Dedan Kīmathi of the Mau Mau – contribution to Kenya independence and how he was killed by the British imperialist forces during their colonial occupation of Africa

My blood, like the heroic blood of many great Kenyans who have fallen in the course of this war, shall water the tree of independence”, Dedan Kīmathi.

This resource is useful to teach about injustice, social work and the law, social policy, colonisation, decolonisation, pan-Africanism and international social work. It also inspires social workers to address injustice and inequality in society. There are questions at the end.


In social work, colonisation and decolonisation are key concepts and key processes in the development of the profession. More often than not, social workers (including students) are not introduced to colonisation in its basic and physically brutal form. This reduces and dilutes their understanding of the concept and process  of both colonisation and decolonisation. In this piece, we present a biography of Dedan Kīmathi – a revolutionary, freedom fighter and pan-Africanist who was killed by colonisers for his role in anti-colonisation.  


The British Empire forcefully occupied Kenya as part of its East Africa Protectorate in 1888. Specifically, Kenya became a British colony in 1920 until 1963 when the country gained independence. Forced occupation of Kenya by Britain affected land ownership, religion and culture, education, and government, as it did in many African countries. Many Kenyans were disposed of their land. In terms of beliefs, the British colonisers assumed that Africa did not have a religion, or more truthfully they ignored African religions and sought to replace them with their Christian religion. Working with colonial missionaries, they sought to convert Kenyans to western religions. The British King replaced local Kings and the land was falsely considered to be British land. Local education was replaced with foreign education. There was an attempt to replace local culture with British culture, although this did not succeed, dress, food, language, ceremonies, social security and agriculture were impacted. Social services provided by the family and community leaders were impacted.


Dedan Kīmathi was born on 31 October 1920, Nyeri County, Kenya. Kīmathi became military and spiritual head of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army and the Mau Mau movement in 1953.

In Swahili Mau Mau means ‘Mzungu arudi Ulaya, mwafrika apate uhuru’, which means a ‘Let the foreigner go back to Europe, so the African can regain independence’. The Mau Mau was the armed movement fighting for the withdrawal of the British colonisers and return of land to Kenyans. For fighting for independence, over 1000 people were executed by shooting and hanging by the British, in total over 12 000 were killed and over 100 000 were detained in miserable conditions in concentration camps for fighting for respect, recognition, independence, freedom, equality and rights.

For his role as a leader and field marshal, Kīmathi was ‘hunted’ by Ian Henderson, a British intelligence officer, arrested and ultimately murdered by the British establishment in the name of their justice, modernisation and civilisation. He was executed by the British colonial administration in Nairobi on 18 February 1957.


The following text was taken word for word from:

Maina wa Kĩnyattĩ (2019). History of Resistance in Kenya: 1884-2002. Nairobi: The Mau Mau Research Center, Kenya. From page 333

“He was in great pain. However, it is indeed inspiring for Kenyans today to realize that despite the torture the enemy subjected him to, the endless humiliations he endured, Kimathi maintained his courage at every stage of the kangaroo court. He never asked for mercy from the racism, imperialist court. The imperialist prosecutor, on the other hand, forcefully argued that Kīmathi’s actions were terroristic and barbaric, thus, there was no other alternative, but to make him pay for the “barbaric crimes’ in pain and suffering and the imperialist judge concurred.

            The kangaroo trial lasted seven days, and on November 26, as the majority of Kenyans expected, the imperialist judge found Kimathi guilty, and asked whether he had any reason to advance as to why the death sentence should not be passed upon him. Eloquently, Kimathi told the racist judge that he was not asking for mercy, but, if the court allowed, he was willing to negotiate the departure of the British from Kenya. The imperialist judge did not take Kimathi’s answer lightly. In anger, he sentenced him to death.

The same day the death sentence was pronounced, Kīmathi in chains was flown, under tight security, to Nairobi Maximum Security prison to be executed by the enemy of the country. Before the execution, he requested to be allowed to see his wife. The colonial state granted the request. His wife was held at Kamiti women concentration camp for her revolutionary activism. Let allow Mukami wa Kimathi to explain what happened:

‘My husband had requested to see me before he was executed in February of 1957. I was a political prisoner at Kamìtí women concentration camp. In January of 1957, very early in the morning, I was secretly driven to Nairobi Maximum Security Prison to meet him. He welcomed me with great affection and love. We were in a visiting room surrounded by a swarm of white prison guards and secret police. Kīmathi looked at me for a long minute and then said, ‘You have not changed. You still look beautiful and young. How is the British treating you in the detention?’, ‘It is rough,’ I responded. ‘They mentally and physically abuse us, they feed us half cooked mush and we sleep on cold floors without cover. But we are strong, they cannot break us or force us to betray Mau Mau.’ ‘Good’ he responded. ‘There are no cowards in the Mau Mau Movement.’ ‘How about you, how are they treating you?’ I asked him. ‘They have done everything in their power to break me, but they are failing my love for my people and my country is not for sale.’ He explained. In serious tone, Kīmathi continued, ‘I requested to see you because I want to talk to you. I have no doubt in my mind that the British are determined to execute me, yet I have done nothing wrong to the British people. My crime, and the only crime, is that I am a Kenyan revolutionary and I lead a national liberation army. Nevertheless, I am not afraid of death. I have served my people and country, the armed resistance and the Mau Mau movement with all my courage and strength. Now, if I must leave you and the family, my country and the world, I have no regret. My blood, like the heroic blood of many great Kenyans who have fallen in the course of this war, shall water the tree of independence. My ultimate wish is that our people and country will remain united and forceful to win the battle of independence. When my children grow up, you shall tell them why I am not with them. I am sure they shall understand. I have no doubt that our government will provide them free education, a decent home and enough food to eat. I ask nothing for myself.’

On February 18, 1957, at midnight, the enemy of our people escorted Kīmathi in chains – six British security officers and three clergymen, ‘Father’ M. Phillip, ‘Reverend’ Canon Webster and ‘Father’ Marino  – to the gallows and garroted, unrepentant. At 5.00 a.m., his body, still  in chains was removed from the gallows and secretly transported to Kamītī Maximum Security Prison and buried with the chains in an unmarked grave. Before they buried the body, they cut off gorged out his eyes, broke his legs and arms, smashed his skull with a hammer to make sure that he was indeed dead. It was, to say the least, a monstrous act done in the name of British justice and civilization. At the time of this barbaric execution, the British robbed Kimathi all of his belongings-clothes he was wearing when he was captured, a golden watch, a .38 revolver and writings (about 14 volumes of books). They were secretly sent to the British M.1.5 and the Public in London. In addition, of significant concern is that Father Marino, executioners, forged a letter, put Kīmathi’s name on it and circulated it. Some of the copies were intentionally put in Kenya national archives and in the Office in London. The letter states that Kīmathi converted to ‘Catholicism’ and had requested the Catholic Church to “take care of his family” and “educate his children? after his death. The letter was supposed to have been written by Kīmathi a few minutes before his grisly execution. The aim of Father Marino, Webster, Father Philip and the colonial state was to destroy Kimathi as a revolutionary leader, even in his death. A copy of this fake letter can be found in Kenya National Archives, Nairobi.


  1. In 1963, the colonisers gave up and Kenya became independent with Jomo Kenyatta as Prime Minister.
  2. Dedan Kimathi University of Technology
  3. Two-meter bronze statue of Kimathi, Khimathi Street, Nairobi
  4. Dedan Kimathi Stadium in Nyeri
  5. He inspired many freedom fighters, including Mandela of South Africa who met his widow when he was freed from apartheid prison.

Unfortunately, Kimathi’s grave has not been located, and his remains have not been buried by his family and the nation. The British have refused to corporate in this issue.

Source: Nairobi News

 Source: Public image

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  1. How did decolonisers like Kimathi contribute to Africahood?
  2. What role did women play at the time of Kimathi? Use Mukami as your main example.
  3. What are the different types of colonisation and how are they evident in the life of Kimathi?
  4. If Kimathi was to live again, what would he fight for?
  5. How do decolonisers shape social policy?
  6. Using this biography, describe your understanding of social justice.
  7. Advocacy and activism and important functions of social work. What can modern day activists and advocates learn from the life of Kimathi and his contemporaries.
  8. International social work usually ignores historical injustices as a result of slavery and colonisation, not only in Africa but other parts of the world. Issues of land dispossession, torture (e.g. castration), forced assimilation and theft of artefacts (e.g. Kīmathi’s personal possessions) are often ignored. Why? What could be done?
  9. When colonisation is resisted, it is called anti-colonisation. When it happens and is resisted, it is called decolonisation. Can you give 4 examples of colonisation, 4 examples of anti-colonisation and decolonisation.
  10. British and other western media still describe people like Kīmathi as notorious rebels, barbarians, rebellious, savages. The same description has been given to Mandela, Mugabe and Machel. For Black people, these were heroes, martyr and nothing else. Discuss.