Third Eye

British should show Kimathi family, Kenya his grave

Friday, October 29th, 2021 00:00 |
Dedan Kimathi. Photo/Courtesy


Last week’s commemorations of the Mashujaa Day were significant because they were held in Kirinyaga county, a key site of the armed struggle for independence waged by the forefathers against the colonialists.

Yet amid the ceremonies, it is notable that the long-running issue of what the British did to the body of the Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi remains unanswered.

This is a long-term historical injustice, which the government and civil society need to take up with Britain to close the sad chapter of our history.

If Britain is indeed Kenya’s friend, the least it can do is inform Kimathi’s family and the nation where they buried him. 

This is a trend we are witnessing across Africa where governments and civil society are demanding redress of historical injustices. Just this week, Britain returned stolen bronzes taken from the Benin kingdom to Nigeria. 

In July 2019, Kenya scored a major victory against neo-colonialism when it received more than 30 cultural artifacts that were handed over to Kaya elders of the Mijikenda community.

Those critical cultural items were stolen over 150 years ago and shipped to the US. During the ceremony at Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Sports and Culture Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed aptly described the move to repatriate the artifacts as a big milestone in the quest for social and cultural justice for Kenyans.

Looting of artifacts and other valuable heritage items from Africa during the colonial period has been a nagging carryover from that period and one that must be comprehensively addressed to bring closure to the dispossession and suffering that the people went through.

The looted artifacts range from animals and cultural objects, to collections of human remains. 

They not only mean a lot to the national history of affected countries but also form part of the intellectual property for future generations. 

Early this year, a British museum announced plans to return two stolen locks of hair from a 19th Century Ethiopian king in what was hailed as an “exemplary gesture of goodwill” by the Ethiopian embassy in London.

The hair was cut from Emperor Tewodros II’s head after he shot himself rather than be taken prisoner by invading British forces.

The forces attacked his fortress at Maqdala during Easter in 1868.

The British forces are said to have gone on a looting spree, taking so much bounty, which included more than 500 ancient parchment manuscripts, two gold crowns, crosses and chalices in gold, silver and copper and religious icons.

His seven-year-old son Prince Alemayehu was taken to UK along with the looted treasure.

The return of the locks follows a recent report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron that recommended African treasure in French museums be returned to countries of origin.

It is significant  given Tewodros’ subsequent significance in the history of Ethiopia.

Also in March, Germany agreed to speed up the return of human remains and artwork from former African colonies where the country carried out brutal massacres.

It is a good sign the Western have offered to return the artifacts, skulls of legendary people and other historical items to countries that cherish them but more needs to be done.

Indicating where the British buried Kimathi would be another step in the journey to historical closure.— The writer is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical issues

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