Freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi Waciuri before his execution in 1957.
The family of a guerilla leader executed more than 60 years ago during Kenya’s anti-colonial rebellion said Saturday his grave site had been discovered, despite strong denials from the government.
Dedan Kimathi, a top insurgent in the Mau Mau uprising that spurred Kenya towards independence from British rule, was hanged in 1957 at Nairobi’s Kamiti Maximum Prison and buried in an unmarked grave.
His family, who have been trying to locate his remains for years, issued a statement Friday through their foundation announcing they had pinpointed his grave site and were seeking to exhume his remains.
“It is with great joy we would like to announce that … the gravesite of liberation hero Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi Waciuri has finally been identified!” read the statement from the Dedan Kimathi Foundation, a nonprofit set up by his family.
The interior ministry, however, denied the grave had been found.
In a brief statement on Twitter, the ministry said the reports were “false and misleading,” without elaborating.
But Kimathi’s daughter Evelyn Wanjugu Kimathi stood by the statement.
“It is a true statement. The family is the one who released the statement. It is not the government,” she told AFP when reached by phone Saturday.
The ministry was “surprised” because they were not aware or involved in the family’s activities in trying to find the grave, she added.
“We, the family, are the ones that went to Kamiti Maximum Prison, and were able to find the place he was buried in an unidentified grave.”
A video posted on the foundation’s Twitter page showed supporters singing and dancing around Kimathi’s 90-year-old widow, who has long urged Kenya’s government to help find her husband’s remains.
Her daughter said the family had been celebrating.
“They are very happy. Others are crying,,” Kimathi said.
She said they had asked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for permission to exhume his remains from beneath the prison, and were ready “to work hand in hand with the government.”
The Mau Mau rebellion was a key step towards independence but it also provoked bitter divisions between those who backed the fighters and those who served colonial forces. The group remained outlawed until 2003.
The guerrillas, mainly drawn from the Kikuyu people, terrorised colonial communities with attacks from bases in remote forests, challenging white settlers for valuable land.
At least 10,000 Kenyans died in the struggle between 1952 and 1960 — some historians say more than double that.
Thousands suffered horrific torture including sexual mutilation, and tens of thousands more were detained in shockingly harsh detention camps, including U.S. President Barack Obama’s grandfather.
The capture of Kimathi in October 21, 1956, and his execution by hanging on February 18, 1957 was a significant blow to the movement.
The insurgency over, Kenya won self-rule in 1963, and full independence the following year.