mbe. 

Her memory was still sharp as she raised the issue of suicides in her native Nyandarua, where most freedom fighters eventually settled after independence.

I would have loved to talk to her about Dedan Kimathi and his adventures in the forest and Burma where he learnt the military strategies that proved decisive in Mau Mau, the freedom war belittled by many but that humbled the Empire.

She lived in Nyandarua, a beneficiary of one milion acres settlement scheme. In an interesting twist of events, Mukami lived in a mzungu house once owned by York Davis. Later the big house was abandoned and the government built a new one.

At 96, she left many unanswered questions.

One, where was Kimathi buried? Her death does not mean the question should be abandoned. With all the technology today, we can find Kimathi’s grave or his body.

If we can excavate the pyramids, Oduvai Gorge, Kobi Fora or other places seeking Zinjanthropus, Neanderthal man and others who are millions of years old, why can’t we get the body of a modern freedom fighter, Dedan  Kimathi after only 70 years? Shall we wait for archaeologists to excavate it after a million years?

Two, lots of freedom fighters have died and the heroes’ corner is still empty. We need our version of USA’s Arlington national cemetery. Why did we copy their constitution and not the way they treat their heroes? UK has Westminster Abbey, what is our equivalent?

Back to Mukami: What are key lessons from her long life?

One, she was blessed with strong  genes. Four years shy of a century is no mean achievement. Her diet, handling stress or weather? Nyandarua weather is great, no wonder it was part of the White Highlands.

Two is that we have never took adavantage of the catalytic effect of our glorious past. If we acknowledged our past achievements such as winning the Mau Mau war, we would be a more confident nation, more willing to face her tomorrow. Notice the British pride - never conquered since 1066 AD. What is the source of our national pride?

I have been awed listening to former freedom fighters and what they went through while the rest of us prefer watching ‘action’ movies. Ever wondered where Mau Mau got their guns and ammunition? Are Mau Mau war strategies and their intelligence gathering studied in our military academies?

How did these fighters co-exist with wild animals? Ever heard of a freedom fighter mauled by wild animals? 

Three, our historians have not done enough to capture our history from the real sources. Beyond Mau Mau, there were also World War veterans. Where did they fight? Who trained them? What is their legacy?

Four, as veterans pass away so do their memories and inspirations. Why not package their inspiration?

Five, Mukami was one of the many widows of Mau Mau fighters. Where are the other wives? How did we treat them? Why don’t they get as much attention? Some had lost their husbands before Mukami.

Six, what happened to the Mau Mau compensation fund. How many joyriders got that money?

Seven, without national and deliberate efforts any hero can be forgotten. The living have more pressing issues than remembering the dead. At times the living fear competition with the dead. Why else has Kimathi’s grave never been found? Did the Empire and succeeding government fear the publicity that would follow the discovery of his grave would make him a bigger hero?

Eight, while saying farewell to Mukami, let her spirit and that of all freedom fighters inspire us. Can we face our national problems with the boldness of Mau Mau? Can we be as patriotic?

As one freedom once told me in anger, if mzungu was still around with the current generation he would never leave. We can emulate the discipline of the freedom fighters. A good example; we are worried over alcoholism in Central Kenya. Mau Mau never drank alcohol, even if they raided a house that had it they poured it. Do I say more?

Nine, Mukami belonged to one of the luckiest generations; she saw traditional society, colonialism and modernity. Mukami must have seen smoke or horn used in communication but has used a cellurar phone.

Why can’t we package this unique experience? Our generation has limited experience, it may be why we find it hard to solve our national problems.

Ten, Mukami and others freedom fighters suffered for the liberty we take for granted. Have we put that freedom into the right use, making more  citizens’ lives better, more fulfilling? What are the dividends of that freedom?

Finally, what have you done for this country, something tangible that generations to come will remember you for like Mukami and other freedom fighters?