By Muthoni Thang’wa
The 50th anniversary marking the death of Freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi was recently celebrated with a play at the Kenya National Theatre.
Once again there were renewed calls for the British Government to be ‘forced’ to reveal the exact resting place of this National Hero with some Kenyans insisting that the British Government should be made to pay to the family some monies, in the form of a compensation.
Some have even described the honorary statue on Kimathi Street, near the Hilton Hotel, as too little too late. Since the issue of heroes is quite emotive, one has to let such feelings be.
Even as we express our feeling towards the Mau Mau heroes, it may be worthwhile to think like William Prescott, a former slave on celebrating the banning of slavery in Britain. He stated that ‘‘they will remember that we were sold, but they wont remember that we were strong.
They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave.’’ This is a powerful way of expressing the reaction of many perpetrators of human rights abuses. They will only remember the worst of what they did usually with glee and bravado, very few seem to remember such moments with grief and remorse.
Kenyans owe themselves a bit more than just remembering that Kimathi’s resting place is unknown, rather than remembering that its is a symbol of triumphs since he was not hanged in vain, Kenya is independent today. There is no doubt that Kimathi was a brave fellow.
He lived at a time in Kenya when one would be punished under the law of Collective Punishment for failing to co-operate with the colonial powers in identifying and otherwise apprehending the Mau Mau. Yet he sent his picture to the British Security Forces on hearing that they were busy looking for him (the most wanted Mau Mau leader), even if they did not know what he looked like.
Now would you rather remember where such a person is buried or are his heroic deeds more endearing not just to his family, but to future generations? All great world leaders have serious flaws, which if the world concentrated on, would make useless use of energy trying to rewrite a history that is almost now cast in stone.
Sir Winston Churchill, the renowned former British Prime Minister, during the Second World War, was not really a bright fellow in school, was almost estranged from his parents and had a stutter, which has been decorated called a lisp. The gentleman also had an above average fondness of alcoholic beverages, which is recorded on his visits to India and South America.
But nobody remembers any of this; we all remember that he was the hero who led Britain to victory during the Second World War.
Not even Kenyans remember that he was the Prime Minister when the state of emergency was declared in 1952 and that his strategy was extreme repression including public executions. Our own Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of the nation, must have had some flaws.
The best thing is that no one remembers them. Or does someone? Nevertheless, we do not think of him as a rotund, short fellow with false teeth. We remember his Charisma, booming voice and that he was a symbol of the emerging leaders of independence Africa.
Since politicians only remind us that he was a land grabber when they are cross with Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, that information is deleted from our conscious memory no sooner than we have heard it. African hero and former South African President, Mr Nelson Mandela, is another leader with whom we find no official complaint.
Though we know that it is not humanly possible to live without a flaw, Mandela is thought of only in the very best terms. Whenever there is some semblance of conflict between him and another party, in our mind, err is with the other party not Mandela.
In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, any weakness is well camouflaged as strength. Though the possibility that the critics of heroes are not good writers hence they fail to record the ills that might want be remembered, generally they are considered heroes because their positives completely out weigh their negative.
Any forum in which they can be pointed out is locked out of the human memory until such a time that acknowledging such faults does not make a difference to history. What is the point of remembering those things that do not make a difference?
Meanwhile, on the political scene history is being rewritten and the only question politicians on both sides of the divide should ask themselves is what we the nation will remember them best for.
Shall we remember that they grouped and regrouped or shall we remember that they led us? The writer is a curator at the Karen Blixen Museum