As Kenyans mark Madaraka Day, Kiambati wa Muronyo, 88, and his childhood friend, Brigadier Kiboko, say they have no reason to celebrate. Mr Kiambati says a bullet is still lodged in his leg, 54 years after the independence he fought for.
Two unhealing wounds and a fractured hand are constant reminders of the bitter past. Worse, Mr Kiambati could soon be homeless due to a Sh40,000 debt he owes a neighbour who sold him a piece of land to build his home.
On the other hand, Mr Kiboko, whose real name is Ihoya Kagwe, has three bullet scars dating back to 1957.
The veterans vividly recall how they joined Mau Mau, with bitter memories clearly displayed on their faces. The two, born in Kirinyaga county, but now living in Ngorika village in Nyandarua county, have remained friends ever since they met in the forest.
Many times they rescued each other from battlefields in the forest, they recall.
Ironically, they still respect military protocol. Mr Kiambati, for instance, cannot stand his friend calling him “major” because he was a “major- general”.
Recalling his journey from childhood to joining Mau Mau, Mr Kiambati says: “I grew up like any other boy, grazing my father’s cows and taking them to Mukengeria River where we would spend hours swimming.”
Little did he know that swimming tutorials would one day save his life and that of his Mau Mau comrade during a fierce fight with colonial soldiers, popularly known as “Ngati”.
His rite of passage from boyhood to manhood was also done in the same river.
Born Njura wa Muronyo, he was nicknamed Kiambati (climber) by fellow Mau Mau fighters due to his ability to wake up early in the morning to scout and visit the village.
He recalls one day when he differed with Field Mashal Dedan Kimathi, who wanted to promote him to a general after he rescued tens of Mau Mau fighters during a three-day battle with colonial soldiers at Kiangwachi area in Kirinyaga County.
“They surrounded our camp that Thursday morning, spraying us with bullets. We fought back, both sides lost many soldiers whose bodies were swept away by River Ragati, including Kiambati’s cousin, Muriithi,” says the Mau Mau brigadier.
“On sensing defeat and with limited weapons, Kiambati took aim at a group of white soldiers, killing most of them before he was shot in the leg. Bleeding, he swam across the river, got an axe from a home and threw it at us. He directed us to fell a tree across the river that served as a bridge. That’s why Dedan Kimathi wanted to crown him,” Brigadier Kimboko explains.
His friend did not want the promotion since Major-Generals’ responsibilities were mainly coordination, while Kiambati wanted to fight in the front line.
The brigadier describes Kiambati as a good fighter, rarely missing a target with his machine gun stolen from two colonial soldiers with the help of a charming, village girl.