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Kenya unveils monument to Mau Mau leader

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki unveiled a statue of a Mau Mau guerrilla leader on Sunday, as a first step in honouring thousands of Kenyans killed during an uprising against British rule in the 1950s.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki (R) holds a rope during the official unveiling ceremony of Kenyan freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi's bronze statue monument in Nairobi, February 18, 2007. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

Dedan Kimathi Waciuri, who was hanged by the colonial-era government 50 years ago, led the Mau Mau rebellion which pushed the east African country towards independence in 1963.

But surviving fighters have accused post-independence governments of neglecting them. Kibaki’s government was the first to recognise Mau Mau, by lifting a colonial-era law which banned the group after it swept to power in 2002.

“We are honouring a great man who not only sacrificed his life for the liberation of Kenya but also inspired others to fight against oppression,” Kibaki said.

The seven foot (2.1 metre) bronze statue depicts Kimathi -- who held the rank of “Field Marshal” -- with his trademark dreadlocks, wearing military fatigues and holding a homemade rifle in his right hand and a dagger in his left.

It stands in a street named after him in downtown Nairobi.

In a ceremony filled with singing and dancing, the statue was presented on the same day Kimathi was executed for treason in 1957. His body is buried in an unmarked grave in a prison outside Nairobi.

“I am very grateful,” said former Mau Mau Field Marshal Muthoni Kirima, who was among the dozens of ageing ex-fighters present. “My heart has been heavy. At night, I would cry until my sheets were soaked with my tears, wondering ‘have we been forgotten, was what we did bad.’”

With her long grey dreadlocks held back by a red band, Kirima, who is in her late 70s, urged the government to help former Mau Mau, many of whom are ailing and live in poverty.

“We fought for the fruits of independence but we have not tasted those fruits,” she said.

Kibaki said his government also planned a Heroes’ Square in the Kenyan capital to commemorate leaders from all communities who fought for independence.

The Mau Mau, drawn mainly from the Kikuyu tribe, waged war from the central Aberdare and Mount Kenya forests targeting the “white highlands” favoured by settlers.

But not all Kenyans have fond memories of the Mau Mau who were ruthless and notorious for hacking to pieces African supporters of the colonial government.

Kenya’s first post-independence president, Jomo Kenyatta, opposed the guerrilla movement’s violent methods.

Official records say about 32 white civilians and 100 British soldiers were killed by the Mau Mau, compared to the hundreds of Africans British soldiers killed. Former Mau Mau have sued the British government, seeking compensation for atrocities they say were committed by colonial soldiers.