Dedan Kimathi

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Dedan Kimathi
Statue of Dedan Kimathi Nairobi, Kenya.jpg
Born Kimathi wa Waciuri
(1920-10-31)31 October 1920
Nyeri District, Central Province, Kenya
Died 18 February 1957(1957-02-18) (aged 36)
Nairobi, Kenya
Ethnicity Kikuyu
Known for Leader of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army and the Mau Mau uprising

Dedan Kimathi Waciuri (31 October 1920 – 18 February 1957) born Kimathi wa Waciuri, was a leader of the Mau Mau which led an armed military struggle known as the Mau Mau uprising against the British colonial government in Kenya in the 1950s.

A highly controversial character, Kimathi's life has been subject to intense propaganda by both the British government who saw him as a terrorist, and Kenyan nationalists who view him as the heroic figurehead of the Mau Mau rebellion.[1] Despite being viewed with disdain by the Jomo Kenyatta regime and subsequent governments, Kimathi and his fellow Mau Mau rebels are now officially recognised as heroes in the struggle for Kenyan independence by the incumbent government.[2]This follows passage of a new Constitution in 2010 calling for recognition of national heroes. His capture and execution in 1957 led to the eventual defeat of the uprising by the British colonial government.[3]

Early life[edit]

Kimathi was born in Thege Village Tetu division, Nyeri District. His father was polygamous and had 3 wives but he died before Kimathi was born. Kimathi was raised by his mother, Waibuthi. He had 2 brothers, Wambararia and Wagura, and 2 sisters. At the age of fifteen, he joined the local primary school, Karuna-ini, where he perfected his English skills. He would later use those language skills to write extensively before and during the Mau Mau uprising. He was a Debate Club member in his school and also showed special ability in poetry. He later joined Tumutumu CMS School for his secondary learning. Kimathi however balked at any discipline or control, and was constantly in trouble with his teachers.[4] As a result, he drifted in and out of education, and never fulfilled his potential of a bright academic career.

In 1940, Kimathi enlisted in the British army. However, he was discharged after one month for drunkenness and persistent violence against his fellow recruits.[4] He then drifted from job to job, including working as a swineherd and a primary school teacher, for which he was dismissed after accusations of violence against his pupils.[4]

Mau Mau movement[edit]

In around 1947 or 1948, whilst working in Ol Kalou, Kimathi came into close contact with members of the Kenya African Union (KAU). By 1950 he had become secretary to the KAU branch at Ol Kalou, which was controlled by militant supporters of the Mau Mau cause. The Mau Mau began as the Land and Freedom Army, a militant Kikuyu army which sought to reclaim land, which the British settlers had gradually stripped away from the Kikuyu. As the group's influence and membership widened it became a major threat to the colonial government.

Upon taking the oath of the Mau Mau, Kimathi in 1951 joined the Forty Group, the militant wing of the defunct Kikuyu Central Association. As branch secretary, Kimathi presided over oath-taking. He believed strongly in compelling fellow Kikuyu by way of oath to bring solidarity to the independence movement. To achieve this he administered beatings and carried a double-barrelled shotgun.[5] His activities with the group made him a target of the colonial government, and he was briefly arrested that same year but escaped with the help of local police. This marked the beginning of his violent uprising. He formed the Kenya Defence Council to co-ordinate all forest fighters in 1953.

In 1956, on 21 October, exactly four years to the day after the start of the uprising, a group led by Ian Henderson arrested Kimathi in the Nyeri forest.[5] His capture marked the end of the forest war. A court presided over by Chief Justice O'Connor and with an all-black jury of Kenyans sentenced him to death while he lay in a hospital bed at the General Hospital Nyeri. In the early morning of 18 February 1957 he was executed by hanging at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.[6] He was buried in an unmarked grave, and his burial site remains unknown.



Kimathi is viewed as a national hero by the Kenyan people, and the government has erected a bronze statue of "Freedom Fighter Dedan Kimathi" on a graphite plinth, in central Nairobi. On the anniversary of the day he was executed (11 December) (Was he executed on 11th December of February 18th 1957?), in 2006, the statue of Kimathi was unveiled in Nairobi city centre. Kimathi, clad in military regalia, holds a rifle on the right hand and a dagger on the other, symbolising the last weapons he held in his struggle. This official celebration of Mau Mau is in marked contrast to a post-colonial norm of all previous Kenyan governments regard of the Mau Mau as terrorists.[7] Such a turnabout has attracted praise from Kenyans as a long overdue recognition of the Mau Mau for their part in the struggle for independence . An embarrassing episode once ensued when Nelson Mandela, visited Kenya for the first time after his release from prison. He visited during President Moi's rule only for Moi's officials to be discomfitted, when Mandela asked to see Kimathi's widow. Having obscured Dedan Kimathi like Kenyatta's government before it, the Moi government faced the awkward moment of searching for her in the village where she and her family were forgotten and wallowing in poverty.

Further belated efforts to restore Kimathi's name include The Dedan Kimathi Stadium in Nyerere which was renamed after him; it was formerly known as Kamukunji Grounds.[8]

Kimathi was married to Mukami Kimathi. Among their children are sons Wachiuri and Maina and daughters Nyawira and Wanjugu.[9] In 2010, Kimathi's widow requested that the search for her husband's body be renewed so she could give him a proper burial.[10]

Popular culture[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Branch, Daniel: Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization. Cambridge University Press, New York 2009, ISBN 978-0-521-13090-5.
  2. ^ Kinyatti, Maina (2005). "Kimathi: The man, the myth and the legacy". 
  3. ^ Koinange, Machua (20 October 2013). "My encounter with the man who shot Dedan Kimathi". The Standard. Standard Media Kenya. Retrieved 27 April 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (2005) p.287
  5. ^ a b David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (2005) p.288
  6. ^ The EastAfrican: 'Dedan Kimathi was buried at Lang'ata' 10 December 2001
  7. ^ Branch (2009). Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya. p. xi. 
  8. ^ THe Standard, 4 November 2009: RESTORING LOST GLORY: Nyeri half Marathon organisers keen to make the event a success
  9. ^ The Standard: Mandela heaps praise on freedom fighters 3 October 2005&lt
  10. ^ Kenya urged to find Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi's body BBC News, 11 October 2010<

External links[edit]