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January 21, 2019

Freedom fighters a forgotten lot

Last week the country celebrated the 49th anniversary of independence, just one year shy of a golden jubilee commemoration.

But even as those for whom Uhuru happened celebrated amid plenty on Wednesday, the majority of Kenyans remained indoors wondering whether next year and another general election would bring better tidings or whether they would continue to wallow in abject poverty.

When this country became independent in 1963, the corroborators of the former British colonial regime took over the management of public and private enterprises ostensibly because they were more educated than the freedom fighters whose time to get an education passed by as they fought the occupying force.

In the absence of jobs, the former fighters in the Land and Freedom Army, believed they would get the land they had fought for, to settle on and till for the survival of their families. Even that was not forthcoming and the fighters were told to form cooperatives to buy the land that had been stolen from them.

Eventually these Kenyan heroes eked a living out of dry small holdings or as labourers and gradually faded into living dead who could barely take their children to school even as the elite in government continued to amass wealth and power.

This vicious circle that is the tale of Dedan Kimathi of Karunaini in Nyeri and General Kurito Ole Kisio of Narok and every other freedom fighter in between and beyond, has continued to date.

Captured in 1956, Kimathi was executed by the colonial government on February 18, 1957 and 55 years later, successive independent governments are yet to identify the place where his remains are buried.

Whenever an opportunity arises, politicians jump at the chance of telling the Kimathi family and Kenyans in general that they will turn all the stones in Kamiti and everywhere elsewhere to locate the freedom fighter’s grave and ensure he is interred befittingly.

But once the politicians are out of Mrs Kimathi’s earshot or a mile out of his Nyeri backyard, that empty promise is thrown out of the limousine’s window, only to be miraculously picked up again when the politician is on his way to Nyeri or has lined up Mrs Kimathi for his PR purposes.

Sometimes I wonder how difficult it would be for the Kenya government to seek the assistance of a friendly government in locating Kimathi’s burial place.

There are secret documents that the British government may have on this if they were not destroyed by the colonials and again some of those who murdered and secretly buried Kimathi are still alive.

It was nice for outgoing President Kibaki to be at the forefront of naming a university in Nyeri after Field Marshal Kimathi and one hopes his promises of ensuring th freedom fighter’s ageing widow is mobile, will be honoured.

Last week I talked to a cabinet minister in the first Kenyatta cabinet and of his own volition, he declared that the Mau Mau were not a rebellious group but an army fighting for freedom.

How come then, the Kenyatta government that came to power only six years after Kimathi was executed did not exert any energy in locating Kimathi’s restless resting place.

Thanks to that government we have a Kimathi Street and to Kibaki’s regime for putting the hero’s monument on one of the city’s street corners, but what has the Kimathi family got to show for their husband/father’s sacrifice?

How many sons and daughters of freedom fighters as opposed to the sons of former corroborators of the colonial government own buildings or businesses along Kimathi Street?

The men and women Kimathi taught at Karunaini Primary School, are now in their 70s but the fond memories they have of their former teacher, are stories that have never been told.

While the Kimathi generation has all but left us, why doesn’t for example the ministry of information through the Kenya Year Book bother to record the history vested in this group of former Kimathi students?

When I visited ole Kisio’s family two or so years ago, I found his then 80 year old widow living a lonely life in an equally isolated hut on the dry and hilly Ololopir area of Narok.

Miriam Kisio, herself a former detainee of the colonial regime, sat on a creaky wooden stool, in her dusty ‘living room’ (the small shelter was divided into two with cheap clothing material), contemplating the two sack maize harvest from her quarter acre plot. At that time these were her only worldly possession and I wonder how she is today.

And who were the eleven prisoners who were brutally beaten to death at a Hola detention camp on March 4, 1959? Who were they families and as they wait for the elusive British government’s compensation, how have the successive independent governments helped them cope, a half a century after independence?

At times loading concrete on wheelbarrows with their bare hands, Kenyans arrested and detained for seeking to free their country from the oppression of colonialism, built a seven square-mile airport at Embakasi in the 1950s.

How many of them or their offspring ever used the old Embakasi or the current Jomo Kenyatta airport to fly out of the country or to a local destination?

Will the fading freedom fighters or their offspring have anything to celebrate at next year’s independence jubilee celebrations?


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