Race to find Kimathi's grave grows urgent

Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi was held at Kamiti Prison, sentenced to death for possessing a firearm, and executed on February 18, 1957. [File, Standard]

Recently, there has been a sustained push for the exhumation of Mau Mau war hero Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi’s remains.

Kimathi is said to have been buried at Kamiti GK Prison, still in shackles.

To some, this burial has kept his spirit in bondage, despite the country achieving the independence he fought for. Others believe the current generation owes the freedom fighter a proper reburial.

However, this mission faces several challenges, setting a ticking timer for the recovery of the fallen hero’s grave and remains.

The Kenya Kwanza administration has committed to supporting efforts to trace and exhume the remains. This is the first time an administration in power has taken this stance since independence.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who identifies as a Mau Mau descendant, pledged to lead the process by engaging those who may know the grave’s location.

“I am going to call a meeting of 10 leaders of the Mau Mau, the senior ones from the 11 Mt Kenya counties. We shall meet in Sagana soon and plan how they shall go to Kamiti and stay there even if it will take them months,” said Mr Gachagua.

The DP was speaking at the funeral of Mau Mau war hero Brigadier John Kagwe Kiboko in Nyandarua County.

Kimathi was captured by British colonial forces in October 1956 in the Aberdare Forest, one of the main hideouts and war fronts. He was held at Kamiti Prison, sentenced to death for possessing a firearm, and executed on February 18, 1957.

Freedom struggle

At that time, Brigadier Kiboko, a close ally of Kimathi, was serving a nine-year sentence at the same prison for his involvement in the freedom struggle.

“Kimathi was executed and his body was brought to us with his hands and legs cuffed. There was a deep trench where many were buried, and the colonial powers wanted to bury him there too,” said Kiboko.

Speaking during the funeral of Kimathi’s wife in May this year, Kiboko said, “We refused to have him buried in a mass grave with others. After a fight with the prison service recruits, we were forced to dig his grave by the guards. If the grave was deep, it was not beyond four feet.”

Calls for Kimathi’s exhumation began with Mukami, who expressed this as her last wish before her death.

“We always had a long chat with Mukami whenever I visited her. She was telling me that I should stress on Kimathi’s exhumation so that she could bury him before she died,” said Kiboko.

President William Ruto, who was present at the funeral, agreed that Kimathi’s burial did not befit his stature as a hero.

Shameful burial

“It is clear that he was given a shameful burial, especially with his hands and legs chained. He was not a miscreant. He was a hero who fought for our independence. The government shall join the Mau Mau in tracing the grave and give him a befitting send-off,” said Ruto.

Unfortunately, Kiboko, who was to lead in tracing Kimathi’s unmarked grave, fell ill and died on August 18.

“Brigadier Kiboko has gone. If I was in a position, I would head to Kamiti next week. Riggy G (nickname for Gachagua), you have a debt to this man. This is not a joke. These old men are dying and soon we will have none of them alive to lead in the identification of the grave,” said Azimio leader Raila Odinga during Kiboko’s funeral.

Gachagua acknowledged that he and the government owe the Mau Mau war heroes a debt to exhume their leader.

“Former prime minister, what you have said is true. We owe it to these senior citizens. We were waiting for Brigadier Kiboko to regain his health, but we have unfortunately lost him. However, that commitment is still there.”

With Brigadier Kiboko and many other inmates now deceased, the State will rely on the few who are still alive.

In his account, Kiboko mentioned that he, two other inmates, and an African prison warden knew where the grave was. However, finding the exact location over 66 years later is a tall order.

The prison has also undergone upgrades over the decades, possibly interfering with the grave site or covering it with buildings.

If located, the question remains whether any traces of Kimathi’s remains, buried without a coffin or preservation, will still be identifiable after six decades.