Title: Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter
Publisher: Mdahalo Bridging Divides Limited
Availability: Prestige Bookshop; Book Point and Textbook Centre
The story of the celebrated Mau Mau freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi has been told several times and the high-point was the unveiling of his plaque by retired President Kibaki in 2007, which rightfully stands on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street. However, debate still rages over his interment with the persistent demand that his remains should be exhumed wherever he was interred — generally believed to be within Kamiti Maximum Security Prison — and be given a decent burial.
Even so, his widow — Mukami Kimathi — has long remained in the shadows yet she played a pivotal role in the struggle and kept the family flames alive long after his brutal death. Clearly, she deserves a chapter when the full history of Mau Mau freedom struggle is finally written.
It was not until early 1990s during the heat of the second liberation struggle that her name began to feature. Political activists rightly argued that all surviving freedom fighters deserved pride of place and a slot in the roll of honour in the country’s history. Like the independence struggle, the second liberation movement of the early 1990s was designed to oust the authoritarian and oppressive Kanu regime.
Post-independence leaders and even the current crop betrayed and continue to betray the cause of the liberation struggle. Soon after independence, the leaders resorted to dictatorship, primitive acquisition, exclusion and marginalisation. Freedom fighters who returned from the forests came to find their farms and homes taken over by the loyalists and quickly found themselves ostracised and marginalised; left to survive on their own devices.
To a large extent, the narrative on the betrayal of the freedom fighters is centred on the male heroes of the war. Except in a few cases, the story of women who bore the brunt of the struggle — wives left to fend for their families; those raped and battered; forced into marriages with those who killed their husbands; or vilified and excommunicated by their immediate families — has never been told in graphic details.
The book under review gives a personal account of a woman who witnessed first-hand the travesties of the colonial oppression, land grabs, emasculation of communities, disempowerment and dislocation of organised societies. It is a powerful and heart-rending narration of the woman who courted, married, lived with and supported the most wanted man under the colonial administration – Dedan Kimathi.
Mukami, who was widowed at the youthful age of 26, was rejected even by her own father, Wangome son of Ngumo, who paradoxically was an earlier ardent agitator against colonial oppression, but who in later years caved in, collaborated with the colonial administration and became a home guard.