Mukami Kimathi, wife of the late Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi, has passed away at the age of 96.
When her husband disappeared into the forest to lead an armed resistance against the British colonialists, she was detained and tortured in a bid to force her to reveal his whereabouts. On release, like so many others at the forefront of the struggle for independence, she led an impoverished and largely anonymous existence.
In 1990, Nelson Mandela caused great embarrassment to the Kanu regime, then under Daniel arap Moi, when he mentioned Dedan Kimathi and asked for his widow. Though the government continued ignoring her and other ex-freedom fighters, Mandela’s mention renewed interest in her personal story and that of the Mau Mau.
The reason the Kanu regime felt discomfited by the Mau Mau tells the story of two opposed ideologies in Kenya’s nationalist movement. The Mau Mau represented the radical wing. They wanted an independence of freedom and equity.
However, the conservatives who took power in 1963 immediately began to emasculate institutions such as the judiciary and parliament, thus creating a system that was in some instances even more ruthless than the colonial government.
At the same time, those in power were involved in a frenzied rat race for riches. Anyone who dared to even suggest democracy and equitable share of national resources was seen as a state enemy and treated as such.
Mau Mau veterans were seen as enemies of progress, or as communists. They were seen as representing a potential threat to national security. Accordingly, they and those allied to their ideology of freedom and equity were systematically sidelined from national life. Their role in the struggle was minimised during national commemorative events. National honours were awarded to sycophants of the government.
The other reason the Mau Mau veterans have always made successive regimes — even the more tolerant ones of Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta —is because they also represent a different set of values. In a country that has cultivated a national culture of greed, shortcuts, selfishness, false nationalism and Christian hypocrisy, values such as honour, selflessness, merit, hard work and patriotism are viewed with suspicion.
Therefore, the likes of Mukami were bound to be ignored. Now that she is dead, we will see a pantomime of hypocrisy being enacted on our TV screens. This tragic national farce will feature politicos who never once advocated the rehabilitation of the Mau Mau or the recognition in our national history of the central role they played in the independence struggle.
Throughout her life, Mukami remained true to the ideology of freedom and equity and to the values I point out above. She lent her voice to many causes, campaigning for human rights and social justice.
Our salvation as a country will depend on whether we can recover and emulate the ideology and values she embodied and advocated throughout her life.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.