Mukami Kimathi the widow of freedom fighter, Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, is still a disturbed woman.
Apart from the trauma she endured while in the forest fighting with fellow Mau Mau fighters and the torture she and other women lived through while detained at Kamiti Maximum Prison, she still does not know where her husband was buried.
On February 18 this year, the country will mark 65 years since the execution of Kimathi. Yet the widow of the freedom hero and her family still seek closure; it is all about where the colonialists buried Kenya’s steadfast liberation struggle hero.
Now at 93, her health has been deteriorating.
On Sunday, January 15, 2023, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua cleared her bill amounting to slightly over Sh1 million at Nairobi Hospital after paying her a visit.
Doctors had discharged her but the hospital management had not allowed her to leave owing to the outstanding bill.
Now, gradually welcoming thoughts of departing to the other side owing to her advanced age, Mukami still holds one solemn wish; to bury the remains of the man of her youth.
Meeting Kimathi’s children at her home in Komarock, Nairobi, one thing is clear, no matter the age, a child will always be entangled with the apron strings of their mother.
Mukami’s last-born child and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Dedan Kimathi Foundation, Evelyn Wanjugu, recalls her childhood as one that was influenced by parents who were traumatised by the past.
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“Growing up as Mau Mau children we found parents who were traumatised. Our parents kept asking us if they made a mistake going to the forest to fight for the nation. She kept telling us that it is like being on the field playing football but the trophy is given to the ones cheering,” says Wanjugu.
The challenge the Mau Mau faced after returning from the forest was to find their land taken, there was no room for them, they were considered outcasts.
After independence Mukami Kimathi approached Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta and requested the remains of her husband.
“The first time she asked for the remains of our father was in 1963, just after Kenyatta was sworn in. Unfortunately, she is in her sunset years and is really worried that she might leave this world without giving her husband a decent burial,” says Wanjugu.
Her sentiments are echoed by her older brother, Simon Maina Kimathi.
“Mama is a hardcore Mau Mau, she never gives up, her only wish is to bury her husband. She has so much stress that is deteriorating her health,” says Maina.
Mukami’s other wish has been the continuity of the Kimathi name. In her book, Mau Mau Freedom Fighter, she says after Kimathi was arrested by the colonialists, she was allowed one visit. He told her to make sure the name Kimathi does not die away.
That was the last time she saw her husband. He was executed the following morning.
“Despite all that she still told us as the children to make sure the name of our father is not forgotten, she gave us guidelines on what we can do,” says Wanjugu.
“She tried to motivate us to mobilise all Mau Mau members and buy land but it never happened because we were worried. You know there is a behaviour of people extorting money.”
As a way of fulfilling her parents’ wish, Wanjugu started planting trees to remember their father and freedom hero.
“It was our responsibility to rebrand Kimathi and bring him out as a hero. We are commemorating 65 years since he was executed, we will plant 65 trees in 65 schools in 47 counties. From 2019, we have planted over two million trees in the 47 counties,” she says.
The family associates trees with the freedom struggle.
“The Mau Mau used the forest for cover. We always wonder what if there was no forest? If the forest helped the freedom fighters what can it do now? Let us all plant trees to preserve the environment,” she says.
At the height of the state of emergency in 1952, the colonialists used all means to destroy the Mau Mau uprising, including offering tokens to Africans who would get them the leader of the struggle.
On October 30, 1957, Kimathi, who was now left with a few tens in the forest since most fighters had surrendered, was shot by a fellow African. He was detained for three months before his execution on February 18, 1958.
Kimathi’s widow, Mukami, has been ailing. On December 17 last year, she was taken to her home in Kinangop for the festivities.
She was overwhelmed by the cold and was brought back to Nairobi on January 4 when she developed breathing problems.
Mukami was admitted and given a discharge form but she could not be released from the hospital due to the pending bill. As at January 13, the bill stood at Sh1,089,693.
The previous governments have tried to take care of Mukami’s health.
“Her health started deteriorating during the Kibaki era, and the president took care of her bills. He built her a house in Njambini; unfortunately, there’s a road construction that has taken the piece of land so that interfered with her income,” says Maina.