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General China: The ‘disciplinarian’ who shaped NYS

By Hudson Gumbihi | July 18th 2021
General China Waruhiu Itote. [File, Standard]

After Kenya gained independence, it became obvious the youth would pose a challenge to the nascent administration of President Jomo Kenyatta.

The young men and women were energetic and demanding, having actively participated in the gruelling liberation war to root out the colonists and white settlers.

Opportunities were few, yet disillusionment was growing with the bulging youth population. Away had to be found on how to deal with this problem of idle youth.

A shift that could translate their raw energies into nation-building dreams was necessary. To tap this energy by making the youth realise their dreams, the idea of mobilising them into national service was conceived.

Thus, the National Youth Service (NYS) was established in 1964 to train young men and women to be patriotic, self-reliant and self-disciplined.

Due to his ‘utmost discipline’, Jomo recruited Waruhiu Itote, alias General China, to shepherd NYS, although some of his peers considered the Mau Mau veteran a traitor. Ironically, within the Mau Mau leadership, he was responsible for administering oaths and executing traitors.

A corporal in King’s African Rifle (KAR) that fought in Second World War, General China declined promotion while serving in Burma and requested to be discharged.

Upon return to Kenya, he was disappointed over lack of opportunities. It was while getting involved in urban politics that he formed The Forty Group comprising former KAR fighters.

The Forty Group, which served as the military wing of Kenya African Union (KAU), was linked to a spate of violence and crimes in Nairobi.

As the Mau Mau war intensified, General China was captured by British troops on January 15, 1954 during a raid targeting a police post in Mathira, Nyeri.

During the abortive attack, General China was shot and wounded in the neck. The bullet remained lodged in his neck until 1988 when it was removed, following a successful operation. His family later donated the bullet to National Museums of Kenya.

At one time, General China agreed to cooperate with the government and negotiate an end to the uprising in return for his life.

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