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How Thika's 'five-star mortuary' got the name of Mau Mau general

By Wainaina Ndung'u | October 11th 2021

The multi-million General Kago Funeral home, named after the Mau Mau freedom fighter Kariuki Kago Mboko, opened its doors in 2014. [Courtesy]

Any deaths from criminal activities in the counties of Kiambu, Murang’a and Machakos are likely to end up at the General Kago Funeral Home.

The mortuary at the Thika Level 5 Hospital is one of the largest public facilities in the area after it was expanded and rebranded in a Sh300 million public-private partnership with Mount Kenya University which uses it as a teaching facility for its medical students.

The expansion to a capacity of 112 bodies from the old congested 12-body facility built by the colonial regime in 1941, saw the installation of new cold rooms and refrigeration equipment.

General Kago Funeral Home was opened in 2014 changing the face of Kiambu County’s largest hospital. But the facility through raising the profile of one of Mau Mau’s most fearless and illustrious generals only picked the name by chance.

It was so-called in a rebranding move after the expansion, but the name was probably picked because like the hospital and Mt Kenya University, it is on General Kago Street in Thika town.

Also on this street is Thika Technical Institute (now a national polytechnic), the national library, Thika Prisons and St Patrick’s Catholic Church. The only public institution in the area that previously carried the name of the revered Mau Mau general was General Kago Primary School, sandwiched between the old Thika Cemetery, the library and Mt Kenya University.

Built by the municipal council in the 1980s, the primary school carried the name gallantly until the now-famous morgue with spacious parking yard and sheltered waiting bays was commissioned in 2014.

The General Kago Stadium in Kangema in neighbouring Murang’a county is also named after the Mau Mau hero.  Kago was nicknamed General Makanyaga (the crusher) for the way he dealt with his enemies. 

Colonial officials under the Sagana based Brigadier Lord Thurlow informally referred to him as ‘The Black Napoleon’ for his bravery.

Born Cege wa Kariuki in Rwathia, Kangema in 1920, his only schooling was at St Peters Clavers Primary in Nairobi where he was expelled for “being rebellious” and disrespectful to the school authority.

His father was an urbanised African and a staunch member of the Kikuyu Central Association formed in 1924 to agitate for African land rights. Kago stayed with his father and started working in Nairobi, before the British Government forcibly enrolled him as a soldier in 1939 for World War Two sending him to fight in Europe and the Middle East as a member of the British troops.

On return, he became a newspaper vendor but by the time the State of Emergency was declared in 1952, he was farming in the Rift Valley where he was already a member of the Mburu Ngembo Army, a Mau Mau affiliated militant group that was mainly operating in Rift Valley.

Returning to the Kikuyu Reserve under Operation Anvil, he was appointed the head of the Mau Mau in Murang’a commanding over 600 men.

Most Mau Mau historical accounts describe Kago’s courage, organisational ability and remarkable knowledge of military tactics as “unequalled.”

Between October 20, 1952 when the State of Emergency was declared and his capture on March 31, 1954, he carried out several successful attacks on colonial installations that prompted Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi to pen him a congratulatory message.

Kago’s tactics were to make attacks when none was expected. Using his military experience, his attacks were in a haphazard manner within the then-Fort Hall district to confuse the government forces.

But he was captured after a three-day battle at Kariani Post in Kandara (now in Gatanga), a military post that his men had confused for a police post and attacked on March 28, 1954.

After leading his men gallantly, Kago was shot and captured and the British troops chained his hands and feet and built a 10 metre heap of wood over his head. They then doused the wood with kerosene and cremated him alive by firing bullets from a distance to light the fire.

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