Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri was born on 31st October 1920 and died on 18th February 1957. He was a rebel leader who fought against the British colonial government in Kenya in the 1950s. He was convicted and executed in 1957 for murder and terrorism. The British colonial government that ruled Kenya considered him as a terrorist, as did the many Kenyans who opposed the Mau Mau.
Former Mau Mau viewed Kimathi as a freedom fighter, although many of the kikuyu viewed him as a terrorist, due to the predations of the Mau Mau and the atrocities committed by the Mau Mau upon them. A particularly good source of turned agents for the government faces were those former Mau Mau escaping from justice handed out by Kimathi, which was followed by death by strangulation. The capture of Kimathi was headed by the unknown knowledge and skills because of the vast areas of rough terrain which hid the Mau Mau and Kimathi.
Kimathi Wachiuri was born in Thange village, Tetu division, Nyeri District. At the age of fifteen, he joined the local primary school, Karuria-ini, where he perfected his English skills. He would later use those language skills to write extensively before and during the uprising. He was a debate club member in his school. He was deeply religious and carried a Bible on a regular basis. He worked for the forest department collecting tree seeds to help him raise his school fees. He later joined Tumutumu CSM School for his secondary studies but later dropped out due to lack of funds. He tried several jobs but never felt fully settled. Notable was his enlisting with the army to fight in the Second World War in 1941. However, in 1944 he was expelled for misconduct. In 1946 he became a member of Kenya African Union (KAU).
In 1949, he started teaching at his old school, Tumutumu, but he left the job within two years after looking for different ways of earning a living such as a clerk with a first dairy, then a timber firm and a trader. Wherever he went and whatever he did, Kimathi became a welcome and a popular figure among his fellow Kikuyu on his travels. He had a powerful and attractive personality and he began to involve himself in politics.
MAU MAU MOVEMENT.
Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri was very influential to whoever he met through the strings of jobs he was able to obtain. He became radically political in 1950. He involved himself with the Mau Mau, and later that year administered the oath of the Mau Mau making him a marked man to the colonial government. He joined the militant wing of the defunct Kikuyu central Association in 1951. As branch secretary, Kimathi presided over oath taking. He believed 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 barreled shot gun. 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 the local police. This marked the beginning of his violent uprising. He formed the Kenya Defense Council to coordinate all forest fighters in 1953.
In 1956, he was arrested with one of his wives, Wambui. He was sentenced to death by a court presided by chief justice Sir Kenneth O’connor, while in a hospital bed at the Nyeri general hospital. In the early morning of 18th 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.
However, over the years there have been mixed stories about where Kimathi was buried, including Kamiti Prison where he was hanged, and marked grave at Langata cemetery and King’ong’o prison in Nyeri.
In 2007, Kimathi was officially recognized and honored as a national hero by the then Kenyan government. On the anniversary on the day he was executed, a bronze statue of Kimathi was unveiled in Nairobi city centre. Kimathi, clad in military regalia, holds a riffle on one hand and a dagger on the other, symbolizing the last weapons he held in his struggle. This official celebration of Mau Mau was in marked contrast to a post colonial norm of all previous Kenyan governments. The statue attracted praise from Kenyans as a long overdue recognition of the Mau Mau for their part in the struggle for independence. This was in marked contrast to the post-colonial norm of the Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi governments’ regard of the Mau Mau as terrorists.
Kimathi was held in high regard by anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. In July 1990, five months after his release from 27 years of imprisonment by South Africa’s apartheid regime, Mandela visited Nairobi and requested to see Kimathi’s grave and meet his widow Mukami. Mandela’s request was an embarrassing moment for the Moi administration, which had largely ignored Kimathi, like Jomo Kenyatta’s government before it. It was an awkward moment of searching for her in the village where she and her family lived forgotten in poverty. Mandela’s request was not met. During a public address at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi before he left the country, Mandela stated his admiration for Kimathi, Waruhiu Itote and other Mau Mau leaders who inspired his own struggle against injustice. It was only 15 years later in 2005, during his second visit to Kenya that Mandela finally managed to meet Mukami as well as two of Kimathi’s children.
Some of the places named after Kimathi are:
- Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (DeKUT)
- Dedan Kimathi Stadium, Nyeri, Kenya (formerly known as Kamukunji Grounds)
- Kimathi Street, Nairobi, Kenya – One of the main roads in Nairobi’s Central Business District and where there’s a statue in his honor
- Dedan Kimathi Road, Lusaka, Zambia
- Kimathi Avenue, Kampala, Uganda
- Dedan Kimathi Road, Mombasa, Kenya
- Kimathi Road, Nyeri Town, Kenya
- Kimathi Road, Nanyuki Town, Kenya
- Dedan Kimathi Street, Embalenhle, Mpumalanga, South Africa
- Dedan Kimathi Memorial High School, Nyeri, Kenya
WHY DeKUT IS NAMED AFTER THE LEGEND
DeKUT was founded as a community initiative to create opportunities for young people from all walks of life. The founders recognised that the appropriate weapon for the war to create a prosperous society would now be science and technology; transforming Kenya and beyond.
Established to improve the material well being of ordinary people, DeKUT commemorates the liberation struggle in Kenya. It is the spirit of the likes of Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri which led to independence; Dedan Kimathi’s vision, ideas, life-time engagements, actions and outcomes are attributes which this University strongly identifies with in pursuit of our mission to bring about improvement in the society.
DeKUT is therefore named after the freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri, and serves as a living commemorative monument to this phase of Kenya’s history; the struggle for independence – as we strive to be a great contributor to change.