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WARUHIU ITOTE aka GENERAL CHINA

Waruhiu Itote was one of the prominent leaders of the mau mau movement. He was born in 1922 at Kaheti Village in South Tetu Division, Nyeri District in Central Kenya. His mother was Wamuyu from the Anjiri clan and his father was Itote from the Muicakamuyu clan. Both parents were Kikuyu by tribe. He started school in 1929 at the Church of Scotland Mission School at Kiangure where he learnt to write and basic arithmetic. In 1933 he joined the standard two class at Mihuti School. He attended school against his father's wishes. Waruhiu's father wanted his children to work on the farm and thought that going to school was just an excuse for laziness. Waruhiu would receive beatings from his dad whenever he went to school. He once ran away from home for a whole year to escape the constant beatings. He later later resumed attending school, often dropping out for lack of fees. In 1939, seventeen years old and semi-educated, he left home to try his out luck in Nairobi. He worked briefly in Unga Limited's factory and later on in the same year started running a vegetable business together with two of his friends. He married Leah Wambura in December 1940 and in 1941 he and his partners closed down the vegetable business. Waruhiu Itote decided to join the army and on 2nd January 1942 enlisted at Langata Camp, at the edge of the Nairobi Game Park.

He was trained at Ruiru, Nanyuki and Yatta barracks before being posted to the 36 KAR (Kenya African Rifles) at Moshi in Tanzania (then called Tanganyika) six months later. In the army, he witnessed the absurdities of color discrimination. There was a large difference between the pay packets of European and African soldiers and they used separate messes and toilets. From Tanganyika he went to Ceylon for further military training before being taken to Burma to fight in the battlefront. Just before the British troops arrived at the India/ Burma border, he was promoted to a full corporal. In Burma, he fought alongside the British, American and Indian troops against the Japanese. He returned to Nairobi for his leave in late 1944 and on rejoining the army in 1945 was posted to the 3rd KAR Depot at Jinja in Uganda. He was part of the forces sent to quell an uprising by Ugandan rebels fighting for freedom. One day during that year one Ugandan man called Musa invited some soldiers to his house for a drink. Waruhiu Itote was one of them. While they were enjoying the potent "mwenge" beer, Musa decided to give the Kenyan soldiers a strong lecture. "Why have you come here to plague us?" he asked, "and to punish us for trying to get our freedom? Why aren't you helping your own people to get theirs? The leaders of your Kikuyu Central Association were all deported and you do nothing! You have a duty to fight until you have made Kenyatta your 'Kabaka' (King) and until your taxes go to him, not the English. You should be making your own armies and your own roads and building schools for your own kind of education. If you don't fight for Kenyatta to become your Kabaka you will be a useless lot of people. Are you Kikuyu just a collection of women?"

Later in the same year he returned to Kenya, Langata Barracks. He learnt that he would be promoted to sergeant and would assist in a large military training programme. He declined the promotion and asked for his immediate discharge. He put together his savings and started a charcoal burning business in Nanyuki Town. The business started to prosper. He teamed up with five other partners and proceeded to sell charcoal and firewood. With time they started supplying firewood to the Railways. They had to supply to Railways through some Indian middlemen who had a monopoly of the Railways tenders. In 1946 the Railways Administration decided to convert their locomotives to oil burning and their contracts to supply firewood were terminated. The firewood business took a down turn and the partners dissolved the firewood and charcoal business. Waruhiu Itote proceeded to find work as a fireman for the East African Railways and Harbours Administration where he worked till 1951. In 1946 Waruhiu joined the Kenya African Union (KAU), which was the only public and national political party in Kenya. He also became a member of the Transport and Allied Worker's Union whose chairman was John Mungai. At the time, the trade unions had the most militant leaders and were the most vocal groups working for independence in Nairobi. Fred Kubai and Bildad Kaggia were very outspoken and very popular. In 1947, Waruhiu joined a society called 'Anake a 40' or 'Kiama kia 40' (The Forty Group) which was formed that year by an energetic young man called Mwangi Macharia. Many of the members of the group were ex-KAR. The society's first objective was to fight the government's plan to force women to terrace the land in the reserves. The policy was being administered harshly by the chiefs and led to hardships and social upheavals. The 'Anake a 40' had several thousand members and achieved some notable successes. It led to the Women's Riots in Fort Hall (nowadays called Murang'a) in 1949 and the failure of the compulsory terracing plan. The group operated mainly from Nyeri and Murang'a Districts. It had no membership oath and eventually disappeared when the Movement of Unity (later called 'mau mau') had grown significantly.

In late 1950, Waruhiu was invited by an old army friend, Kamau, to Naivasha Town. He visited his friend's farm and was introduced to some members of the Movement of Unity (mau mau). That night he, for the first time, took the oath of unity and dedication in the struggle for freedom from colonialism. He returned to Nairobi and his acceptance into the group was reported to the local Nyeri Committee operating in the city. He was under the orders of the Nyeri Committee, many of whose members he came to know well. During the next two years he was a fireman on the Railways by day and a revolutionary by night. He became a trusted confidant of the Nyeri Committee and organized and guarded the oath taking ceremonies. These oaths were similar to the one he took and were taken by fresh recruits to bind them to the freedom struggle. Once the oath was taken one became a mau mau member. Itote Waruhiu also had the job of eliminating traitors to the movement. Traitors would have their cases decided by the Central Committee, in their presence if they were members of the Movement, or in their absence if they were Government servants, and those found guilty would be sentenced to death. The Central Committee of the movement was the highest authority of the resistance and was responsible for the overall direction of operations. Their veil of secrecy was never penetrated during the Emergency and even to date few people know those who served on it.

In January 1952 a secret committee called the 'War Council' was formed. Members of the Council were nominated by each District from among those people willing to go and fight in the forest. Membership of the Council was strictly guarded. Waruhiu Itote was nominated into this War Council. Within the Council was a further secret committee composed of those who would not hesitate to use violence. Waruhiu was also a member of this secret committee. Some of the leaders, especially the older ones, were opposed to bloodshed, while members of this secret committee knew that independence could never be won solely through peaceful means. The secret committee would issue instructions for the elimination of informers and encouraged members to collect firearms. As an incentive, cash rewards were offered to members depending on the type and size of weapons they brought in. Waruhiu (then fondly referred to as 'General China') recalls how anxious they were to obtain arms in his book '"Mau Mau" General'. His group broke into Indian's shop in River Road (Nairobi) and stole twelve guns. They were so elated that they did not even bother with the nearby cashbox. On 16th August 1952, General China together with seven others visited Mzee Kenyatta at his Gatundu home. They had received information through their reliable sources that Kenyatta and other political figures were about to be arrested. Kenyatta knew that his arrest was imminent but was not cowed. He, as the president of KAU, charged them to carry out whatever tasks that were about to be assigned to them and to maintain the outmost secrecy. A few days later, General China received instructions to report to Karatina town where he was to meet forty young men, untrained and unarmed, but inspired with patriotism and ready to fight. These men were to join him into the Mt. Kenya Forest and become the nucleus of an Army of Liberation, under his command. He proceeded with earnest to fulfill his duties.

After going to the forest with the recruits, General China trained them in military tactics of guerilla warfare from his past experience when fighting the Japanese in Burma. He also undertook to recruit as many young men from the surrounding villages as he could into the Movement. He also recruited a large number of homeguards, most of who accepted to take the oath to join the freedom movement under threat of death. General China would at times be forced to go to the nearby towns. A curfew had been imposed and informers were everywhere ready to sneak on newcomers. General China got arrested on two occasions but managed to escape owing to his courage and trickery. He also led and planned numerous ambush raids on British Patrols in the forests for their weapons and ammunition. He also traveled to Nairobi to coordinate the activities of the fighters in the bush with the urban resistance and establish supply routes for weapons and ammunition from the city to the forests. The organization of the mau mau fighters and military actions on Mount Kenya were handled by a number of different committees, composed of the leaders of the groups fighting in the forests. In addition, there was a joint committee composed of the Mount Kenya and Nyandarua regions, Known as Committee No. 4. The scope of this committee's powers covered all matters connected to the war throughout Kenya. It had the power to authorize war or end it. It was responsible for enacting all rules and regulations regarding the conduct of war and personnel. No other committee superceded Committee No. 4 and it had the right to review the decisions of all other committees.

General China sat on this Committee No. 4. The list of members of this committee was: Mount Kenya Region- General China (Chairman), General Tanganyika (Vice Chairman), Generals Ndaya, Ruku, Kareba and Gucuma; Nyandarua Region- Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi (Chairman), General Stanley Mathenge (Vice Chairman), Generals Kago, Ndungu, Kimbo, and another leader, Mr. Mungai. On 15th January 1954, General China together with six other mau mau fighters took part in an operation to obtain weapons in Mathira Division. The group was spotted by government soldiers and their location surrounded. They were attacked. General China got wounded in the ensuing battle and surrendered himself to the government soldiers. He was arrested and given medical assistance then transfered to Nairobi prison for interrogation. Word of General China's capture spread fast. The white settlers, who knew of his notorious reputation in mau mau, started clamoring for his death. During his interrogation, he never betrayed his fellow members or their secrets but insisted that he took part in the fight for independence so that Africans could get back their land. The government knew that he was a rebel leader and decided to ask him to persuade the other rebel leaders in the forests to come out and meet with government officials. He agreed, on condition that the safety of the mau mau fighters was guaranteed. General China thus had an agreement of sorts with the colonial government but still had to await his trial.

On 1st February 1954, General China was charged before Justice J.L. Mac Duff in the Nyeri Assize Court. His defense lawyer was Mr. Saeed Cockar (a young Indian) and the prosecutor was Mr. A. J. Somerhough (Kenya's Deputy Public Prosecutor) who had played a similar role in Kenyatta's case in 1952. He was charged with (a) consorting with persons caring firearms and (b) being in possession of two round of ammunition. After three days of court hearings, on 3rd February 1954, he was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. He immediately appealed against the decision before the Court of Appeal. After receiving his sentence, General China was locked up in Nairobi Prison. On 14th February 1954, General China was discreetly whisked from Nairobi Prison and taken to a police cell in Nyeri. He was then ordered to arrange for a meeting between the mau mau leaders in the forest and the Government representatives. From the Nyeri cell, he wrote letters to the officers of the forest armies in Aberdares and the Mt. Kenya regions. He explained the purpose and importance of the meeting and urged the fighters to send four men, two from each region, to represent them. The letters were duly dispatched to the forests and the fighters agreed to send their representatives to the peace talks. Superintendent Ian Henderson was among the Government representatives. The meeting was held on 30th March 1954 in Nyeri. In attendance were General China, the representatives of mau mau and the Government representatives. The freedom fighters demanded the release of their arrested and detained leaders so that a peaceful and orderly debate on the African's problems and demands for independence and land could take place. The Government wanted the fighters to surrender before they could consider their demands. The government representatives also tried suggesting if the fighters would agree to the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru districts alone being given their independence. The mau mau representatives rejected the proposal. They demanded for Kenya as a whole to have its independence, not just the central province alone. The mau mau representatives said that they were empowered only to return to their leaders with a report of the proceedings and that a subsequent meeting would be necessary if any action was to be taken. Before breaking up the meeting, a cease-fire agreement was signed between the forest fighters and Government representatives. They agreed that the government forces would not enter or bomb the forest and the mau mau fighters would not enter the reserves. The cease-fire was to continue till the conclusion of the peace talks and another meeting was agreed upon to be held on 10th April 1954.

However, on 7th April 1954 the cease-fire agreement was violated. Some mau mau fighters were spotted in Itiati, Mathira Division and a bitter fight ensued between them and the police backed by KAR troops. Seven mau mau fighters were captured and sent to detention. As a result of the skirmish, the forest fighters announced by letter that they would not attend the meeting planned for 10th April 1954. They blamed the government for interfering with their activities and for attacking them. General China's role as a negotiator, the peace talks and cease-fire all collapsed. On 14th April 1954, General China was taken from Nyeri Prison and transferred to Lokitaung Prison, where Jomo Kenyatta and other top political leaders were being imprisoned. They included Bildad Kaggia, Paul Ngei, Kung'u Karumba and Fred Kubai. To prevent him from escaping, he, as were the other prisoners, had a short chain fastened to his ankles. He was kept under solitary confinement and hard labour for a whole year. On 24th September 1954 he received a letter dated 8th July 1954 from Dedan Kimathi, then the Chairman of the Kenya Army of Freedom (KAF) Executive Council, briefing him of the latest developments in the forest. In his absence, General China had been honoured with the title 'Hero of the African Nation of Kenya' for his efforts in the freedom struggle. After one year of solitary confinement, General China was allowed to mix with the other prisoners. He was released from the solitary confinement by one Colonel Rubeck who had been posted to Lokitaung as the new District Officer. 10 years earlier, General China and Rubeck had served in Burma together. Soon afterwards, Rubeck presented General China with some books and writing material to practice his English. In the evenings, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta would take time to teach General China some English grammar and vocabulary. In November 1959, General China's sentence was commuted to 'indefinite detention'. In December 1959 he was removed from Lokitaung Prison and taken to Gathigiriri Special Camp (Mwea) in Embu District.

The Camp Commandant requested him to co-operate with the government and accept to be employed in the camp but he refused. He was then transferred to Galole Camp (formerly the Hola Camp, where a horrifying massacre of prisoners had occurred) in May 1960. The conditions at Galole Camp were inhuman; prisoners worked on plots cultivating cotton for low wages and food rations were low. He was appointed to head a delegation to the District Commissioner to air the prisoner's greviances but the DC refused to hear them out. He wrote protest letters to the Governor asking for food rations to be provided to prisoners and allowances for the labour work, or a transfer of all detainees to camps within Central Province where the Government would be able to feed them but got no reply. In November 1961 the prison authorities moved General China to Marsabit, NFD. At Marsabit, he was served with a restriction order by the DO. He was forbidden from walking about in the camp compound and was required to report daily to the police station. He was also given a piece of land to cultivate and a monthly allowance. He was transferred to Kamiti Prison on 1st April 1962 then moved to Nairobi Prison. At Nairobi Prison the regulations allowed only one visitor and one letter for each prisoner per month and newspapers or radios were not allowed. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had been released earlier on 15th August 1961 and he quickly resumed political activities. He became Minister of State in Kenya's coalition government in early 1962. On 12th June 1962, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta went to visit General China in Nairobi Prison. He informed General China that he was due to be released on the 14th of the same month. On 14th General China was duly released from prison and given a hero's welcome on his return home to Nyeri District. He was showered with gifts from all directions and given ceremonial blessings by his father.

Soon after settling down to life after detention, General China found himself being wooed to join politics and side with either of the two prominent political parties in Kenya at that time, KANU or KADU. He took KANU's side. General China developed an interest in advancing his knowledge by undertaking further military training. On the night of 13th November 1962 he left for Israel for further military training. The trip was not made public to avoid bringing it to the attention of the colonial authorities who would not have permitted it to go ahead. He left with Mzee Kenyatta's blessings. His studies covered a wide range of military principles and practices. On 26th July 1963 he, together with other participants from East Africa, graduated as an Officer. After his graduation, he remained in Israel until 26th November 1963 when he returned to Nairobi under heavy security. During his stay in Israel, the British government came to learn of his training and had expressed its displeasure at this development. At the same time, rumors started spreading about General China's ambition to become Kenya's Chief of General Staff after independence. They seemed to be aimed at spoiling the friendship between General China and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. General China denied having expressed any such interest. These rumors were further fuelled by a press report, which the reporter later disclaimed. Kenya was due to receive independence on 12th December 1963.

On 10th December 1963, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta instructed General China to go to Meru to meet the veteran forest fighter Field Marshal Biamungi who had refused to come out of the forest despite the political achievements that had been made in the country. General China met Biamungi and learnt that the forest fighters were demanding for land and senior positions in the Kenya Army as rewards for their struggle. General China noticed that there were quarrels among the top leaders who failed to agree on who should be their spokesman. He still urged them to leave the forest, assuring them that the government would assist them to organize themselves and sort out their problems. He returned to Nairobi, after the Independence Day celebrations, to report to Mzee Kenyatta. Shortly after independence, the government arranged for General China and other Kenyans who had been trained in Israel to be absorbed into the new Kenya Army as Officer Trainees. The British Chief of Staff refused to admit General China but later reluctantly admitted him on Mzee Kenyatta's orders. He was admitted towards the end of January 1964 and passed out after the end of the training course in July 1964. He was presented with a certificate and ranked as a Captain in the Kenya National Youth Service, where he proceeded to render his services to the country. He soon rose to be the Assistant Director of the National Youth Service by 1967.

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