Dedan Kimathi was born Kimathi wa Waciuri on 31st October 1920 in Thegenge village, Tetu division of Nyeri district in central British Kenya to the Ambui clan of the Kikuyu ethnic group. His mother, Waibuthi, single-handedly raised him and his four siblings as his father died a month to his birth. He enrolled in Karuna-ini, the local primary school where he mastered the English language. His aptitude for writing and speaking was discovered when he continued his secondary education at Tumutumu CMS School. As his poems showed how good a writer he was and his eloquence at the school’s debate club. Being a great student, his rebellious attitude and constant altercation with teachers led to him drifting in and out the educational system.
In 1940, he enlisted in the British army and was shortly discharged after a month, due to violence against his fellow recruit and allegedly drunken behavior. He charmed his way into getting various jobs such as teaching, swineherding and clerical duties seem not to thrive in any as he was constantly on edge with the administration of the colonial authorities.
In 1948, he joined the Kenya African Union’s branch in Ol Kalou which was controlled by the militant supporters of the Mau Mau and soon afterward he became its secretary in 1950. The Mau Mau movement which came to mean “Mzungu arudi Ulaya, muwafrika apate uhuru” a Swahili phrase which is translated as “Let the foreigner go back to Europe, and the African can regain independence” originated as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, a Kikuyu, Embu, Kamba and Meru army which sought to reclaim the land seized by the British settlers.
He took the oath of the Mau Mau in 1951 and joined the Forty Group the defunct Kikuyu Central Association. As branch secretary, he was responsible for the recruitment of new members and presided over oath-taking. This oath was taken to bind the movement’s members to its mission.
His activities within the movement made him a target of the British authorities in 1952 as he was briefly arrested but broke out of jail with the aid of local police official. In 1953, he became the leader of the Mau Mau fighters and was considered the most fearsome of the three Field Marshals of the movement consisting of himself, Musa Mwariama and Muthoni Kirima. The insurgency he led that year resulted to the declaration of a State of Emergency. He reverted to the forests where he formed the Kenya Defense Council to consolidate all forest fighters to fight the British army.
After an obsessive hunt led by British colonial intelligence officer, Ian Henderson for Kimathi and his insurgents. He was trapped secluded at his hideout in the Nyandarua forest. He was shot in the leg by an askari (a native soldier for the colonial power) called Ndriangu Mau when he attempted to escape. A picture of a groaning Kimathi being carried away helplessly on a stretcher was printed on leaflets and about 120,000 copies were circulated. This saw the disintegration of the movement as the Mau Mau and its supporters were demoralized. He was charged with the possession of a 38 Webley Scott revolver, although Ndriangu Mau claim no weapon was on him.
An all-black jury of Kenyans with British presiding judge, Chief Justice Kenneth O’Connor sentenced Kimathi to death while he laid on a hospital bed at Nyeri after an intricate trial on November 29, 1956. Finding him guilty of unlawful possession of an ammunition, which was made illegal by the Emergency Regulation put in place by the British government to quell the insurrection. His appeal was dismissed and the sentencing upheld.
Kimathi was executed by hanging on February 18, 1957 at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. He was buried at an unknown site in an unmarked grave, this was done to present his supporter from turning the grave into a shrine.
For several decades pleas from Kimathi’s relatives and the Kenyan government to reveal the location of his remains was ignored by London. His widow, Mukami requested the search for his remains to be renewed in order to give him a befitting burial. It was on October 25 2019 that his burial site and his grave were identified at the Kamiti Prison grounds.
Fun facts: Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela idolized Kimathi and once requested to see his grave after five month of his release from his 27-year imprisonment.
Kimathi was only recognized as an independence hero in 2007 under the Mwai Kibaki as the first two President of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi saw him to be a terrorists