Ten years ago, President Mwai Kibaki launched an iconic seven-foot statue that was made to relive a revered freedom fighter clasping the nozzle end of a gun with his right hand and a stick on the other, with ruggedness registered all over it.
Today, as feet pace hurriedly up and down the pavements at the intersection of Kimathi and Mama Ngina streets in Nairobi, the statue of Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi, killed by the British 60 years ago, has found pride of place among the city’s landmarks.
Compared to the Tom Mboya monument just metres away, the Kimathi one has not been affected much by human interference.
It is pretty much the full unit that was launched by former president Mwai Kibaki on February 18, 2007.
The Sunday Nation caught up with a man who was part of a team at Kenyatta University (KU) that constructed the statue.
Dr Kamau Wango, currently the director of the Confucius Institute at KU, was the peer reviewer of a KU fine art lecturers’ team that created the monument.
His work was mainly to ensure the sculpture resembled Mr Kimathi as closely as possible.
CONSULTED KIMATHI’S WIFE
“You have to get the person correct, their face correct, their body structure correct as much as possible because you’re commemorating somebody who was known,” he said on Friday.
“Remember, there were not very many photos of Kimathi apart from the famous one when he’s captured. But the team consulted Kimathi’s wife a great deal. During the process of the construction of that structure, she actually came to KU to be able to look at whether that is her husband,” he added.
Mr Kimathi’s widow Mukami on Friday launched a memoirs’ book titled Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter, written by Wairimu Nderitu, which tells the story of the independence struggle through her eyes.
Dr Wango said when Mukami saw the final creation of her husband’s statue, she agreed that that was how he looked like.
The statue was made through a complex process that involves moulding the hero’s shape using clay then generating negatives which then make it possible to use bronze to make the final shape.
“Bronze is a good material because it is very durable. Not only durable but it is good for outdoor display. It is able to withstand all sorts of weather, only that it is just re-touched every once in a while,” said Dr Wango, adding what the Kimathi one may need is a little retouching to restore its shine.
Besides the Kimathi monument, Nairobi has two statues of founding President Jomo Kenyatta — at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre and at Parliament Buildings — and that of Tom Mboya near the National Archives building.
Other statues are located along Kenyatta Avenue to commemorate Africans who participated in the First World War and at the Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner to commemorate Mau Mau fighters.
There are other statues out of Nairobi which include that of independence hero Paul Ngei that is located in Machakos. It was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in October last year. Another statue of Tom Mboya is erected at the Tom Mboya Labour College in Kisumu.
“There is no country that is worth itself that does not have certain people that it collectively, as a nation, decide to commemorate,” said Dr Wango, a fine arts expert.
Dr Wango said KU’s artists won the tender to make the Kimathi statue — which the State said it cost Sh4.5 million — probably because the team proved to be the most capable.
“I think the argument then was that when you have a group of artists together, they are much more able to do good work,” he said.
“It was constructed at the department at Kenyatta University, and of course there was expertise here and there. What was not available at the university was sourced elsewhere but generally the whole piece was the work of those artists,” added Dr Wango.
The KU team has also constructed the Kenyatta statue outside the university’s administration block and a statue of rangers at the Kenya Wildlife Services headquarters.