Meet Mau Mau fighters who have never tasted fruits of independence

Faith Wanjru Wachira, 90, at Kakureti Colonial Village in Kieni, Nyeri County. Like thousands of independence heroes and heroines, she has been landless for over five decades now. (PHOTO: KIBATA KIHU/ STANDARD)

As Kenya marks her 53rd birthday today, Faith Wanjiru Wachira has little to celebrate.

Wanjiru helped midwife the country’s independence from the trenches, sacrificing her prime years to the independence struggle.

Today, at 90 years, she has nothing to show for the pain and sacrifices - not even a place she can rightly call hers.

Still, the mother of eight possesses one thing that saw her outwit white soldiers to deliver food to the Mau Mau independence fighters who waged the independence  struggle from deep inside Mount Kenya forest decades ago - resilience.

She is still strong enough to walk some 400 metres to the nearby river to fetch water.

Above all, she still remembers her life in the trenches; how she used to sneak into Chinga area in Othaya and feed Mau Mau freedom fighters.

She bursts into a prolonged laughter as she recalls how she was once arrested by white soldiers and given three stinging slaps; how her late husband, Stephen Wachira was arrested on his way from Nairobi carrying ammunition to the mau mau and how the fighters gave her three blood-stained machetes to clean.

But one particular memory makes her frown. Wanjiru has not forgotten one cold morning a year after independence when a District Officer (DO) drove into their Kirimara village and herded all villagers into waiting government lorries.

By then, Kenya had just attained independence and an Asian entrepreneur who owned sawmills in Kirimara area of Mt Kenya had left for his country alongside other whites who owned tracts of land in the area.

“We used to seek casual labour on his farm and after he left, we were stranded, so we started farming, we liked the area since it was expansive and the soils were fertile,” she said.

But the villagers’ claim on the former white farms was short-lived.

On this particular morning, the DO drove into the village and ordered all villagers to board the government vehicles and carry their property with them.

They were all driven to Kakureti area, a holding ground for people who had left various detention camps, and started farming in Mt Kenya.

She says that when founding President Jomo Kenyatta visited Ruring’u grounds in Nyeri, where he met former mau mau fighters,he personally promised the squatters that kakureti area, where they were resettled, would be a temporary home.

Confronted Kenyatta

“I confronted Kenyatta (whom she constantly refers to as Son of Muigai) and he personally told me that we would settle there only for a few days and he would come back and give us land,” she said.

That was 52 years ago. To date, she is still living in the village alongside hundreds of other former freedom fighters.

Kenyatta — the president who promised her land — died 14 years later. All the presidents who came after him, she says, have been promising the same thing - land.

All successive governments, including Uhuru Kenyatta’s, she says, have perfected the art of promises.
Wanjiru lives on a 50-by-100-feet plot in the populous Kakureti village with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The entire plot is crowded with old timber houses belonging to her children. There is hardly any extra space left to put up a pit latrine.

Her house neighbours a rural access road.

“I have given birth to all my children and brought them up from this plot. I am hopeful that one day, the Government will consider my struggle in ensuring that Kenya attained independence and reward me with land,” she said.

Liberating land from the colonial government was the rallying call of the independence struggle. But even after independence, Wanjiru has no piece of land to call her own.

“It pains me that I fought for land, but ended up without any, I regret why I took the Mau Mau oath which was being administered during the war. I always pray to my God that one day, He will get into the minds of the Government officials so that they reward me,” she says.

Wanjiru is not alone.

Hundreds of landless villagers, many of them independence war heroes and heroines, are still  ‘squatting’ at Kakuret where the white DO’s truck dumped them soon after independence.

Their chairman, Joseph Thirikwa, says the village is home to 500 families, all former Mau Mau detainees who trooped to Mt Kenya immediately after independence.

“We were herded out of Kirimara, a former detention camp and brought here with a promise that we will get land within a few months,” he says.

Kenyatta, he says, did not have much trust in former Mau Mau fighters.

“The decision to relocate us was advised by the fact that the government was afraid that Mau Mau fighters who were not happy with the current Jomo Kenyatta’s administration might have regrouped and started fighting the government,” he says.

Ironically, the village is sandwiched by large tracts of land belonging to people who only know about the independence struggle from history books.

Apart from Munyu, Warazo Jet and Irigithathi areas, which are resettlement schemes, other sections stretching from Karicheni to Naru Moru belong to affluent individuals, some who served in former governments.

Poor Mau Mau

Simon Waigwa, 75, said most former Mau Mau fighters lost lands since they were poor and did not have the Sh160 fee that the government was charging prospective land owners.

“We had just returned from forests where we were not being paid to fight. We thought the lands would be free and so we did not pursue the government to allocate us land,” he says.

And so unfolded the greatest irony of Kenya’s independence struggle: those who fought for it emerged from the bush to find their land gone; or were too poor to raise money to buy even an inch of the land they fought to regain from the white man.

“Those who used to fight alongside the colonialists were being paid and so, they were able to pay the fee and get the lands,” said Waigwa.

Richard Waweru, the secretary of Tetu, Mathira and Kieni squatters association, says there are 4,995 squatter households in the area.