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. 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. His capture and execution in 1957 led to the eventual defeat of the uprising by the Kenyan government.
Kimathi was born in Thegenge 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.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. 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.
Mau Mau movement
In around 1947 or 1948, whilst working in Ol Kalou, Kimathi came into close contact with members of the Kenya African Union. By 1950, he was 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 out to reclaim their land that they claimed had been gradually stripped from them by the British settlers. As the group's influence and membership widened it became a major threat to the colonialists.
Upon taking the oath of the Mau Mau, in 1951 he joined the Forty Group, which was 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. 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 since the start of the uprising, Kimathi was arrested in the Nyeri forest by a group led by Ian Henderson His capture marked the end of the forest war. He was sentenced to death by a court presided by Chief Justice O'Connor, while he was in a hospital bed at the General Hospital Nyeri. In the early morning of 18 February 1957 he was executed by the colonial government. The hanging took place at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.He was buried in an unmarked grave, and his burial site remains unknown.
Kimathi is viewed as a national hero by the current Kenyan government, who have 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), 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. 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. Elsewhere, The Dedan Kimathi Stadium in Nyeri was renamed after him, it was formerly known as Kamukunji Grounds.
Kimathi was married to Mukami Kimathi. Among their children are sons Wachiuri and Maina and daughters Nyawira and Wanjugu. In 2010, Kimathi's widow requested that the search for her husband's body be renewed so she could give him a proper burial.
The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (play) – Micere Mugo and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o