That Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, the leader of the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule in the 1950s needs a decent burial befitting a national hero, is not in doubt. Just that after his execution in 1957 his unmarked grave at Kamiti Maximum Prison remains a State secret.
It was assumed that when Kenya attained her independence on December 12, 1963, which we now celebrate as Jamhuri Day, the new government of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta would locate Kimathi’s unmarked grave and accord the former soldier and primary school teacher, a decent burial.
But alas! Jomo Kenyatta’s stand that “Mau Mau is a disease that should be forgotten” saw a gradual disassociation with the movement with few appointed in government. Kenyatta’s regime and successive ones were populated by Home Guards, Tribal Police, colonial spies, and other collaborators, who fought the Mau Mau alongside the British. Never mind Jomo Kenyatta was once arrested in October 1952 on suspicions he headed the Mau Mau, which he did not. The British largely relied on false intelligence reports that, having had a short study stint at the University of the Toilers of the East in Russia, Kenyatta could have been indoctrinated into a closet communist, which he was not!
But Kenyatta became a hero alongside the Kapenguria Six at the expense of those who fought in the forest for ithaka na wiyathi (land and freedom). Mau Mau radicals were thus sidelined in the larger government scheme of things. They faded from the national psyche. And so did Dedan Kimathi and his unmarked grave. Simon Maina Kimathi, his son, says the search for his father’s grave has tormented the family for years.
“We don’t understand why they can’t tell us the truth maybe the British government had a truce with the post-colonial government to keep it a secret,” Maina says.
He added the futile search has affected his mother a lot.
“The same government my father fought for does not grant her wish to see his grave before she dies. We were very happy when it was said that the grave had finally been found but the government dismissed the report and we believe that it had its own reasons,” he said.
The proposed Heroes Corner at Uhuru Gardens on Lang’ata Road in Nairobi was where Kimathi could likely have been buried. But the British left Kimathi’s unmarked to scatter any future plans of turning it into a shrine.
Previous attempts to locate it bore no fruits, but Gitu wa Kahengeri, a former freedom fighter and current chair of Mau Mau War Veterans Association argues that, with the latest technology, his grave can be located considering Kimathi was buried in metallic handcuffs.
Hopes of identifying his grave were rekindled some years back when Mzee Samuel Toroitich, a colonial-era prison guard claimed he was among the seven senior African prison officers selected to guard his body until late in the night. Toroitoch demanded Sh50 million to locate Kimathi’s grave as he knew where it was but the government did not respond.
Kimathi Foundation has previously reported that his grave had been identified, but the government denied the claims. Why hasn’t the Kenya government sought help from the British who buried Dedan Kimathi?
Kahengeri, also a former Juja MP, told The Nairobian that the British government would not divulge where they buried Kimathi because they hated him with their heart, body, and soul.
“This issue has perturbed us for many years now. He led us to chase away the colonial masters and all that we want is to bury his remains because of braveness and patriotism,” Kahengeri says.
“Many were killed in detention cells and we tend to think that the British government must have buried or cremated his body. Nobody knows. The only person who can tell us what happened to our hero is the British government because they still have the records. They can use science to locate his grave, the hangman could still be in Britain. His remains are of great symbolic value to us.”
Prof Macharia Munene, a lecturer explains, “The British government would not want to be reminded about Kimathi because of how he troubled them. They prefer his grave to remain a secret. On December 11, 1968, Mbiyu Koinange, Minister of State in the Office of the President, issued a statement in Parliament that the government knew where Kimathi’s grave was and there is no way he could have lied because he admired him. The government knows where the grave is and Kenyans need an explanation.”
Koinange told Parliament that Kimathi’s grave was well maintained for plans to bury him as a national hero. Should he then be accorded a symbolic burial in the absence of his body and the whereabouts of his grave?
In fact, the Kikuyu, like other Kenyan cultures permit symbolic burials in which a grave was dug and a banana stem carried and planted only by elders to symbolize the continuity of life.
The elders also chose a traditional healer to conduct burial rituals before the ceremony. A goat was slaughtered by the elders and whose blood the traditional healer sprinkled in the grave alongside the traditional muratina brew. A piece of meat was put aside and left in the village square during the night for wild animals to feast on. If people woke up and found that the meat had been fed on by wild animals, then the traditional healer would declare that the bad omen had waded off. But now that wild animals are in game and national parks, what would eat the goat meat?
Kikuyu elder Githumbi wa Mathu explained that today, the said meat can be eaten by scavenger birds, cats, and dogs. “But if a person steals the meat, he inherits whatever is associated with the missing body.”
Kimathi’s son, Maina says he has been looking for the remains of his father for over 50 years.
“We wouldn’t mind if the government allowed us to conduct a mock funeral just to bury our pain…we have been requesting the government to show us where he was buried but to no avail. I remember there was a time when the Argentine government offered help to identify his grave using their resources but there was no response from the government,” Maina said.