Kenya: Mau Mau Fighter's Family's Long Struggle to Get Back Land

17 September 2020
opinion

Sitting at the edge of Kinoru Primary School in Meru town is an abandoned graveyard where the remains of hundreds of Mau Mau fighters lie.

The site, which hosts mass graves for Mau Mau fighters and sympathisers killed during the Emergency, stretches from the primary school football pitch to a neighbouring private farm, the Meru County Veterinary Centre and Kinoru dispensary.

The mass graveyard is remembered as "Mugumone" or "Mugumo o Kiungo" by the elderly residents, some of whom were freedom fighters or were detained at the Kinoru detention camp.

M'Turuchiu M'Mugongo, 72, from Kathaene Village on the outskirts of Meru town, who was a boy when his parents were herded into Kinoru detention camp, says the graveyard was named "Mugumone" after a giant fig tree that stood there.

Currently, a portion of the former graveyard which is within the school, is planted with trees and is often waterlogged during the rainy season.

An undeveloped plot of land next to the school is said to have been abandoned due to the existence of the forgotten cemetery.

Mr M'Mugongo recounts how bodies of Mau Mau fighters killed in various parts of the larger Meru would be brought to an open field (now Kinoru Stadium) for display before being buried in trenches.

He says the camp which was located a few meters from the graveyard had sections for colonial soldiers, a prison for those under interrogation, and an area where movement was restricted for locals.

"I was a big boy at the height of the Emergency and I can remember how we lived in the camp with my parents. Every day, the colonialists would bring many bodies of Mau Mau fighters to Kinoru. The bodies would be sprayed with some chemicals before being displayed for about two days.

The bodies were being displayed in order to instill fear in the locals not to take part in the war," M'Mugongo recounts.

Ms Elizabeth Kamwitu, 88, from Kinoru, who was a Mau Mau secret agent, says they were forced to dig deep trenches before the bodies would be piled up at Mugumo o Kiungo.

She points at the grave site from a distance and firmly states that she cannot approach it since she is still bound by the Mau Mau oath.

We would be forced to dig long and deep trenches with jembes at Mugumone. The bodies would be piled up in groups according to tribe because some of the victims were Embu and Kikuyu."

"We would then fill up the mass graves with soil," Ms Kamwitu recounts while using her walking stick to draw the shape of the graves they dug.

Disinherited

Ms Kamwitu, who lives with a bullet wound scar sustained during the war, believes that thousands of Mau Mau fighters were buried at Mugumone during the State of Emergency. She says these who lost their lives should be recognised for their effort in the freedom struggle.

According to Mr M'Mugongo, the Kinoru grave site should be turned into a memorial site complete with a plaque bearing the names of those who sacrificed their lives for Kenya's independence.

"Many people were tortured to death and buried at Mugumone. It is sad that the site where the remains of freedom fighters lie has been neglected and forgotten. The site should be preserved to remind this generation of those who shed their blood for the nation," Mr M'Mugongo says while fighting back tears.

He is quick to add that corrupt leadership is undoing the gains of the freedom struggle, arguing that the vice is depriving Kenyans of a decent life.

Fifty seven years after independence, the family of freedom fighter M'Marete M'Ikandi, popularly known as Field Marshall Baimungi, who is believed to have taken over Mau Mau leadership after the death of Dedan Kimathi, is still desperately seeking a huge parcel of land that they were promised by the government.

He laid down his arms on December 17, 1963 at Kinoru Stadium under the watch of the late Jackson Angaine and Mbiyu Koinange.

Baimungi was killed by government forces on January 26, 1965 in circumstances that former Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara describes as the first political assassination in independent Kenya.

According to Baimungi's son Wilson Kiremi, the family was never shown his grave, which is believed to be at Meru town cemetery.

The family also believes they were disinherited of their father's 12,000 acre land in Timau, awarded to the decorated freedom fighter by Kenya's founding President the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Besides the land, Mr Kiremi says their efforts to get royalties for his late father's artefacts, including guns, held by the National Museums of Kenya, have been in vain.

A pile of letters and correspondence with the National Museums of Kenya, several Lands Ministers of the past - including James Orengo, Charity Ngilu and Jacob Kaimenyi - as well as the office of the former Prime Minister point to the family's long struggle for justice.

Mr Kiremi, says her mother Muthoni Baimungi, died in 2014 after years of fruitless pursuit for her husband's prime land and compensation.

He says their last thread of hope is the promise made by President Uhuru Kenyatta, when he visited the family in 1999 during his tenure as the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board.

Uhuru's promise

"At the time, Mr Kenyatta came at the invitation of then MP Gitobu Imanyara. He promised to help the family recover our father's land and secure compensation for the artefacts. We have been following up this promise for the last 20 years," Kiremi said from their home at the edge of a river valley in Githongo.

After several years, Mr Kiremi said they managed to confirm that the land in question is registered under his father's name 'M'Marete M'Ikandi.

According to a document seen by the Nation, the land is registered under IR NO 66178/MERU/F.NO/159146 covering 12,086.39 acres.

Former Imenti Central MP Kirugi M'Mukindia, who had assisted the family in seeking justice, however, said he is not sure whether the land exists.

"It is true the Baimungi family was mistreated and the state should do something about it. They were left high and dry but it is not too late to help them. Even if they don't get the land they were promised, the government should compensate them in other ways," Mr M'Mukindia said.

However, the land is occupied by senior politicians and business people in Meru with records showing up to 10 allotment letters.

"We have been to Mama Ngina Kenyatta's home with my mother severally and she also promised to help us recover the land because she is aware of it. But the biggest impediment has been the tycoons and politicians who are occupying it," he says.

The late Baimungi's son maintains that their only hope in securing the land is President Kenyatta since he promised to do so.

"As the President leads the country in marking Madaraka Day, I would like to remind him to honour his promise to this family in 1999. Let him know that my mother died six years ago hoping that you would give her the title deed," he said.

In the meantime, the family's only awards for their father's sacrifice for the nation are a car flag given by Jomo Kenyatta, a portrait given by Meru's first governor Peter Munya, and a plaque given by the current governor Kiraitu Murungi.

Mr Kiremi says the family also received Sh200,000 from the county government in 2016 and a further Sh100,000 in 2017 during Mashujaa Day celebrations.

President Kenyatta also gave the family Sh200,000 when he visited the family in 1999.

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