Dedan Kimathi Waciuri (October 31, 1920 – February 18, 1957) was a Kenyan rebel leader who fought against British colonization in Kenya in the 1950s. He was convicted and executed by the British colonial government. The British colonial government that ruled Kenya at the time considered him a terrorist, but many Kikuyu and other Kenyans viewed him as a freedom fighter of the Mau Mau Uprising.
Early life – Kimathi was born in Thenge Village Tetu division, Nyeri District. 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 uprising. He was a Debate Club member in his school. He was deeply religious and carried a Bible regularly. He worked for the forest department collecting tree seeds to help him foot his school bill. He later joined Tumutumu CSM School for his secondary learning, but dropped out for lack of funds.
He dabbled with 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 the Kenya African Union. In 1949, he started teaching at his old school Tumutumu, but left the job within two years.
Mau Mau movement – Nevertheless, he managed to be very influential to whomever he met through the string 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. He joined Forty Group, the militant wing of the defunct Kikuyu Central Association in 1951. He was elected as a local branch secretary of KAU in Ol’ Kalou and Thomson’s Falls area in 1952. He was briefly arrested in that same year, but escaped with the help of local police. This marked the beginning of his violent uprising. He formed Kenya Defence Council to co-ordinate all forest fighters in 1953.
In 1956, he was finally arrested with one of his wives, Wambui. He was sentenced to death by a court presided by Chief Justice Sir Kenneth O’Connor, while he was in a hospital bed at the General Hospital Nyeri. In the early morning of February 18, 1957 he was executed by the colonial government. The hanging took place at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison
Legacy – Kimathi was buried in a mass grave and to this day the British government objects to his reburial as it felt (and continues to feel) that he was a terrorist. He is, however, viewed by many Kenyans especially from his tribe as a national hero. Many towns in Kenya have a building or street named after him, Including popular t-shirts designed to immortalize his image by brands like Jamhuri wear. The play “Trial of Dedan Kimathi” was written by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (the brother of a Mau Mau member) and provides a detailed account of Kimathi.
A statue of Kimathi is being built on Kimathi Street in Nairobi. Its foundation stone was laid in December 11, 2006. Kimathi was married to Mukami Kimathi. Among their children are sons Wachiuri and Maina and daughters Nyawira and Wanjugu