Today In History: Tribute to fallen hero Dedan Kimathi


February 18th passed like any other day in mid-month. Quiet, normal, with the usual hustle and bustle. Nothing like the garish displays of love (or lust, if you ask some straight laced individuals) that were treated to on the 14th of the same month.
18th February was, if anything, mundane and uneventful. It was quite different from what happened on the same date in 1957.

Karunaini village lies at the foot of the Aberdares.Lush with tea farms and gardens closely cropped with maize, bananas and various species of trees, it is, like most of the rolling ridges of upper Tetu, a picturesque hamlet.

It is here that Dedan Kimathi was born.It near here, at Muhoya’s, that he would fall into the trap of his sworn enemies;the British Colonial Forces in the then Kenya Colony.

Dedan was a drifter,a restless romantic, an idealistic plotter. But he had a hard edge to him. One that the Colonialists and their African stooges knew and feared.

On the night of 20th 0ctober, 1952, the colonial governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, declared a state of emergency. That very night, hordes of perceived independence agitators were arrested across the country. Operation Jock Scott was in full swing. Members of the GEMA community were arrested all over Nairobi, screened at Langata Barracks and then deported to their rural homes to be confined in fortified villages.

Those were the lucky ones;others simply “disappeared”…..killed and dumped by the colonial forces.Others like the famous Kapenguria six were arraigned before courts and detained in such places as Mwea, Manyani, Kapenguria, Yatta and Hola, often succumbing to hunger, mistreatment and disease. The struggle had taken a critical bend.


Dedan Kimathi had, as KAU’s Organising Secretary for Thomson Falls, been involved in recruitment of members to this precursor of KANU.

He also belonged to a hardcore, young and militant faction of KAU, called Aanake a Forty. This comprised of young men who belonged to the 40 riika(age group), most of whom had fought on the Allied side in WW2 and were ready to take up arms in the struggle for Kenya’s independence.

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This group was behind the massive oathing drive across Kikuyu land and various other acts of subterfuge aimed at creating despondency amongst the settlers and their lackeys.

Some of their most brazen acts was the crucifixion of a dog at Kiandu Market on the eve of the colonial D.Os visit, the strangling of a man at Kagunduini using a forked branch (hence the name “Muitwo-na-Higi) and the daylight assassination of colonial Chief Waruhiu at Dagoretti on 9th October, 1952.

The 40 Group had organized a secret strategy meeting at Mwathe-ini, Arbedare Forest on 19th October, 1952 and it is here that they got wind of the pending mass arrests. They decided to launch the armed struggle immediately.

Kimathi had, under these auspices attended the meeting and was inducted into the War Council alongside Kago Mboko, Mbaria Kaniu, Gitau Matenjagwo, Mathenge Mirugi, Muthoni Kirima, Ndungu Giceru and Waruhiu Itote.

On the day the Emergency Order was announced, the newly formed Kenya Land and Freedom Army announced their counter measures in blood; they attacked and killed colonial Chief Nderi Wangombe and 19 of his home guards at Karangia, Tetu.They then melted into the forest.

The colonial reaction was swift. Fortified villages sprung up, complete with spiked moats and watchtowers. A 6 to 6 curfew was enforced and 2,500 men drawn from the Lancashire Fusiliers and the Devonshire regiment were deployed together with elements from the Kings’ African Rifles and the Kenya Homeguards , bringing the whole colonial force in Nyeri District alone to about 7, 000.

These were supported with aerial firepower by the Royal Airforce Lincoln Bombers, flying at least 900 sorties and dropping 600,000 pieces of ordinance between November 1953 and June 1955.It was six of these planes that Ndungu Gicheru would bring down with his trusty Bren LMG.

In the meantime, the KLFA freedom fighters had coalesced into various groups under several notable leaders.Mount Kenya forest had also become an important theatre of war, with the Meru under Musa Mwariama and the Embu under Peter Kevote giving the Colonial Government a headache.

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A second conference in 1953 at Kinyona, Eastern Aberdares, confirmed Kimathi as Supreme Commander of the Mau Mau, as the liberation war and its forces had come to be known. Accordingly, he was confered with the rank of Field Marshal, and Mbaria Kaniu was appointed his 1st Deputy, with the rank of General.

Kimathi immediately fell to the task of re organising the Mau Mau, creating new theatres of operation, ranks and fighting groups.

Towns fell under various towns watch battalions while the core group around him became the Ituma Ndemi Army, commanded by his younger brother, Wagura.

Mathira/Kabaru area went to Waruhiu Itote’s Hika Hika Battalion, charged also with the task of retrieving ammunition and medical supplies.

These usually came by rail and were dropped off at Kiawarigi by railway ordelies who secretly supported the struggle.

Not everyone, however, supported these changes.One of those who felt slighted was General Mathenge Mirugi of Othaya,He argued bitterly about what he saw as usurpation of power by the Kimathi Axis. Summoned by Kimathi for a courtmartial at Mwatheini,, he refused and left Aberdares with a small group of supporters. Nothing was heard of him again.
1953 – 1956

The introduction of air power by the British Government tilted the balance of the struggle to the favor of the settlers. Then came the capture of General China Itote in 1954, the death in action of General Kago Mboko. By 1955, thousands of freedom fighters had surrendered in the amnesty offered by the settler government and these gave a lot of intelligence to the colonial forces.

In the Aberdares,the war was increasingly becoming a man hunt for 1 man:Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi Waciuri.


Kimathi was a crafty operator. He changed tact and blended with his surroundings like the predator he was,He had a network of spies and supporters in the villages and colonial forces who kept him abreast.

He even had the audacity to write and post letters to newspapers and on ocassion,to the Nyeri D,C and the colonial Governor; until that fateful day in October, 1956. Coming from Chief Muhoya’s home at around 8pm, the Field Marshal was accompanied by his brother, Wambararia, his aide, Kirihinya Ndegwa and an unidentified woman. They had finished yet another of their dangerous forays to the villages, to gather food and intelligence from supporters.

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A home guard, Ndirangu, who knew of his whereabouts, ambushed them in a sugarcane grove and shot Kimathi in the leg. Suddenly beset with remorse, hea urged them to run but Kimathi refused, knowing he could not make it very far.He elected to buy time for his entourage to make it to the forest.

Kimathi was arrested and taken to Nyeri General Hospital chained under heavy guard.It was from his hospital bed that a death sentence was passed on him.Stoic and defiant to the end, the gallant son of Tetu refused to grovel or plead for his life.

He was eventually transferred to Kamiti Prison for his date with the hangman.

The Field Marshall was sent to the gallows at dawn on 18th February, 1957.The mist hung in the air as the trap door opened undet the weight of this gallant man who had taken the fate of an entire nation upon his lean shoulders.

Perhaps Kimathi never saw the ironic significance that the month of October held upon his life;Born on 31st October, 1920.Started the armed struggle on 20th October,1952.Captured 21st October,1956.

It is the harrowing photo of Kimathi’s elderly mother, Waibuthi, staring dejectedly at the dusty wake of the Landrover that took her son from the hospital to Kamiti that haunts me. It is like looking at the death of the world as we know it.

We can go on and on about the freedom struggle and the gallant warrior who embodied it; but I dare think that our calling is to keep the embers of freedom and nationhood burning in our souls.We should all nurture a Kimathi in our hearts.

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By: Nyeri Online

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